Tag Archives: fables

Fables #2: Animal Farm, by Bill Willingham

Title: Fables #2: Animal FarmFables2
Author: Bill Willingham
Illustrators: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha
Year of Publication: 2002-2003
Length: 128 pages
Genre: graphic novel: magical realism, fairy-tale/folklore
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 3.5 stars

I know most people prefer this volume to the first, but I diverge from popular opinion here. The concept here is quite good, but I find the execution rushed and a little lacking.

As punishment for faking her own death — and ostensibly so the sisters can spend some quality time reconnecting — Rose Red has to go with Snow White for her annual visit up to the Farm, a protected area in upstate New York where all those Fables live who cannot pass for human. This includes the menagerie of talking animals as well as sentient bits of clothing and crockery, Lilliputians, mythical creatures, and other assorted beings. Some few “passing” humans live there, as well — the Old Woman has chosen that location rather than give up living in her Shoe, for example — but by and large, the population is bestial. And their forced segregation is causing problems. Snow White arrives unexpectedly in the middle of a highly suspect meeting, where the animals are purportedly discussing the prospect of returning to their Homelands — and she discovers that Weyland Smith, who had been in charge of the Farm, has mysteriously decided to “retire” without telling anyone.

Things take a swift and sudden turn for the worse when Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs, turns up murdered. Unlike in the first volume, Willingham doesn’t play coy with the mystery here — the reader learns quickly that Goldilocks and the Three Bears are behind it. Goldi has turned into quite the reactionary, guiding the revolt of the Farm community not out of any real idealism but simply because she seems to have gotten a taste for violence. (There’s also a pretty disturbing revelation regarding the nature of her relationship with Baby Bear). She musters the troops with a bloodthirsty enthusiasm that would do any third-world dissident proud, and Snow finds herself on the run, pursued by half the predators in legend.

My favourite character in this volume is definitely Reynard the fox, suave trickster but loyal friend to Snow, who plays a vital role in tamping down the insurgency. I also enjoy that this volume introduces a concept that becomes quite important later on — that the more popular a Fable’s story is, the more resilient the character is to destruction. Some, as you can imagine, are nigh-indestructible — while others, whose stories have faded from mundie culture, have more to worry about.

Not much happens back in the city while all of this is going on, but Willingham drops a lot of tantalising hints, both about other characters and about the way the Fables community functions — again, all things that will be important later. I appreciate this for the sense of wholeness that it gives. I love world-building, and I love when all the details and side stories are well-thought-out, even if we don’t get to see them in their entirety yet.

The art is nice in this volume — full of details, especially in the crowd scenes. The violence and gore are appropriately disturbing. These are not Bowdlerized fairy tales — but a lot closer to the spirit of the original tales, to be sure. Everything has a price, and sometimes that price is blood. Fables doesn’t pull its punches in that regard.

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Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, by Chris Roberson

Title: Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love
Author: Chris Roberson
Illustrator: Chrissie Zullo
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 144 pages
Genre: graphic novel – magical realism
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3 stars
Spoilers: Up through at least Fables 11

This is a spinoff from the Fables graphic novel series, focusing on the character of Cinderella — to most eyes, a flighty socialite whose shoe-selling business funds her obsession with designer brands and jet-setting travel. In truth, Cinderella is a spy for Fabletown, a covert operative constantly in and out of danger. If you’ve read the rest of the Fables series, you know this already, because you’ve seen her at work already. She’s ideal for the job because, as the heroine one of the world’s most popular and enduring stories, her legend is strong enough to make her nigh-invulnerable. She can take a point-blank shot to the head and be back on her feet in a matter of hours.

This collection makes reference to some recent happenings in Fabletown, which is why I put up the spoiler alert, but it doesn’t rely heavily on the main series. The plot is self-contained. The sheriff of Fabletown needs Cinderella to stop a black market trade in magical goods, which are in danger of finding their way into mundy hands. Her search leads her to Dubai, where she is first attacked by Arabian Fable Aladdin, then teams up with him when they realise they’re on the same mission, just dispatched from different groups. Aladdin is a pretty smooth charmer — which doesn’t impress Cinderella. As the infamous Prince Charming’s third (and thus-far final) wife, she’s jaded and now impervious to that particular power. As they work together, though, and he proves his prowess as a secret agent, he does start to grow on her a bit. I quite like him as a character — although I thought he was cuter before he lost the goatee. We also get to meet Cinderella’s three associates, agents who work for her without even the knowledge of her boss, the Fabletown Sheriff: Puss in Boots, Jenny Wren (of nursery rhyme fame, and lover of the slain Cock Robin), and Dickory Mouse (of Hickory Dickory Dock). Each has special talents, and she can summon each one once during her mission, wherever she is, thanks to a charm bracelet provided to her by the famed witch Frau Totenkinder — in exchange for an as-yet unnamed favour. Frau Totenkinder, after all, has her own agenda and keeps her own counsel.

I liked this collection, but there’s nothing super-special about it. The art was a bit plain, and I found myself wanting it to be a bit more sophisticated, to give that sultry, scandalous spy-thriller feel. I did like that we got a bit of jet-setting and plane-hopping (quite literally, in fact). It gave the story the chance to show off some different locales, and I enjoyed the surprise in the endgame. This is a nice supplement to the main storyline and a fun quick read, but overall, I prefer the more detailed, connected arcs.

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Fables #1: Legends in Exile

Title: Fables #1: Legends in Exile
Author: Bill Willingham
Artists: Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton, Mark Buckingham
Year of Publication: 2002
Length: 128 pages
Genre: graphic novel – urban fantasy
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4 stars

In the center of New York City, a strange community lives in secrecy, hiding their true natures so that they can exist side-by-side with ordinary humans. These are the Fables, refugees from other realms — who happen to be the stuff of our world’s fairy tales and legends. They’ve been driven out of their homelands by someone known, at the moment, only as the Adversary; his troops, from what we see in flashbacks, consist of gruesome monsters, goblins, orcs, etc — the nastiest of the nasty, rapers and raiders, fixed on destruction. They took over territories one by one, and over a period of a couple of hundred years, the Fables fled, first finding their way into other realms, then finally into our world. Most of them live in an luxury apartment building, with their businesses on the surrounding street. Those who can’t pass for human (the Three Little Pigs, for instance) live upstate at the Farm. The nice and the naughty live side-by-side thanks to the Amnesty — an agreement that any Fable seeking asylum both forgive and be forgiven for any past crimes, on the condition that they go forth and sin no more, so that wicked stepmothers, vile sorcerers, and the like, now reformed, can live peaceably with their former victims.

The first installment focuses on Snow White and Bigby (the Big Bad Wolf given human form) as they investigate the apparent murder of Snow’s wild-child baby sister, Rose Red (this series merges the two Snow Whites, she of the seven dwarves and she of the bear). Along the way, they introduce us to some of Fabletown’s greatest heroes and villains: Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Beauty and the Beast (whose curse reverts when his wife gets mad at him), the Frog Prince, Pinocchio, the thrice-divorced Prince Charming (Snow was his first wife, followed by Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella), the formerly-murderous Bluebeard, Little Boy Blue. The interpretations of the characters, bringing them into our modern world, are all quite clever, and sometimes surprising. Prince Charming is pretty much a professional playboy, mooching off of the women he sweeps off their feet (we learn that he’s recently worn out his welcome in some of the royal courts in Europe). Snow is the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, the brains and sweat keeping the whole organization running, while Mayor King Cole gladhands and takes care of the feel-good publicity. Beauty works in a bookshop. The Frog Prince is Fabletown’s janitor. Cinderella’s profession is as-yet unspecified, but we see her looking pretty badass, taking fencing lessons from Bluebeard.

Bigby reveals the details of Rose’s disappearance at the Remembrance Day ceremony, a Fabletown holiday on which they gather to honour those who fell defending the Homelands, to reminisce about their lost pasts, and to pledge themselves to, someday, reclaiming their former dominions. It’s a nostalgia-fest, and some members of Fabletown are more cynical than others, but it’s also the one time when pretty much all the Fables come together — making it the perfect opportunity for a tell-all. There’s some nice detective work going on, but that’s far from the focus or importance of the story — what’s far more crucial is what the chain of deceptions and revelations tells us about the characters involved and their relationships.

This is a great series, and the first installment does a good job of setting up the primary characters, as well as the world in which they operate. One of the loveliest moments is at the Remembrance Day ceremony. The official toast is the narration for a series of flashbacks — the first we see of the Adversary’s war and the Fables’ flight out of the Homelands. It shows the struggles to escape — in a somewhat different art style, with more saturated colors, higher contrast, more, well, epic tableaux than the usual style. For everything these first few issues reveal about the characters, they tantalizingly hint at a dozen more secrets and yet-unrevealed backstories. It invests the series with a narrative richness that I find utterly captivating — I love the complexity of it, the threads of story stretching backwards, forwards, and sideways. I love the spaces between, the stories left untold, the character nuances that hint at past tragedies, scarred-over but never-forgotten.

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