Thursday, 17 March 2011

Review – Fables Legends in Exile Volume 1

Written by – Bill Willingham
Pencils by – Lan Medina
Inks by – Steve Leialoha & Craig Hamilton
Colours by – Sherilyn van Valkenburgh
Letters by – Todd Klein
Published by – Vertigo

Who killed Rose Red?
In Fabletown, where fairy tale legends live alongside regular New Yorkers, the question is all anyone can talk about. But only the Big Bad Wolf can actually solve the case and along with Rose’s sister Snow White, keep the Fabletown community from coming apart at the seams.

Fables Legends in Exile is the first collected volume of Bill Willingham’s ongoing series for DC Vertigo. This monthly comic was first published in 2002 and this first volume collects together issues 1 to 5. Yes I’m late to the party but this is the great thing about coming back to comics after an extended break there are loads of great series out there with loads of published volumes just waiting to be read.
So if like me you’ve been living under a rock and you’re not aware of what Fables is I’ll try and provide a brief outline before I expand on volume 1.
In Willingham’s Fables fairy tale and folklore characters have been driven from their homelands by the evil Adversary, the Fables have now somehow travelled to our world and live in a suburb of New York called Fable Town. Fables who look like humans live happily alongside us (the Mundanes) and the other Fables folk who are non human looking, live up at the Farm. The fables community is ruled over by the Mayor Old King Cole, but the real power lies with his deputy Snow White. So there we have it that’s the basic principle behind Fables.
Legends in Exile kick’s of with a possible murder, Rose Red has been the victim of a violent and bloody attack in her apartment and her current whereabouts are unknown. As Fabletown’s sheriff the Big Bad Wolf, now in human form and known as Bigby, is in charge of the investigation and is charged with unravelling the mystery of Red’s apparent disappearance. Bigby is helped in his investigation much to his initial annoyance by Red’s sister Snow White the no nonsense Deputy Mayor. But not everything is as it seems the party girl Rose Red unbeknown to her boyfriend Jack, was engaged to be married to reformed pirate Blue Beard (look how well that turned out for his other wives) and with the appearance of Snow White’s philandering ex husband Prince Charming things get complicated, really quickly.
I thought Fables was a great read, Willingham’s central concept for Fables is quite brilliant and although the characters are well known to everybody they are written differently enough to be interesting. Bigby is perhaps the most interesting character in volume 1, the reformed Big Bad Wolf is now able to take on human form although his shadow does appear to be still that of the wolf – nice touch. Bigby is portrayed as the classic noir detective and although he appears to solve the mystery surrounding Rose Red’s disappearance quickly, he drags out the reveal of events until he can manoeuvre Snow White into a position when he can confess his true feelings for her, which she quickly rebuffs. The other great Bigby moment is when one of The Three Little Pigs escapes from The Farm and crashes at his apartment. It only lasts for a page but its laugh out loud funny and keep your eye for the pig, he does turn up in some unexpected places throughout the book.   
The art work and colouring through out the book is of a very high standard, although it does feel a little old school to me, it very much feels like a proper comic and is different from the kind of work that’s on offer today but seeing as the issues were published back in 2002 it is perhaps understandable.
The original series covers by James Jean and Alex Maleev are also included in this volume and are great pieces of work but they do seem to have a very unsettling and other worldly quality to them.

Also included in this collection is a short prose story entitled A Wolf In the Fold, usually I skip these but decided to actually read this one and I’m so glad I did. The story chronicles Bigby’s life as The Big Bad Wolf and the start of The Adversaries invasion of the various Fables lands. You also learn how the wolf first meets Snow White and Rose Red. This was a fantastic short story and really filled out the back story in Fables that you just wouldn’t get from reading the comic in isolation.

Final thoughts
Although Willingham’s concept for Fables is a brilliant one he does pull off a massive slight of hand trick with the reader, at its heart this first volume is basically a whodunit murder mystery that Agatha Christie herself would have been proud of. That being said I’m a massive Christie fan so this book hit all the right notes for me and I will definitely look forward to reading more Fables.
So if you haven’t read Fables and you can get hold of it (not an easy task) its well worth checking out, it’s a high concept book that works brilliantly. And remember people keep your eyes peeled for the porker.

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