Over the course of the past few weeks I’ve been a semi-regular member of a comics club. At our weekly meetings we discuss what stuff we’ve been reading, then pass it off to other folks so they can read it, then give their opinion the following week. Make no mistake, it’s a fun group to be part of, but my inclusion is a bit of a blessing and curse all at the same time.
The reason I say that is because I have so many unread comics on my shelves to begin with, adding more comics from other sources makes it difficult for me to feel like I am making any kind of progress on the stuff I own. Also, I often receive a stack of comics that is so big (basically any stack larger than one graphic novel) there’s no way I could possibly work my way through it in a week; often I am the dude who didn’t get around to reading his stack, and thus delays the discussion of certain titles. Lastly, I sometimes get stuff handed off to me that I really don’t have any interest in, and you all know what it is like to feel like you have to read something, rather than wanting to read something.
The flip side of that coin is that I often get to read stuff I’ve wanted to check out without having to pay for the comic. This is a great boost to my deflated wallet. Overall, the best part is that I also get to read stuff that I might not have ever read in the first place and discover that it is amazing. That’s where Fables Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 comes in.
This was a comics club hand-off item that the previous reader said he wasn’t overly impressed with, only read the first story arc (the deluxe editions contain two collected trades worth of comics) and probably would never get back into the story. All that didn’t really do much to make me eager to read the comic, but the art looked cool when I flipped through it, and I was intrigued enough to give Fables a go. A decision, as it turns out, I am happy I made.
In Fables, the characters from the beloved tales of our youth have all been exiled from their respective fabled lands and find themselves laying low among the regular folk in New York City. Those who are able to uphold a human-like appearance live, for the most part, in New York City, while the others, elves, animals, beasts and what-not, live on a huge farm in upstate New York.
Old King Cole is the de jure leader of the exiled fables but in truth it is his steward, Snow White who truly runs Fabletown. Thus, in the opening story arc, Legends in Exile, it is Snow White, and Fabletown Sheriff, Bigby Wolf who it falls upon to solve the murder of Snow White’s sister, Rose Red, when her apartment is discovered trashed and covered in blood. What follows is a murder mystery tale that features familiar characters in a familiar setting, yet with the reality dial turned ever-so-slightly so that the characters seem a quite a bit more real than their usual selves, and the setting seems a little bit more magical then it usually is.
This twisting of both the characters and setting is what makes Fables really great. The story and characters both have an accessible familiarity, but there are enough changes, both large and small, that make the characters engaging and fun to explore and discover. Bill Willingham, who writes Fables, has done a great job of taking fabled characters and their one dimensional qualities that they are known for and making them compelling characters that you’d want to read about and discover more about as an adult. I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Snow White as a kid, but the Snow White of Fables, who has divorced Prince Charming, and taken on the tough job of running Fabletown is someone I enjoyed immensely. Willingham's ability to make these fabled characters into characters for grown-ups is a great achievement.
In addition to the great characters, Willingham just flat out writes a great story. Like I said, Legends in Exile is a murder mystery and it’s a damn good murder mystery too. It has a bit of a Sherlock Holmes feel to it that lends a nice touch to the plot. On top of writing a great murder mystery, Willingham also manages to gracefully add little tid-bits of backstory so that the reader comes to discover how and why the characters from fable are living in New York City rather than in their fabled lands.
Basically, a dark and evil being referred to as The Adversary waged war on the fabled lands and exiled all the creatures and folk of fable. Willingham gives the reader a sense of how this happened in Legends in Exile, then gives the reader an idea of what some of the fable folk are doing to regain their lands in the second arc, Animal Farm, which takes place on the farm in upstate New York. Both story arcs work well together as they introduce the reader to the world of Fables, lets the reader see what city life is like, who the players are, how they interact, and all that. Then shows life on the farm, what those folk are up to, how their lives differ from the city folk, and the politics at play between the two groups. It is all very intriguing to read, and definitely left me wanting to read more.
On top of Willingham’s great effort on writing, is some really top flight artwork. In Legends in Exile, Lan Medina handles the art, and his work is truly fantastic. He’s a guy that can draw whatever it is the story calls for, be it castle interiors, cityscapes, murder scenes, and more. His characters look fantastic, and he draws facial expressions quite well too. He’s an artist that I was totally unfamiliar with, and was very impressed with. Sadly, it looks like this is the only Fables story arc where Medina handles the art. From here on out its Mark Buckingham who handles the lion’s share of the art.
Buckingham takes over on Animal Farm and while I thought he too does a great job with the art, I preferred Medina’s art. I liked the way Medina drew the characters more. They looked more realistic, while Buckingham’s characters looked a bit more cartoony to me. That said, Buckingham is certainly no slouch, and I can see myself settling in and enjoying Buckingham’s art as the art that defines the series.
All told, Fables Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 was a great read. Great writing, great art, and a story that is about fables, all while giving the reader that familiar feeling that they are actually reading a fable. Getting started on the Fables series can be quite intimidating as there are something like eighteen collected trades out, with more issues coming on a monthly basis, as well as a number of spin off series. That’s a lot to wade through and probably enough to scare more casual readers away…However, I have been told that one really only (ONLY) needs to read the stuff contained in the first 75 issues.
Yeah, I know, even that sounds like a lot! The first 75 issues contain what was initially meant to be THE Fables story Willingham wanted to tell. However, the series was and is still so popular that it has become a bloated Jabba the Hutt-esque entity with tacked on stories and spin offs. So really, if you want to get the story, read the first 75 issues, which are collected in trades 1-11. At this point, that’s what I plan to read. Maybe I’ll love the whole series as much as I loved the first two story arcs and want to read EVERYTHING Fables. We’ll see. For now though, Fables is the comics I want to be reading.