Bill Willingham, Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile (Vertigo 2002)
In my former life as an editor of children’s literature, we regularly received manuscript stories and plays that rang the changes on classic fairytales – the wolf as a good guy slandered by dodgy pig developers or, far too often, a frog who is nothing but a frog but tricks a princess into kissing him anyhow.
Bill Willingham’s Fables belongs in that tradition. The many lands of fairytales have been invaded by a monstrous Adversary, seen only in flashback in this first book of the series, and the survivors of his onslaught have now lived centuries-long lives among the mundanes (that’s us) in a film-noir inflected New York City. At least, the action of this book takes place among those who live in New York – we are told that others, who can’t pass as human, live in enclaves upstate.
I expect that later volumes will tell the story of the expulsion. Here we are plunged in medias res, and the workings of the Fable community are revealed to us in the course of a murder investigation. Rose Red has vanished and her blood is all over her apartment. Bigby Wolf, almost always human in form, is the hardboiled detective who investigates. The main suspects are Bluebeard (who is engaged to Rose Red) and Jack, of beanstalk fame (who has been her boyfriend for a long long time). Old King Cole is the figurehead mayor while Snow White does all the community’s real administrative work. Beauty and the Beast are a bickering couple with a difference – whenever she is angry with him, he starts to revert to his beastly appearance. Prince Charming is a parasitic conman. Pinocchio is a real boy, who is permanently enraged for reasons you might be able to guess.
It’s all good, knowing, M rated fun. The art, pencilled by Lan Medina and inked by Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton, serves the story well, tactful with the violence, restrained with the comic transmutations, moodily noir when it has to be, and just every now and then completely over the top.