November 23, 2009

Getting Graphic: "Fables: Legends in Exile" by Bill Willingham

Title: Fables: Legends in Exile
Author: Bill Willingham; with pencils by Lan Medina
Published: DC Vertigo (2002)
Pages: 128
ISBN 1-56389-942-6

A lot of us like stories that are mash-ups of sorts in the storytelling, like taking classic fables or fairy tales and placing them in a modern, contemporary setting. Well Fables does that and then some, with the entire pantheon of characters from just about every children's story, fairy tale, nursery rhyme, and classic fable and thrown them onto the streets of New York City. And in the real world, Prince Charming ain't exactly so charming once you get to know him, and the Beauty and the Beast have some serious marital issues.

But the heart of this story centers on a mystery: Rose Red is missing and her apartment has been trashed and spattered with copious amounts of her blood, including a scrawling on the wall stating "No More Happily Ever After." Her sister, and the real brains behind the goings-on of Fabletown (a segment of NYC secretly designated for the dislocated legends), Snow White employs the sheriff-of-sorts to figure out what happened to her. The sheriff? None other than the Big Bad Wolf (aka Bigby Wolf, get it?). He, like many living among the "mundanes," is charmed by magic to appear fully human so as not to arouse panic and undue attention from a bipedal, talking wolf walking around the city.

The story plays out like a classic gumshoe detective story, but with the added edge of it being populated by familiar folklore characters. Bigby has his suspects, including her ex-boyfriend, Jack of beanstalk fame, and a surprise suitor in Blue Beard.

I had no real preconceptions about this novel beyond the artwork I'd seen years ago and found interesting. Plus, I just like the idea of fantasy characters trying to make it in the real world or a reasonable facsimile of it. The style seemed a little mish-mashed to me, and not in a particularly good way. By that I mean there were moments in the story where it felt like a detective mystery--not my favorite genre, but enjoyable when done with care--and other times it felt like a psychedelic "Sex in the City" episode. The two didn't not mix well, I found.

The humor was a bit more sporadic that I would have guessed, but the action and suspense of certain scenes came off nicely. I think the biggest criticism I have was the "big reveal" at the end of the tale. On one hand, it riffed off of the old "parlor scene" where Bigby Wolf gets all the suspects in one place and solves the case, but on the other hand it was telegraphed from almost the very first chapter. And when the twist finally came, all I had to say was, "knew it."

All things considered, it was an alright story with some interesting twists on fairytale characters, but ultimately lacked the kind of vibe I was looking for. I suspect fans of urban fantasy and die-hard fable freaks are a better demographic to go for. Perhaps if there's a later iteration in the Fables franchise that takes a darker turn, I will have to check it out.

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