Review of Fables #1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Title: Fables #1: Legends in Exile

Author: Bill Willingham

Illustrators: Lan Medina (penciller), Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton (inkers)


Publisher: Vertigo


The theme of Fables parallels is really nothing new. It is a basic mishmash of modern fairy tales, which has now been done in novels (Gregory Maguire), Broadway (Wicked), film (Shrek), and television (Grimm). But it is with great enthusiasm that I say that the graphic novel has something new and wonderful to offer.

The stories takes place in New York, where fairy tale characters, driven from their homes by an evil adversary, are forced to take refuge. The characters are different from the fabled stories you’ve read. Snow White, the workaholic deputy mayor of Fabletown, learns that her sister, Rose Red, has been murdered, but her body has gone missing. Bigby (big bad) Wolf, the town’s reformed sheriff, has two prime suspects: her live-in boyfriend, Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk) and her murderous ex, Bluebeard.

Published by Vertigo, the fables are not the youthful endeavors of the original fairy tales. Prince Charming, now broke and desperate, uses his charm to coerce a waitress to pay for his meal and give him a place to shack up. Beauty and the Beast’s marriage is on the rocks and depending on her feelings, he alternates his form from an ordinary human to a barely-understandable fang-toothed creature.

The story reads like a murder mystery, following primarily through the eyes of Bigby and Snow White. Given the unique take on the fabled characters, the comic does not feel gimmicky like I feared it could have been. The characters’ history remains the same (one dare not mention the word dwarf around Snow White or they will face her wrath), but they have all experienced significant change to make them new individuals.

The artwork is solid and adds to the story well. Bigby’s shadow is depicted as a wolf, a sign that his old nature has never truly left him and expresses itself in his bouts of anger. Like the stories of old, the illustrations have a sense of age to them. The colors and lettering are conventional, but crisp. I understand the deluxe edition has glossy pages, which could add to the depth of the images.

What really makes this a great comic is the characters. Each has a very unique personality and I longed to know more about them and their back stories. My biggest qualm with the first novel was that the story was predictable. I think that is okay in many instances, but when the theme is a murder mystery, it is not as forgivable.

Without hesitation, I plan on continuing this series. The first novel did an excellent job of establishing the characters and milieu without burdening the reader with a dump of background information. This is one of the most popular comic series of the decade and it is easy to see why. It is smart, has interesting characters, and good stories to boot.

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