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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Fables- Legends In Exile

Fables volume 1: Legends in Exile

Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencils: Lan Medina
Inks: Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton
Colours: Sherilyn van Valkenburgh
Letters: Todd Klein
Publisher: Vertigo

What’s It About?
Characters from legend and fairy tales, driven from their Homelands by the mysterious Adversary and his imperial expansion are now forced to live in secret in the mundane world. An underground community called Fabletown exists in the heart of New York City where the likes of Snow White, Pinnochio, Beauty and the Beast, Jack Horner, Prince Charming and many others co-exist.

Snow White’s sister Rose Red has been murdered and Fabletown’s sheriff, the Big Bad Wolf, is on the case…

What’s Good About It?
The real joy of reading Fables comes from seeing familiar fairytale characters with a twist. The big twist is that that they’re living in the modern world but most characters have a little twist to them. For instance, Beauty and the Beast are having marital problems which is a fun idea in itself but even better is that the angrier Beauty gets with Beast, the further he degenerates back into the monster he was before she loved him. Similarly, the three separate legends concerning Prince Charming become the basis for Charming having three ex-wives who hate him.

The main murder mystery plot is well-written, logical and if you have the sort of mind (which I don’t) to work these things out then all the clues are there, Agatha Christie-style, hiding in plain sight. We’re presented with clues, false leads, suspects and the secrets the deceased was hiding in life. Best of luck with it.

The series is also genuinely funny, again mainly because of the juxtaposition of characters the reader knows from childhood bedtime stories in a real world setting. The characters are written as fully-rounded human beings despite their fantastic origins. Vertigo publishes comics for adults (meaning “grown up audience” not “porn”) and Fables certainly respects its audience’s intelligence.

What’s Bad About It?
In format, Fables is probably best described as a “fantasy soap opera”. This leads to two problems inherent in the format:

First, the cast is large and ever-expanding. This isn’t your usual superhero team of five principal characters and a small supporting cast. Each character is drawn distinctly but there are a lot of them. If you don’t like large casts and masses of sub-plots bubbling away in the background then this series isn’t really for you.

Talk of sub-plots brings us to flaw number two: Fables is a long-form series, at time of writing the twelfth collection has recently been released. Each collection, Legends In Exile included, is largely self-contained but groundwork is laid in the background for future stories. There are a couple of scenes in this first volume that remain unresolved as they set up the plot for the second volume, Animal Farm.

All in all, Legends in Exile is a wholly satisfying read in itself but Fables is better read as a series.

What’s the Art Like?
Lan Medina’s art really sells the contrast between the mundane world the Fables live in and the fantastic aspects of the series. Take, for instance, this page, our first peek into the Fabletown Business Office:

We start with the very mundane office door, then we see not only Beast in his half-monster form but also a glimpse at the cavernous depths of the office. On the subject of the background, Medina really crams in the detail, one of those artists where its definitely worth your while to have a look at the art not just the story. This page also demonstrates the humour I was talking about earlier as we get a glimpse into Beauty and the Beast’s domestic life. He also draws very expressive faces, most especially with Beauty in this page.

We get more of an idea of the juxtaposition in this second example with a troll, a winged monkey and Snow White hefting a giant sword which I think speaks for itself (and is awesome).

Other Information
Fables: Legends In Exile (ISBN 1-56389-942-6) and is one of Vertigo’s most popular series. As such its available most places graphic novels are sold or on Amazon through this link. The book costs about £10 new.

Finally, as a Vertigo series the series doesn’t operate under any rules of censorship and whilst the sexual themes are hardly explicit they are there and Lan Medina certainly doesn’t shy away from blood.

1 comment:

  1. It's had its stumbles, but for the most part, Fables is a consistantly good...nay, Excellent book.

    Yes, I admit it, I love Bigby and Snow.