While it sounds like a set-up to a time-tested cliché, the fictional outcome of this ambitious endeavor by Bill Willingham is seriously addictive and highly innovative.
It seems that the purpose of their carousing is in the investigation of the murder of one Rose Red, sister of Snow White – so reads the back of the first trade paperback in the “Fables” continuity.
“Fables” began in 2002 with “Legends in Exile,” collecting the first five issues of the still-ongoing series.
Within Willingham’s wondrous world, literary figures from folk and fairy tales lived in their respective kingdoms prior to the invasion of the Adversary – an alien army whose intent was to overtake the various fictional lands. It seemed that only after several kingdoms fell that the rest of the Fables banned together, but at that point it was too late. The only erstwhile available option then was to escape and give up their kingdoms.
Since escaping, Amnesty has been declared and all Fables remain absolved of past crimes, so they’ve been on their best behavior, for the most part – even the Black Forest Witch has been sticking to ginger bread.
Let’s not even get into the Big Bad Wolf.
Presently, a secluded section of New York City called Fabletown hosts the survivors of the fairyland evacuation, governed by Old King Cole, with a certain dwarf-acquainted former princess (but don’t ever mention them in her presence) serving as his deputy mayor – and she is quite the Ice Queen.
All is moving along rather uneventfully in Fabletown, rife with its charmingly routine minutiae bleeding through its presumably pixie powder-polished walls.
The fairy tale all comes to a screeching halt, however, as a dire event threatens to shake Fabletown to its perpetually-young knees. Snow White’s barely had enough time to kick Beauty and the Beast out of her office after turning down their plea – it seems that every time Beast’s lovely wife grows angry with him, he begins to change back into his original, monstrous form – and centuries of marriage can only do so much for a girl’s patience – when suddenly detective Bigby Wolf, as he’s now called, busts in with terrible news.
Rose Red is missing and her apartment is an utter, bloody disaster.
Oodles of vampiric elixir coat the various trinkets, carpet, furniture walls – and even CDs of her residence.
“No more happily ever after” is ominously written on the wall, presumably in Rose’s blood.
Definitely the job of a Fable, as no Mundane – as they’ve come to call regular folks – would understand the significance of that phrase.
There is more to this scene than it seems, however, as “Legends in Exile” takes the form of a murder mystery and those tend to throw its readers in for a loop – one Willingham visibly enjoys.
He even manages to avoid the Scooby-Doo headscrew by revealing all the clues leading up to the big unveiling throughout the course of the story.
Wolf, now turned human via a lycanthropy-enchanted knife leads the investigation in the only way a reformed mass-murderer (but that was all pre-Amnesty, of course) can – holding all Fables acquainted with Ms. Red in suspicion and treating those suspects as though they’re guilty. While not the most diplomatic approach, it continues – like the rest of the trade paperback – to be highly entertaining.
The remainder of the graphic novel reads like a vial of particularly potent poppy, as upon picking it up, it’s nearly impossible to put down. Willingham’s wit is only eclipsed by his ability as a suspenseful storyteller. With each issue, we get closer to discovering not only the mystery of Rose Red’s disappearance, but to the clandestine nature of the Fables, as well.
To supplement the enchanting who-done-it, a short story in prose called “Wolf in the Fold” is included at the end of the book, detailing Bigby’s life between the invasion of the Adversary and his employment by Old King Cole.
A proud band of seven assists Willingham in the perceivably pleasant production. Lan Medina handles the smooth lines of pencil – a beautiful touch, as the art work is highly expressive, while Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton lend their skills to the inks. Sherilyn van Vankenburgh rocks the vibrant color, creating exquisite shadow. Todd Klein rounds off with the letters, while James Jean and Alex Maleev front the story with their highly captivating, visually hectic cover.
The conclusion of the fifth issue, while providing closure, leaves the reader with a parched sense of withdrawal. Like the premier examples of its medium, “Legends in Exile” is the equivalent of a rock star’s narcotic – one its readers are certainly happy to take.
This reinvention of fairytale characters in this trade paperback is both innovative and intriguing. As readers, we are reminded of what these stories were meant to teach us in the first place, such as not straying from the right path. However, as well done as this trade paperback is , you never feel the need to return to this world. As intriguing as Bigby’s relationship with the pig is and regardless of the potential with Snow White, there isn’t that urgent need to find out what happens next to these characters. Once Bigby solves the mystery, we are left again with seeing these characters as they are – warnings as what not to do. That hardly leaves one to go running out for the remainder of the series.
– Donna-Lyn Washington