Since I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman a few years ago, I’ve been trying to find another series to start, one that has a lot of reading to catch up on. I started Fables today and think that I’ve finally found that.
Fables: Legends in Exile introduces Fabletown, a community of fairy tale people and creatures that live among New Yorkers. After being run out of their homelands by the Adversary, who may have been “a mere woodland sprite, while others claim he was once a god – thrown down from the vast heavens when his corruptions had become too great for his lofty brethren to tolerate,” they came to the New World and made a home in New York (and a prose story penned by Bill Willingham called “A Wolf in the Fold” at the end shows how they made the transition). There’s a vein of The Lord of the Rings and Sauron in the depiction of the Adversary, and a throwback (I think!) to C.S. Lewis and Narnia in the history of their immigration to New York (which also is a lot like Gaiman’s American Gods, which is all about immigration and the stories we bring with us from one country to another).
Legends in Exile opens up in present day New York, when the murder of Rose Red is all anyone can talk about. Her apartment has been found trashed and bloodstained, and it’s up to detective Bigby Wolf to figure out what happened. Rose Red is the sister of Snow White – Snow White acts as deputy to the Mayor, but really it’s her who pulls the strings in Fabletown. She teams up with Bigby to track the murderer down, confronting suspects like Rose Red’s boyfriend Jack (of the beanstalk) and ex-fiancé Bluebeard (from the stories that show him as a demon/man who murders his wives on their wedding night), under pressure from the Mayor to solve the murder before the annual Day of Remembrance.
Fairy tales exist to be re-written and revised, and are sort of entering into a ton of new variations recently. Once Upon a Time and Grimm are hour-long TV shows that were picked up for full seasons in 2011-2012, and two adaptations of Snow White are out this year. But there is something about the comics genre that retains the seditious edge to fairy tales, the undercurrent of “something is not right” that runs through the traditional stories, especially those collected by the Brothers Grimm. The gritty New York scene twists this revision even further in the direction of its roots, and the mystery/detective theme of this first volume highlights the violence implicit in those original stories.
Also, the cover art for Fables is sort of incredible, which is why there have been published collections of the covers for sale in addition to the story itself. James Jean did most of the cover work for Fables, and waiting for a new one is almost like waiting for a new Dave McKean cover for Sandman, where they seem to say as much about the story as the writing/illustrations in the issues do. I didn’t really start reading comics/graphic novels until university, when I needed a big-time break from straight prose, and now I sort of lean towards them more than traditional books. Not always, but if I’m looking for a really good story with excellent writing and images and illustration that do more than support, but write a story of their own, I head to that section of the bookstore. Fables is up to 121 issues, and it’s something new to dive into during the summer. I’m going to try to keep track of them on here – or at least as far as I can get in the next few months.
I’m hoping to have a few exciting reading projects up this summer, so…stay tuned!