Saturday, 18 January 2014

Fables, Volume 1: Legends in Exile Review (Bill Willingham, Lan Medina)

Rose Red is dead – who killed her? It’s up to Bigby Wolf, Fabletown’s gumshoe, to track down the killer.
What I really like about the first volume of Fables is that it doesn’t read like a first volume of a multi-volume series - it reads like a standalone book. I’m sure Rose Red plays a big part later on but this book is concerned more with the done-in-one murder mystery than it is in explicitly detailing to the reader all about the world of the series, etc.

The genius of this approach is that Bill Willingham introduces the cast of the series, gives us their characters and their situations within the self-contained story, so it manages to do everything a first volume should while also presenting itself as a standalone book, meaning everyone from casual readers looking for a good story to those who’re in for the long haul can get something out of this first volume.

I’m not usually one for crime dramas/police procedurals, and the reveal at the end isn’t at all original, but the story in this first volume is an entertaining whodunit thanks to its colourful cast. Our grizzled (and he is grizzled!) detective is Bigby Wolf (aka the Big Bad Wolf) who, along with Snow White, Deputy Mayor of Fablestown and sister of Rose Red, sets out to bring Rose’s killer to justice.

Rather than meeting a series of nondescript characters during the investigation, you’re introduced to someone you’ll remember from your childhood in each scene - it’s Beauty and the Beast! Is that… Bluebeard? Jack - like Jack and the Beanstalk? Willingham’s taken their character and twisted it just so, so that they’re familiar but new at the same time. We’ve seen it done numerous times before (probably most famously by the Shrek movies) but it works in this comic because of Willingham’s strong characterisation and inspired writing.

Lan Medina’s wonderful designs help in realising the characters. They look like you’d expect to a degree so they’re recognisable when you first see them but have just enough nuance to them to make you look closer. I especially liked the jaded talking pig who returns from the farm to the city to crash on Bigby’s couch - Bigby owes him after blowing his house down!

And when you’re wondering how what when etc., Willingham provides just enough background information on how the Fables came to live in our world so that it’s sufficient for readers to enjoy this book alone with room to explore it further in later books – again, ingenious! I’m sure some readers will feel the brief section on The Adversary wasn’t enough but I’m also sure it’s explored more in the dozens of other books that follow this.

It’s taken me a while to get around to picking up Fables but I’m glad I did. It’s enjoyable, original, and this first volume is a fine place to start giving the reader a good taste of what the series is about and a decent murder mystery too - I’m definitely on board for the second volume! If you’ve been putting it off because of the abundance of cheesy fairy tales with a 21st century post-modern take in pop culture, put those fears aside and give Fables a shot. 

Fables Vol 1: Legends In Exile

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