Friday, October 10, 2008

at the corner of bulfinch and kipling

Fables Vol. 1

Williamthebloody was right. This may be a slim volume, but it’s bursting with creative concept, humor, narrative-driven, action-packed art, and shows that obsession with twisting fairy tales that I have considered mine most of my life. It also answers some of the questions I had jumping into volume 8 of the series (which, obviously, wasn’t the smartest thing to do but I just picked it up off the shelf). Bill Willingham is the man in charge, with Lan Medina and Steve Leialoha providing the art.

It’s difficult not to make the 10th Kingdom comparisons. The first page introduces the setting as a fictional land called New York City. Though the heroine—Snow White herself—doesn’t live in an apartment building, she does operate out of the Woodland Luxury Apartments. Instead of Wolf seducing the doofy waitress Candy from the Grill by the Park (Central Park, that is) it’s Prince Charming doing the honors to a similarly doofy waitress named Molly (in a much less charming manner than Wolf did!). The Wolf—Bigby—is a detective rather than a huggable sheep-worrier but certainly the same genre of tough-guy, yet oddly, disarmingly, charming.

It’s difficult, as well, to forget the fact that from volume 8 I know who the Adversary is and that Bigby and Snow get married, have kids, etc, as here he is the bashful , strong, silent suitor and she the bitchy, independent working woman (for some reason I keep thinking about Rachel Dawes from Batman! Yeesh, too many TDK fics). But I look forward to finding out how they get together! It seems that the Fables (as the fairy tale characters are called) fled to the world of the Mundanes (Mundys) after the Adversary drove them from the Homelands . Since they are long-lived (immortal?) they’ve been in hiding for a long time. The majority live in New York City with certain protective measures, while “nonhuman” creatures are on the Farm in upstate New York. (There’s also a healthy dose of Lord of the Rings in this volume.)

Fables: Legends in Hiding starts out with a bang: Beauty and the Beast having marriage counselling! It’s hilarious and quite clever. Jack of the Beanstalk is here, as a trickster who never did anything with his life, as is Bluebeard (complete with TARDIS-like charms), one of the Three Little Pigs (who crashes on Bigby’s couch), Cinderella, and Snow White’s hellraising younger sister Rose Red (a far cry from the Rose Red in volume 8!). There’s a wonderfully wicked humor running throughout, as Bill Willingham seems to take perverse pleasure—as did Stephen Sondheim before him—in making our childhood characters into swearing, smoking, debauching moderns. Prince Charming’s conduct during casual sex should at least get a mention: “I’ve always believed a truly accomplished nobleman should hone his cocksmanship every bit as much as his swordsmanship.”

The story is hard to explain given what you know in volume 8, but suffice it to say it’s a murder investigation. Suddenly Prince Charming is even less charming than he was before. Snow White, who, if we remember from the fairy tale, was exceptionally sweet and naive but also stupid—in Fables, you’re not supposed to mention the dwarves to her—is now exceptionally put-upon by running the Fables’ fragile bureaucracy, and Bigby seems to get perverse satisfaction from keeping her on a short leash even though technically she is supervising the murder investigation. SNOW: “You can be one frustrating son of a bitch!” BIGBY: “Literally, in my case, but she was never less than loving and nurturing. The best mother any boy could want.”

The title, Fables, suggests the original intent of the stories—didacticism. (Perrault’s tales came with a rhyming moral at the end of each.) Making a metaphor for living life in the modern world. How do you interpret it, then, if the modern world is the setting for the fantasy? I’m not entirely sure, but I really like this series and will try to read what else it has to offer.

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