Fables: Legends in Exile – Bill Willingham et alia

(Vertigo 2002)

(drawn by Lan Medina, inked by Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton)

Legends in Exile collects the first five issues of the award-winning Fables comic, which form a good introduction to the ‘Fables’ universe and also a coherent story of their own.

The first panels show us New York City, with its recognisable buildings, and a speeding taxi drawing up outside an apartment building on Bullfinch Street: a pony-tailed man leaps out of the cab and sprints past the concierge and the cleaner and bursts into the the office of one Bigby Wolf, Head of Security. There Jack (of Beanstalk fame) reports a terrible crime. The scene then switches to the Business Office, where Snow White, the deputy mayor of ‘Fabletown’ is listening, not particularly sympathetically, to the woes of Beauty and the Beast, and the occasional marital problems which mean that Beast is currently looking more beast-like than usual. Annoyed by what she sees to be Snow’s criticism of their marriage, Beauty angrily mentions Snow’s “tawdry little adventure with those seven dwarves”, and Boy Blue, Snow’s assistant, hastily ushers the couple from his boss’s office. Next to be introduced is Prince Charming, former husband of Snow White (and, we discover, also of two other Fables), who is broke, but charming his way into the apartment of a ‘mundane’ (non-Fable) waitress.

The crime is the apparent murder of Rose Red, estranged sister of Snow White: when Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown reports this to his boss, she insists on coming with him to examine Rose’s apartment. When they get there, they find the place trashed and blood-spattered: Bigby investigates. His first act is to arrest Jack, Rose’s former boyfriend, but the trail quickly leads to Bluebeard, who was engaged to Rose. Meanwhile, Bigby asks Flycatcher and Boy Blue to replicate the blood spatter in another apartment, so as to see how much blood Rose had lost in the attack.

At the Remembrance Day celebrations, almost the whole of Fabletown (at least, the human portion thereof) shows up to commemorate their departure from the ‘Homelands’, forced by the invading armies of ‘The Adversary’ to flee to the real world – often having to leave their lands, riches and belongings behind.

Once we were a thousand separate kingdoms, spread over a hundred magic worlds. We were kings and cobblers. Wizards or woodcarvers. We had our sinners, our saints, and our blatant social climbers. And from the grandest lord to the lowliest peasant girl, we were, for the most part, strangers to one another.

It took an invasion to unite us.

(pp 79-80)

It’s here that Bigby finally reveals the solution to the mystery, and how he solved it.

I really enjoyed this: as a detective story, it’s a very slight one, though the clues are there in the narrative, just as in a more traditional mystery story, though also in the artwork. Most of the fun is seeing the references to fairy stories and how the Fables have adjusted to the ‘real world’. Witches still exist, Bigby can change from a man into a wolf, if occasion demands, and curses still operate.

The artwork is rich and detailed, with more to notice on each re-reading: the trumpet on Boy Blue’s desk, for example, or Bigby’s wolf-shaped shadow when he’s in human form. In this story, Bigby does a very good imitation of the world-weary private detectives of the hard-boiled genre, such as Sam Spade, constantly with a cigarette in his mouth. The use of colour is also very evocative, too, and the framing of flashbacks within sweeping gilt lines is also effective. Also popping in and out throughout the panels is a pig, one of the three pigs whom Bigby, long ago, tried to eat, and who occasionally escapes from the upstate farm to visit the big city.

Bigby and Snow have a slightly combative relationship – she’s a prickly, rather uptight character in contrast to her sister’s reputation as rather a party animal. She’s beautiful, but rarely shows it, preferring to dress in simple suits; and many of the other human Fables seem to dress quite formally. I do like the fact that the female characters are generally drawn to realistic human standards: sure, they’re idealised a little – after all, the characters of Snow White, Beauty and Cinderella are meant to be beautiful – but they’re not impossible women. Snow’s dress at the Remembrance Day celebration is somewhat sprayed-on, though I like her point to Bigby that:

“…perhaps women wear low necklines to filter out the gentlemen from the dogs. Those few who can still manage eye contact, even in the presence of breasts like these, might actually have some potential.”

(p 91)

Anyway, I liked this enough to buy issues 2 and 3, and will review these soon.

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This entry was posted in 2011 New Reads, Crime fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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