Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One by Bill Willingham

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One is the compilation of the first ten issues and two story arcs of Bill Willingham's popular comic series Fables. Many of the characters are well-known and beloved by children and adults alike as they are taken from classic fairy tales and legends. However, they have changed greatly in this gritty modern reboot of popular fables and continue to evolve as they confront murder, mystery, and rebellion while fighting to remain hidden amongst normal humans.

The first story arc of Fables, "Legends in Exile", exhibits the aloof and stern Snow White and the reformed Big Bad Wolf (known as "Bigby")  racing to solve the killing of party-fiend Rose Red, Snow White's sister, and sets the background, settings, and themes of the rest of Fables. Rose's apartment is found trashed and spattered with blood by her boyfriend, Jack (of The Beanstalk), and he races to the head of security of Fables, Bigby. Bigby is charged with uncovering the mystery of Rose Red's disappearance and apparent murder by the director of operations of the fable characters, Snow White, before the largest gala of the year occurs.

There are several suspects: Snow, Prince Charming, Jack, and Bluebeard. Snow White has a very strained relationship with Rose because she caught her ex-husband, Prince Charming, cheating on her with Rose. Prince Charming's fling with Rose (along with his womanizing tendencies) caused his life to go downhill. Jack is Rose's current boyfriend, but they have had several blow-ups in the past, leading her to go out with other men and most likely making him very jealous. Bluebeard, a sophisticated male with a history of murdering his wives on their wedding night, is found to be secretly engaged to Rose. As the gala draws slowly near, it is a race against time to figure out "whodunnit?", and it remains suspenseful until the climax.

As Bigby investigates just what exactly happened to Rose Red, more details are revealed about the fable characters' home of New York. The fairytales that humans know existed centuries ago in a different dimension; however, they have fled their homelands to the “mundane world” by the wrathful and tyrannical being known as the Adversary and founded their own hidden community of Fabletown in New York City. A General Amnesty was passed once all the Fables came to New York, saying that anything that they have done in the past cannot be brought up again so that everyone can get along and Fabletown remains hidden.

The second story arc of Fables, "Animal Farm", delves into a seething rebellion by the more unique and less human-like characters in Fabletown's farm community in the countryside. Many of the characters on the farm despised being trapped within its boundaries because of their appearace and long for the days where they could roam where ever they pleased in their homelands. A gun-toting Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs, taking advantage of this displeasure, start a underground movement to disregard Fabletown laws and return to their homelands to fight the Adversary and take back what is theirs. When Snow arrives for a routine inspection of the farm, she initially is ignorant of the rebellion, but upon discovering it, she must fight for her life and end the rebellion before needless killings occur.

Before even cracking open Fables, readers must first become interested in it. The cover is a vital component of intriguing potential readers and enticing them to crack open the novel. Fables does very well in interesting potential readers with its vivid and life-like depiction of certain scenes from the book. The rather jarring contrast between the faded background and the bright images draw the eye and forces people to pay attention. This is further helped by the fierce scenes depicted. The tiger pinning Snow White, various, typically-benign creatures such as the rabbit and pig holding various weaponry, and other images make potential readers question, "Why is that rabbit holding guns? What on Earth is that blue creature holding a knife? Who are the two women, and why is one of them trapped underneath a tiger of all things?"
The content art pleasantly contrasts the cover. While the cover art is realistically drawn, the inside is drawn more closely to the more familiar style of classic comics, such as Superman or Batman. The vivid imagery and detail evident in each panel draws the reader in and highlights important details that may have been missed otherwise. However, sometimes the reader can be distracted by the sheer presence of color and detail and may look over important character or plot details, potentially confusing them down the road, such as when Snow is dealing with a complaint. There are virtually paragraphs of information in each panel that the reader must slog through to continue, decreasing the enjoyment of the art; this could have been avoided by condensing the information or spreading out the information through the section or even the entire story arc.
There is also the traditional comic aspect to consider. While for the most part Fables utilizes the common grid panel pattern of comics (typically using four to six panels per page with a uniform gutter and border throughout), it is not afraid to break the mold with other styles to great effect. The incorporation of different border styles is used to indicate key scenes and dialogue or past events such as viewing suspects' memories as Bigby interviews different characters. Overlaying small panels over a full-page panel provides additional detail and gives a clearer progression of time, such as when Snow is discussing Beauty and the Beast's marital issues. Varying artistic styles for chapter divisions adds more variety to the graphic novel and relates each issue back to the cover, tying them together.
Even though there were liberties taken with the artistic styles and the grid patterns of panels, Fables included established elements that are usually found in comics or books. All of the traditional elements of writing are clearly developed and defined within the novel. The setting of Fables in New York City, while stereotypical, does nothing to detract from the story, and one could almost imagine this tale occurring in any major metropolis. The two obvious storylines present are clearly defined at the beginning of each issue, continuously focused on throughout the arc, transitioned well, and established a clear background for the overarching conflict with the Adversary. The characters of Fables, while mostly familiar, have realistically changed to reflect the variations within their storylines, the struggles they faced, and their living in the mundane world. It is hard to imagine Snow White as anything but sweet, caring, and princess-like, but Fables' depiction of her as a tough businesswoman makes it much easier to do so.

In any comic or novel, one of the key ways characters express themselves is through dialogue (or lack thereof). However, the presence of dialogue rarely vanishes throughout the entire novel. While for most of the time the dialogue is vital for reader understanding, the reader occasionally struggles against a sea of superfluous words to get to key points in the novel. However, for the most part the dialogue is useful and balances well with the panel art throughout Fables. It should be noted that some of the language used is considered crude and there are depictions of violence at many points, so it may not necessarily be appropriate for younger children.

Fables is not your "happily-ever-after-sunshine-and-daisies" fairytale collection but a gritty modern reboot of the classics with some major plot twists and radically-changed characters. Despite the occasional presence of large amounts of dialogue, the book balances excellent artistic styles with interesting plots and engaging dialogue. While this is mainly geared toward teenagers and young adults, Fables can be understood by anyone who has knowledge of the classic fairytales. However, no matter the readers' age, the only thought they will have when they complete the story is "Where can I get the Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book 2?"


Willingham, Bill (w), Lan Medina (a), and Mark Buckingham (a). Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One. New York: DC Comics, 2009. Print.


Clare Leahy

Brianna Collender

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