Review by Frank Plowright
Many great ideas are obvious only in hindsight, and Bill Willingham came up with a series supplying him with an already almost universally familiar cast offering a wide range of abilities and endless possibilities for dramatic conflict. He appropriated the heroes and villains from the fairy tales and nursery rhymes passed down the ages. So we have Little Boy Blue rubbing shoulders with Rose Red, Jack apparently all the known characters of that name starting with the child of beanstalk fame, and assorted wicked witches, three blind mice, Pinocchio and Gepetto, and dozens more over a consistently entertaining series.
The twist of the concept is that these myths and legends have all decamped to New York as their assorted worlds, referred to as the Homelands, have been over-run by the forces of an unknown and very powerful enemy. The cast members that can pass for human occupy an area in Manhattan, its true appearance concealed by spells, while those unable to walk among us without attracting undue attention occupy a farm in New York state. The untold riches that accompanied the fleeing cast once permitted a lavish lifestyle, but the funds aren’t unlimited, and the number one rule of the Fables society is that they don’t reveal themselves in any fashion to what they refer to as the Mundanes.
Two threads occupy most of this volume. There’s the arrival of Prince Charming in Fabletown, able to influence humans almost sub-hypnotically into following his desires, and the disappearance of Rose Red from her apartment in which there’s a considerable amount of her blood. It’s down to Bigby Wolf, director of security and a mellower character than in his Big Bad days, to track down the culprit, but Snow White also investigates. This is the means by which Willingham leads us on a tour of Fabletown and its more prominent citizens, but it’s wrapped in an enthrallingly delivered mystery.
Mark Buckingham would become so associated with the way Fables looked (although it was always a series open to diverse artistic interpretation), so it’s odd to see Lan Medina illustrating the opening sequence. He does so very decoratively, nailing the look of the cast and their interaction with New York, while Steve Leialoha inking anyone’s pencils is welcome for the extra gloss.
Considering how elements of the series develop, it’s noteable that Fables begins with frequent references to the snippets of information familiarly associated with the cast. This reads very well on its own, with the clumsiness really only connected to forced dialogue, but Fables would develop a far stronger sense of ambition and cohesion with subsequent volumes.
This collection is gathered with the subsequent Animal Farm as the hardbound Fables Deluxe Edition volume one. The primary difference is that the material has a brighter look due to being printed on gloss stock, but in these early days before Buckingham developed his sidebars some material is lost in the gutter. There’s an improved presentation when this is gathered with the next five Fables volumes in 2019’s first Fables Compendium.