Fables is the Eisner-award winning series created by Bill Willingham. Collected regularly in trade paperbacks (cost-effective collections of individual issues, and my preferred method of reading this particular series), it is easily accessible to both new and veteran readers because of a “who’s-who” double-page spread featuring images of the main characters and a trade-specific synopsis to get you up to speed. This third trade collects the four-issue storyline “Storybook Love” plus another a few oneshots and a two-parter that sets up important character motivations for the “Storybook Love” storyline.
The first story is a single issue tale beautifully guest penciled by Bryan Talbot and “freely adapted from American folklore”. In an idea similar to one used in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the dead are still alive, unable to go to the next world. The issue is filled with humor and plenty of gore, not too surprising when the dead still walk the earth. Our fable character, Jack Horner, is a sleazy drifter, taking advantage of a dying woman for his own pleasure. Willingham’s story is full of twists and turns, and makes an enjoyable introductory story without throwing you into a multi-issue storyline.
The next story, a two-parter guest penciled by Lan Medina, begins with Briar Rose, the fairytale character with the curse of causing everyone around her to fall into a deep sleep when she pricks her finger. An important (and continuing) subplot featuring Prince Charming begins as he is kicked out of his latest girlfriend’s place, whose name Charming can’t remember, when she discovers his infidelities. In the crux of the issue, a news reporter confronts a key fable with his discovery of the “fable” community. The reporter has it slightly wrong but the “outing” will cause the fable community great harm either way. The fables launch into a complicated caper to save their necks, and though the plan is successful, but Willingham throws a sinister curveball at the end of the issue that leaves the main story complete, but leaves open story strands to build upon later.
At this point, the main storyline begins with art by Fables regular Mark Buckingham. The mouse police discover a sinister plot at the heart of Fabletown, involving one of the wealthiest, and one of the deadliest, fables. The plot threatens Snow White and Bigby Wolf, two pillars of the fable community, and major players in Willingham’s series. They manage to survive, but things get a little bloody, as we get to see just why the wolf is called big and bad, a villain suffers a Rasputin-like death sequence, seeming to die but perhaps due for resurrection, and another central character, Prince Charming, reveals his true ambitions. We also get the possibility of Bigby/Snow romance, but the sweetness becomes acrid after a discovery that I assume will haunt future storylines.
Fables is intended for sophisticated readers, but there’s nothing in it that’s worse than primetime TV. If you are tired of too much reality in your life and enjoy unique characterization, classic tales and rich artwork, this is one for you to pick up.