This summer, I had to say goodbye to two of my favorite graphic novel series (aside from Marvel’s Secret Wars, which I’m still trying to process) “Fables” by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham and “The Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. I discovered both series in the middle of their publication. Happily, I had a several volumes already published to get me started until I began the grueling wait for new installments.
(Since this post is talking about an entire series, there may be spoilers. Look out for Hawkeye* – he’ll let you know.)
Part 1: Fables
The first TP (trade paperback) of Vertigo’s Fables, “Legends in Exile” was published in 2002, and began with the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister. We learn that the characters in classic fairy and folk tales are alive and (mostly) well and living in exile from their magical homelands, having been driven out by the malevolent “Adversary.” Now, they live in our world (the “mundy” as in “mundane”) using magic to protect their fantastical origins. Now, Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, Snow White is the capable Operations Director and The Big Bad Wolf (or Bigby, as he is called in his human form) is the head of security. Those who do not have human form live on The Farm, mostly free to do what they please. We meet many, many other fairy tale characters through the series, with most carrying some semblance of their personalities we know from the story books. But, as we learn, they are far more complex than we mundies know them.
The first plot arc follows the resistance of and eventual all-out battle against The Adversary to regain the Homelands. Smaller plots are intertwined, introducing us to the motivations, conflicts and loves of the Fables. New and deadlier threats rise, war ensues and families are made (and broken). With such a rich source of characters, Willingham takes many liberties developing their personalities. Heroes are cads, cowards prove themselves to be kings and unlikely romance blossoms.
Issues #1-75 (volumes cover the first story arc of the war against The Adversary. There are also spin-offs and diversionary stories that focus on characters like Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk, who ends up getting his own comic “Jack of Fables”), Cinderella and the Frog Prince among many others. Some of these stories serve as good character development, other are complete stories. On the whole, most are entertaining, but as the series went on, I found myself skipping entire sections and skimming the rest.