Women in Refrigerators, Fables, and The Wolf Among Us Episode 1

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Erica McGillivray

Recently, I teamed up with Jose San Mateo at Indie Haven to do a live review of The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 Faith, which is a video game based on the Fables comic. A comic book, which I've had my fair share of ups and downs with.

Fables has always been notably the comic on the "what do you give girls and women when you want them to be interested in comics?" list. In many ways, it's reputation is well-deserved, and it simply does a few things: has women characters and treats women characters like fully realized humans with their own agency in stories. There's no special formula, and at different parts of Fables, not all female characters are equal. But there's enough female characters, specifically main female characters, that it's okay if some of them die or have stereotypical feminine roles.

That said, recommending that all women read Fables is casting all women as having the same tastes. As if we're some unified Borg-hive mind, making decisions together. The cliche of having male-identified comic book shop retailers recommend Fables has been grating to female creators and probably done some damage to getting readers to the book.

That said, if you like stories about fairy tales, with a bit of magic, with a bit of mystery, and with lots of characters, you'll probably enjoy Fables. (Fables bigger downfall is its lack of and treatment of characters of color. But this is another topic that I've tackled a bit before, and I imagine we'll get more into in later The Wolf Among Us chapters.)

So let's get into SPOILERS for The Wolf Among Us, of which I'm only knowledgeable about what happens in Chapter 1. For those of you who've played the game, you're going to cringe at the next few sentences. Snow White is one of the consistently "strong" female main characters within Fables, one of the characters with the most and longest storyline, and also my favorite character. At the end of Chapter 1, Beast, Bigby, and company find Snow White's decapitated head.

Now the video game purposefully doesn't follow the Fables world as exactly true to the comic book. The first dead body here is Faith, the donkeyskin girl, who was brought in specifically for the story. (Those of comic book fans will note that Fables first arc was Bigby and Snow solving the "murder" of Rose Red.) I figured that Telltale Games would take us on a similar journey, only maybe without Rose Red. Or that Rose Red would be the woman found dead instead of Snow.

The problem is that Wolf Among Us spends all of Chapter 1 bonding Bigby and Snow together. They get to know each other better. They see through each other's eyes when it comes to the case. And they even flirt a little bit. (In Fables, Snow and Bigby notably get married and have seven "cubs" together.) While you can only play the game from Bigby's point-of-view, Snow's the only character who comes off as completely on Bigby's side. The rest of the characters -- even the usually "normal" Beast and Beauty -- are suspicious and seemingly lie to Bigby about their motivations and actions.

Sadly, in comic books, there's a widely-known trope known as "Women in Refrigerators". Coined by comic author Gail Simone, the term served to shed light on how many women in comics, especially superhero comics, were killed, raped, tortured, or otherwise inflicted with severe tragedy solely for motivation for male characters. Simone kept a website that listed all these female characters' name, and at the time, there were only a few women characters not listed. The term comes from a Green Lantern comic where Green Lantern Kyle Rayner's girlfriend was killed, dismembered, and shoved in his fridge by a villain.

When Faith ended up dead, I raised my eyebrow. But I wanted to see how the story played out, and then when Snow died, the only reason I could see why we would have Bigby bond with her so intensely would be to cause him personal motivation to solve the murders. Snow's death serves only to forward Bigby's storyline and falls classically into the Women in Refrigerators trope.

Which made me extra sad given the "female-friendly" notoriety that Fables has, not to mention the legacy of Snow White as a character in the comics.

That said, Telltale has already noted that "Fables are hard to kill." Which is also in the comic books. In the books, each Fables has a belief factor -- think of Tinkerbell's clap if you believe in me -- and characters with more famous stories are harder to kill. Snow is an extremely well-known fairy tale character, making her extra hard to kill. I hope this brings her back.

IndieHaven should have all the videos up soon, and Jose and I will be reviewing Chapter 2 soon.


Erica McGillivray spends a ridiculous amount of time being geeky. She works as a tech community manager, wrangling over 400,000 people. Erica's also a founder of GeekGirlCon, a published author, and has an comic book collection that's an earthquake hazard. You can find her on Twitter @emcgillivray.

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