Current Reviews


Fables: Legends In Exile

Posted: Saturday, February 8, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Lan Medina (p), Steve Leialoha & Craig Hamilton (i)

Publisher: DC

When their kingdoms are overrun by a evil force called the Adversary, the characters that populate Fairy Tales are forced to flee into the real world, where they band together to form a small community in the middle of New York City. With Old King Cole as the figurehead leader, and Snow White as the real administrative power that runs this community, this diverse collection of literary figures manage to make a pretty successful go of it in the modern world, with some meeting with more success than others (e.g. Prince Charming uses his stunning good looks to effectively sponge off a string of women). However, when Red Rose, the estranged sister of Snow White looks to have become the victim of a savage murder, we see the Big Bad Wolf is called upon to investigate this crime, as the murder looks to have been committed by a member of the Fables community. With a list of suspects ranging from Jack (from Jack & the Beanstalk), to the highly suspect wife-killer Bluebeard, we see the Wolf manages to piece together a rather unique scenario that fits the crime, and it all come to a close with a classic parlor room scene, where all the suspects are gathered together, and the Wolf cleverly explains how he solved the murder of Red Rose.

The opening five issues that are collected in this trade paperback stand up as one of the best introductions to a concept that I've ever come across in my twenty-plus years of comic reading. From the way that it cleanly lays out the idea that its cast are characters from fairy tales who have been forced from their lands into the real world, to the way that it takes the basic themes from the original stories and uses them to define its cast of characters, these issues managed to turn me from a dubious reader who had picked up this book to see if the buzz had had merit, to an outright fanboy who upon finishing the trade paperback went immediately to the comic shop to snatch up the next four issues of the series, as I simply couldn't wait for the next trade paperback to be released. From the lecherous, but endearing buffoon that is Prince Charming, to the hard-nosed, pessimistic Snow White, this opening arc does a splendid job of making you interested in these characters & their adventures. Now thanks in large part to the bonus fairy tale that is included in this trade paperback I have to say that Digby Wolf is far & away my favorite member of the cast, as there's something inherently inviting about a hero whose past has shown them capable of great evil.

As for the murder mystery that this entire opening arc centers around, I have to say that Bill Willingham did a fairly solid job of keeping enough potential suspects looking like the guilty party that the surprise twist did catch me off guard. The explanation that is offered up in the final issue also does a nice job of answering all the lingering questions, and it also neatly outlined the clues that were offered up in the early issues, so that I was left feeling a bit dumbfounded as to why I didn't cue into any of them before this final issue. Then again the little twist at the end does turn everything on its ear, and Bill Willingham deserves full marks for playing his cards so close to his vest. The way that Bigby Wolf went about solving the case was also a lot of fun, as we see he took a fairly methodical approach to his investigation. Plus, like most good detectives we learn he had pretty much solved the case right from the start, and most of the investigation was simply the elimination of the elements to the case that didn't seem to fit. In the end the murder mystery was just a frame work that allowed the story to introduce & flesh out the fairly expansive cast of this series, but it also managed to keep me guessing at who the killer was, so it was also quite successful on this front.

The art of Lan Medina is a very nice match for this series as the art has a nice sense of whimsy to it that nicely captures the sheer scope of imaginative ideas that this series needs to convey, but the book also is able to deliver the darker moments quite well. In fact our opening look at the room where Red Rose was murdered is a decidedly horrific looking visual that instantly draws one out of the rather charming little story that we had been receiving up to that point. There's also a great sequence in the middle of this opening arc where we see Digby Wolf sheds his human form, and we see the character in all his beastly glory. There's also a wonderful establishing shot of Snow White's office, which we see is littered with various elements from fairy tales, and there a truly amazing double-page spread where we see the fairy tale kingdom falling to an invasion force. The art also does a wonderful job of simply telling the story, as the sequence where Digby Wolf is going over the crime scene is a great display of an artist telling an important sequence without requiring any explanatory text. There's also the little moments, like the surreal scene where we see the Pig lights up a cigarette, or the idea that Bluebeard relocated his entire castle inside his apartment.

Final Word:
A near perfect comic book series, as Bill Willingham takes characters that most everyone encountered during their childhood, and transfers them into a wonderfully realized modern day setting. He takes the basic personality elements of characters like the Big Bad Wolf & Prince Charming add then he expands upon them, so the resultant character has an underlying familiarity, but there's also a nice sense of discovery as we see the new roles these characters have been cast into. This opening arc also plays host to a fairly clever murder mystery, that not only managed to conceal the truth until it was ready to spring it upon the unsuspecting reader, but also managed to deliver a delightful little surprise twist that left me quite pleased with how neatly everything fitted together once this new information was revealed. The book is also littered with fun little moments that nicely display how much thought Bill Willingham put into this project, as how can one not smile at Pinocchio's rant at the party, or the marital difficulties of Beauty and the Beast.

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