Trade Secrets #3: Fables Vol. 1

A Slight Disclaimer:

Here’s the part where my laziness allows me to put a couple of these articles in the can ahead of time so I can relax. I love writing. I love comics. And, oddly enough, I love writing about comics. But with an impending move in less than two months and the large prospect of packing up my current life and basically moving it on my own from Philly to Boston combined with the prospect of also not having a job when I get there, things have been a bit stressful as of late, sleep has been lost and so on and so forth. So I’m going to be scaling myself back just a little bit on the blog writing tip. Don’t necessarily expect to see long form reviews on single comics outside of the events. I’ll still be churning out mini reviews whenever I get books though. And unless I get really worked up by something, I probably won’t be ranting any time soon. I’ve still got parts two and three of my event analysis coming, with part two in the can and sitting in my email waiting to be posted. I should have part three done by next week depending on my work load at the old job here (shhhh. Don’t tell anyone. Our secret). The good thing is I’m going to be able to pump out eleven Trade Secrets articles on Fables. I’ve read the first six trades, and the next five and the graphic novel are coming in the post (apparently I’ve become British) soon enough. So that’ll keep me busy without having to work overtly hard on writing more in depth commentaries on individual issues. See? Everyone wins! And by everyone, I am explicitly referring to myself. Alright. With that out of the way, on with the show.

Another Slight Disclaimer:

So why did I decide to do something extremely risky by buying the first six trades of Fables from completely blind having never read a single page of a single issue of the series, especially considering the above paragraph concerning my impending move and the fact that I don’t have a job locked down in my new place of residence (VS fans out there may or may not want to keep an eye on eBay in the coming weeks if they’re interested in some Marvel and DC Legends money rares. Des is beginning to get desperate)? Well, word of mouth is a pretty darned powerful thing. Peer pressure is too. I’ve been told so many times that Fables is the best ongoing comic on the stands today, and no one can consider themselves a true comic fan if they’re not reading Fables, and there may have been something about sacrificial goats and pagan gods, but either way, the interest was there. A few weeks ago I was listening to 11 O’Clock Comics (the best new podcast on the planet, and probably the third best comics podcast on Earth behind Around Comics and Comic Geek Speak) and Jason Wood (a gentleman and a scholar) was extolling the virtues of the tenth Fables trade, so I decided to go nuts and just order the six trades. I think it was about ten seconds after I confirmed my purchase that I realized what could potentially happen if I didn’t like the book. Could be a pretty steep waste of money. Luckily, however, I devoured all six trades in four days. And yes, they’re good. But I’m not talking about the series as a whole. Let’s just look at the first trade.

Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile

Now that I’ve bored everyone to tears with my own agenda so they’re not actually reading this anymore, I might as well approach the task at hand. We begin with a pretty good amount of set up that gives us an idea of what kind of place Fabletown is, how the hell the Fables ended up inhabiting New York City, and who we can expect to see as some of the major characters. You’ve got your Snow White as deputy mayor/real mayor of the town within a town, Bigby Wolf as the sheriff, and a general array of well known characters from various fables, fairy tales and tall tales of all shapes and sizes. But we begin with Jack. And right off the bat, Willingham is screwing around with our expectations and perceptions. There are so many well known Jacks in the history of fables that Willingham not only consolidates them all into one guy, but he also makes him into kind of a deadbeat con artist. It’s a pretty simple formula. These are iconic characters in Western culture. It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Snow White, Prince Charming or the Big Bad Wolf. So why not take those expectations and turn them around on the reader? The opening characterization is already taken care of, and Willingham is showing us what happens to these same people after losing their home and living in New York for hundreds of years.

Our first arc is a murder mystery. Bigby Wolf is at the center of this tale, as he tries to discern the fate of Snow White’s sister, Rose Red. It’s pretty gruesome business, and it sets the tone of the book quite a lot more along the lines of the original Grimm fairy tales than their Disney counterparts. Sex, violence, and a chain smoking former wolf that plays out every hard boiled noir detective with glee. Willingham starts laying the clues from the first panel, and when you reach the end (where Bigby is so excited about the opportunity to finally play out the parlor scene we’ve seen so many times before), you can look back throughout these first five issues, and every clue and moment that leads Bigby to unlock the mystery is there. It’s not a cheat. It’s pretty ballsy on Willingham’s part to begin such a high concept comic series with what is basically genre fiction, but it works in the context of the story.

This arc is also prior to series regular Mark Buckingham handling the art chores. Lan Medina is more than adequate to kick the series off, and he establishes the world that Buckingham will eventually run with. As usual, I don’t have too much to say on the art side of things. It’s good, and it didn’t take me out of the story. It wasn’t blow away art, but it got the job done.

It’s a little difficult to continue reviewing these Fables trades without spoiling the ending to this book (considering it has major implications with the second trade, Animal Farm). It’s a wonderful little pastiche of all those famous detective stories, and it works so well in a serialized form. As much as I loved reading this book in one sitting, I do wish I had the opportunity to read this arc (and only this arc. I would have pulled out my hair waiting on March of the Wooden Soldiers, but more on that in a couple days/weeks/whenever I have the time) as it came out on the monthly schedule. The Rose red reveal at the end of issue four is just the kind of “wha…huh?” type of thing that isn’t a cheap move, but it just puts a smile on your face. It’s like the good old days, and one of the things that only a serialized medium can do successfully. That desire for more just needles at you for weeks until you get that last issue and watch Willingham and Bigby expertly tie it all together.

This is a great story on its own. This could have been a five issue mini series that never continued into an ongoing, and I still would have really enjoyed it. Of course, that’s not the case and there is much more to come, and it works really well as a lead in to the Fables universe. It’s pretty much all you could ask for from the first five issues/first trade of a comic. It’s the hook, and the hook is planted firmly in my lip. And it hurts. In a good way.

But not, you know, masochistic or anything. Because that would be inappropriate….Yeah…….. Gonna go now. See you folks for the next installment.

One thought on “Trade Secrets #3: Fables Vol. 1

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