Fables (Vol. 1): Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (author) and Lan Medina (artist)
Snow White is having a rough week. It is only a few days away from Rememberance Day, Fabletown’s big celebration and fund-raiser. As the deputy mayor, she is in charge of the event. The Beast, of Beauty and the Beast, is reverting to his non-human form, and she must decide if he will be exiled from New York City and sent upstate to the “farm,” where the non-human immigrants from her home reality live. Her ex, the smarmy, philandering Prince Charming, is back in town. Now, Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, brings her bad news about her sister. Rose Red’s apartment is dripping with blood – Red’s blood – and she is missing.
Legends in Exile, Volume One of the graphic novel series Fables, (Story by Bill Willingham, Art by Lan Medina) introduces us to the immigrant community of fairy tale and folkloric characters, trying to make their lives in our world. Many of them congregate at a New York building called the Woodland. Old King Cole is Mayor for Life; he is a ceremonial figure, and Snow White does the real work. Snow is a tough, competent, embittered princess, and Bigby Wolf, with his perpetual beard stubble, his cigarettes and his schlumpy trench-coat, is less a sheriff than a noir detective. The story of Red’s disappearance is not as important to this story as the introduction of the concept and the characters. Over the chapters, Willingham reveals the backstory; the loss of their world to the Adversary, a horned god or demi-god who looks like the Judeo-Christian depictions of Satan. Willingham nods to Pastor Niemoller in a speech King Cole gives;
When the Emerald Kingdom fell we tsked-tsked and tut-tutted in our homes, sad for the fate of those unfortunate souls, but we weren’t tempted to intervene. After all, they were ever so odd folks, and so far away. It wasn’t our business.
Then the kingdom of the Great Lion fell, and again we did nothing because we always found the old lion to be a bit too pompous and holier-than-thou for our tastes.
Many of the “fables” dream of a time when they will return to their lands and fight off the Adversary, but most of the human ones have assimilated. Prince Charming, short of funds, is raffling off his title and lands (in a country to which none of them can return). Beauty buys a ticket, explaining to her husband that she was a peasant girl who married into wealth; if she wins she’ll have something of her own. The Beast replies, “And you’ll still work for minimum wage in a bookstore.”
Anyone who has ever read a murder mystery will figure out what happened with Red pretty quickly – and, to be fair, while he’s not a very good detective, Wolf does too. The real puzzle is the “who,” although that was fairly easy to scope out too. This book is not meant to be a true mystery, and with a few glitches, it succeeds at what it’s meant to do. I appreciated Willingham rolling two separate Prince Charmings into one and making him twice divorced (Snow White and Cinderella). The technique of conflating characters backfired, though, with Snow White and Rose Red. By dropping a mention of the seven dwarves early in the book, Willingham essentially takes away Rose Red’s story completely and turns her into a stereotypical rebellious younger sister, since the Snow of Snow White and Rose Red is a completely different one. It may be that Snow’s story somehow get clarified in later volumes, but it jarred me out of the book and seemed sloppy.
Lan Medina’s artwork is skilled and good, serving the story without particularly creating any “wow” reactions from me. There were nice moments; a scene where Snow White closes a door behind her, and see her human shadow on the wall, while on the stairwell, Bigby Wolf throws a wolf shadow. It isn’t a reveal – we already know who he is – but it’s a nice moment. There is another nice moment with Wolf, in his apartment, just after he has hung up the phone, that is homage to noir. I think some of my favorite artwork is the depiction of the pig who has escaped the upstate farm and is cavorting around Woodland.
The book contains some extras; a couple of chapter excerpts from later volumes, a short story about Bo Peep, her lover, and the secret things people do in war, a prose story that gives us a little insight into Wolf and his decision to transform into mostly human and stay at Woodland.
There are about eighteen Fables volumes and a spinoff called Jack of Fables. Willingham has taken a fun concept and is running with it. Legends in Exile is an enjoyable book.