Wednesday, June 30, 2010

recommendation: "Fables: Legends in Exile" (2002 graphic novel)

Fables is an ongoing urban fantasy comic book series written by Bill Willingham. Legends in Exile is volume one (the collected issues one to five), with art pencilled by Lan Medina.

The stories follow the lives of refugee Fables who settle in modern-day New York City after the mysterious Adversary drives them from their Homelands. Fables are fairytale people and creatures of every sort, and as you might imagine, they find life in New York isn't easy. It's especially hard for Snow White, who's acting as mayor of the Fable community. She says,

"We barely have enough money and manpower to run the most basic of underground government services. ... The Mundanes may look to their government to solve their problems, but in the Fable community, we expect you to be able to run your own lives.

"Our only concern is that ... no fable shall, by action or inaction, cause our magical nature to become known to the Mundane world. If you can't maintain a normal human appearance or purchase a concealing glamour from one of our witches--our rules mandate that you be relocated upstate to the Farm, where all the other nonhuman Fables live." (p. 9)

This law certainly poses difficulties for the shapeshifting sorts--like the Beast, who's having trouble maintaining human form due to marital difficulties with Beauty. The others aren't doing particularly well in their personal lives, either: Snow White and Prince Charming have divorced, thanks to Charming's womanizing. The characters are all written this way--fondly and cleverly, with a lot of wicked sarcasm.

Things go even more sour when Snow White's hard-partying sister, Rose Red, disappears. The Big Bad Wolf ("Bigby," please, who's not bad; he lets the Three Little Pigs crash at his place) investigates, and the clues point to murder. Suspicion falls on Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Rose's hapless boyfriend, and Mister Bluebeard, who's somehow managed to remain fantastically wealthy.

And there's the matter of the phrase "No More Happily Ever After" written in blood on Rose Red's living room wall....

The art is just as fantastic as the story. It's a very sharp-and-clean American-superhero style--no manga influence (and though I love manga, the art absolutely suits this tale). The Mundane world is harsh and dirty, whereas scenes in Fabletown and memories of the Homelands overflow with fantastical detail. Flashbacks bear baroque frames, and lovely, ornate scrolls open each chapter/issue. The original cover of each issue is reprinted in this collection, and each one is beautiful, done in dreamy pastels (my favourites are chapters two and four).

Legends in Exile is the only volume I've yet read, but I can't wait to read more (the series is up to twelve volumes now). The Fables are adaptable folk, but not so smart that they can stay out of trouble for long.

Says the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: "Fables is a must-read for any aficionado of fantasy in a contemporary setting." Indeed!

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