Ripe Reviews: Fables, by Bill Willingham and Various Artists

Posted: June 3, 2010 by silvertomatoproductions in Comics, Comics Reviews, Tomato Surprise

(BORING LEGAL CRAP: Tomato here, with a *gasp* new review of one of my favorite comics! I’d like to point out, however, that this comic is under DC’s Vertigo imprint, so it contains violence, nudity, swearing, and other stuff that you probably would sue me over if I didn’t put this note in the beginning. So, I am! DON’T HURT ME! All images used here are either from Wikipedia or Perdido Art Journal, and are owned by DC Comics, and not me! This concludes Boring Legal Crap.)

Were you traumatized when you found out that fairy tales didn’t exist? Well, you might want to check the return policy on that therapy bill, because Bill Willingham’s excellent comic, Fables, would beg to differ. To sum it up, every fairy tale ever told is true, and the characters depicted actually exist-er, existed together. (In relative peace, I might add). That is, until an unknown Adversary launched a full out assault on the Homelands, ruling a downright daunting military force with an iron fist. The Fables that remained after the war wisely fled for the hills. Where did they flee too? Well, since this is an American comics, you can probably eliminate Uganda. Predictably, the Fables settle in the newly-christened and aptly-named Fabletown, a small and secret society located in what we call New York. (Hey, Ukari: why haven’t you been looking for Snow White? Do it FOR SCIENCE, dang it!)

Anyway, they’ve all been living in this crazy little town for years, new lives started, past sins forgiven, riches stripped away, and loved ones left behind. This is their story. And boy, is it a good one!

Just because it’s good, however, doesn’t mean it’s by-the-book, on an endless loop of stagnation. Things are constantly on the move in Fables, and never stay in one spot for too long. Volume One, a madcap murder mystery worthy of Desperate Housewives or Castle, segues seamlessly into Volume Two, a political thriller best described as Goldilocks meets V For Vendetta, and then plateaus into a romance-filled and sentimental Volume Three. Things really come to a head, however, in Volumes Four and Five, as the series pulls the throttle and decides what it truly wants to be: a rumination on the positive and negative effects of war, and not just to those on the front-lines. However, the true strength of Fables lies in its ability to blend all of these aspects together smoothly and quickly. In the hands of any other writer, a series as complex, malleable, and kinetic as Fables can sometimes be would collapse under its own weight, leaving the reader with more of a splitting headache than a splendid story. Under the pen of Bill Willingham, though, you can leave those worries at the door. Things are constantly changing in Fables, but you can tell that they’re not being plucked daily from a writer’s sock drawer. For a good story, you need build-up, foreshadowing, and development. Fables certainly delivers all three of these things, without banging them over your head like a cast-iron sledgehammer. (I’m looking at you, Countdown to Final Crisis and Rise of Arsenal!)

Speaking of cast-iron sledgehammers, though, brings me to the first of my two complaints about Fables. Willingham is an excellent writer, making every word of every panel on every page beam with energy. That is, until he decides to pull out his political soapbox, abandon all plot and character development, and turn his comic into an abomination worthy of Jack Chick. Look, regardless of your political leanings, and how they match up to Willingham’s, these infrequent political outbursts WILL BE long. WILL BE conspicuous, and WILL BE freaking annoying. Gladly, as the volumes go on, these become less frequent.  Until, I regret to say, an ENTIRE VOLUME (volume 7) is spent on a sloppy, overbearing and crass political commentary that, frankly, I could’ve written in fifth grade. Thanks a bunch, Bill.

I’d also caution you against expecting anything more than passable from the art of Fables. Characters seem to be off-model every few pages, backgrounds are either too bland or too busy, and the artistic style outright changes more often than a revolving door with ADD.

Despite those few cracks in the scaffolding, however, Fables has managed to be a classic, hilarious, tear-jerking, and thought provoking comic for over 7 years and counting. All volumes are still in print, via DC Comic’s Vertigo imprint, and they’re definitely worth checking out in your local comic shop, bookstore, or library.

  1. “Fables” sounds like a work I could really get into. I’ve always loved fairy tales, and the dark and grim stories that lurk within them. Throwing them all into a single environment (my hometown of the Big Apple) is just icing on the cake.

    I always dislike it when an author tries to beat the reader over the head with his/her political views and such. Comics are supposed to be reality escapism: not a one-sided evaluation of reality and real-world politics. If I ever get around to reading this comic, I may decided to skip out on Volume 7.

    As for changing art style from issue-to-issue: I’m okay with that as long as the artwork remains good and the style chosen actually has something to do with the mood of that particular story. Not done just for the heck of it. Nice review, dude.

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