Wednesday, March 31, 2004

some fabulistic reading

One more thing I did over the weekend was read the two Fables graphic novels/compilations (I don't know what the proper term is) that G-boy left with me to bring to him next next week.

Very interesting read. I like it when traditional, well-known characters undergo a darker reworking, an extreme case in point being The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which was also interesting but disturbing at times.

The Fables series is more of the same, but taking well-loved characters like Snow White, the Three Little Pigs, Little Boy Blue and others, transporting them to the heart of New York and limitless mystery and intrigue. Fabletown is a NY community put up by Fables when they are driven out of their Homelands by the nameless (currently) Adversary. There is another community, in a Farm in upstate NY, where the non-human Fables (and those who might not be able to mingle with regular society) live, including the Three Bears, the Br'er animals, the Jungle Book characters and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe (oh, she had so many children, but they knew what to do).

The first book, Legends in Exile, is a whodunit-cum-introduction to Fabletown, where Snow White (the ex-Mrs. Prince Charming) is the Deputy Mayor, true power behind Old King Cole's figurehead mayoralty. Gaffer Wolf, he who blew down the Three Little Pigs' homes and harassed Little Red Riding Hood, is now transformed into a human and is the Head of Security of Fabletown. As such he is tasked to solve the disappearance of Snow's estranged sister Rose Red (who of you remember that story rather than Snow White's date with the poisoned apple?)--who appears to have been victim of a grisly crime when her on-again off-again boyfriend, Jack of All Tales (Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Sprat, Little Jack Horner. etc.) finds her apartment all bloodied up with a sinister message on the wall.

In the course of the investigation, we meet up with the other denizens of Fabletown: there is the dodgy Prince Charming, who has lost his wealth with the exile as well as his two (so far mentioned) wives, Snow White and Cinderella, and is schmoozing off people; there is Bluebeard, one of the few Fables who left the Homelands with most of his wealth intact, and still seems quite sinister; and there is Colin, one of the three little pigs who prefers it in the city rather than at the Farm. The frequent cameos of various characters are quite entertaining, as is the prose at the end which details how Gaffer Wolf became Bigby Wolf, human and head of Fabletown security.

In the second book, Animal Farm, there is a reference to Orwell's classic, but, of course, treated in the skewed Fable logic--the Three Little Pigs and Br'er animals (Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Bear) are revolutionaries. They just happen to pick the time that Snow White is at the Farm to put their plans into action. There is a lot more violence here than in the first book, as well as an unlikely "cavalry", but thoroughly entertaining just the same.

As with the movies that I watch, I am satisfied if a graphic novel entertains me. I don't really know all the nuance of the art and the inking, although of course I appreciate the more sophisticated-looking drawings (like Kingdom Come, LoEG or the little I saw of Sandman). The drawings in Fables are a bit more simplistic but they effectively convey the well-thought up writings of Bill Willingham. The storylines are great--Bigby Wolf does a Miss Marple in the first book (complete with parlor-revelation scene at Old King Cole's penthouse), while in the second book, the seeds of discontent and the rumbles of revolution are effectively staged from the animal fable point of view. There are also some intriguing plot twists resulting in your not looking at some fairy-tale characters the same way again (like, Goldilocks is now living with the Three Bears and actually sleeping in Junior Bear's bed--euphemistically speaking).

In the end, maybe I like this because it makes those cherished fairy tale characters seem human. The fleshing-out of once one-sided characters such as Snow White through what may be simple characterization and author's machination is as much a draw as the interesting storyline. These are characters with whom we have grown up; and although it's been tried various times before--infusing them with a modern take, or love, or lust, and a little crime and politics--Willingham has created a cozy alternate reality with believable characters because he takes them for what they are: fairy-tale characters who have, somehow, become real, but never once forgetting where they came from.

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