Fables by Bill Willingham: A Series Overview

It’s difficult saying goodbye to a series you’ve been off and on reading for years at a time. It’s going on a journey with a cast of characters you’ve loved and then being told you’ve got to go back to work in the real world, thankyouverymuch (which, to be honest, is my general outlook in life, hah!). Fables was pretty much that journey, and it was sad to see the series actually, truly “end.”

To preface: this isn’t a typical review. I’ve finished 150 issues in 22 volumes, spanning thousands of dialogue and illustrations, panels and pages, and I’m finding it impossible to judge a series by its final volume. Farewell does a good job tying some loose ends, but leaves many things to the imagination, and encompassed several problematic elements that deterred it from being the penultimate volume of Fables volumes. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

There’s an actual key within the foldout that tells you who each Fable is on this cover. It’s magnificent in scope.

Those who haven’t read Fables and are interested in delving into fractured fairy tales and modern retellings should really give this Willingham series a try. I must have pushed this series to a number of my reader friends (and my not-so-reader sister and best friend) because at the time I was:

  • A) in a Vertigo Comics reading spree (owing to my love of Sandman by Neil Gaiman) and
  • B) always on the lookout for fairy tale comics.

Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales piqued my interest in artwork, but it was Willingham’s Fables that had the staying power when it came to its characters and story.

The Fables series follows the story of the Fable community, a group of fairy tale, folktale, legendary, and mythological characters and their struggles to live in the Mundy (mundane, magic-less) world. After their defeat against the infamous Adversary, most of the Fable worlds have been subsumed into the Adversary’s empire, and many are forced to retreat to the mundane world of Manhattan and its surrounding areas. The first volume title, Legends in Exile–as well as the first cover, an illustration of Fables characters running and cramming themselves into Manhattan’s subway train–pretty much gives an accurate portrayal of how they’ve been living for hundreds of years.

In Legends in Exile, we encounter the prominent figures of Fabletown, and interestingly enough, the story begins with Snow White and Rose Red. I point this out because Willingham returns to the rivalry between the two sisters one final time in Farewell, and it becomes a rivalry of epic proportions. To be honest, this wasn’t the bit that endeared me to the series.

It was this particular panel that did.

I adore Bigby Wolf, and the fact that much of the first half of the series pits Bigby as a prominent character–and important member of Fabletown–is most definitely why I kept reading. Ever since my entry into urban fantasy and the were-creatures that litter the genre’s pages, I’ve always kept a fondness for werewolves, and Bigby is not only THE Big Bad Wolf of stories, but he’s a REFORMED Big Bad Wolf. By this point in the Fables series, he’d even been appointed as the Fables’ town sheriff, a character you would not have typically visualized as someone who would uphold the law.

But Bigby does in his own way, and it is easy to see later on why.

Um. I totally ship it.

The first volume did its job introducing a colorful cast, but it was Vol. 2, Animal Farm, and Vol. 3, Storybook Love, that cemented my love for the series. By the end of Vol. 11, War and Pieces, I thought this series was the bees’ knees. And it continued to be, though to be honest, once the Adversary Arc came to a resolution, nothing came quite close to the magic that the first 11 volumes held in their pages.

The series comprises of a few major storylines:

The Adversary (Vols. 1-11) – Wherein the Fables community try to find a life within the Mundy world, at the same time that many of them attempt to retake their Homeworlds from their enemies. Pretty epic stuff, especially considering who the Adversary is revealed to be, and how each of the Fables characters played a part in taking the evil kneevil down.

Mister Dark (Vols. 12-17) – After the fall of the Adversary, a new villain comes into town in the hopes of wreaking destruction to a newly-recovering Fable community. This arc was difficult to get through because the antagonists were arbitrary and highly annoying, but the arc also gave us Ghost, the North Wind, and Frau Totenkinder, and they are worth the waste of space that is Mister Dark.

The Werewolf Cubs (Vol. 18) – A prophecy comes to light upon the birth of Bigby’s seven children, and each are tied to their fates. This includes the spinoff volume Werewolves of the Heartland, which I considered as part of Vol. 18, to be honest.

Snow White and Rose Red (Vols. 19-22) – The finale pits us back to the rivalry between the two sisters and a curse revealed that explains it all. Or, well, tries to explain it all. It failed in my book, but Vol. 19, Snow White was well worth the read because it pretty much delves into Snow’s past and shines a light to how truly badass she is (although, if I’m going to be honest, I totally skipped everything about the damn flying monkey). Vol. 20, Camelot, follows in Snow’s wake by highlighting her sister Rose Red, and it is still one of my favorite covers in the series, even though Rose Red is quite possibly my least favorite lead.

I mean…taking on a fantastic swordsman one-handed? How is that NOT badass?!

But as far as it ended? I’m of two minds on that. In some ways, I appreciated Willingham trying to tie in loose ends in Farewell. It was a better volume than what came before, but it was also a bit of an anticlimactic disappointment. It also begged the question of “Who can truly come back to life?” Early on, it was established that the more famous Fables are able to return from death because hell, they are legendary in the mundy world. But then by the end of the series, even the popular fables don’t come back, and yet…some of the not-so-famous do. It bothered me to no end, almost as much as Rose Red’s lack of character development did.

In fact, if it weren’t for this magnificent four-panel foldout, I wouldn’t have rated Farewell as high as I did.

That all said, I’d still highly recommend this series. Heck, I’d highly recommend its spinoffs, too, especially Fairest and Telltale Games’ A Wolf Among Us (which also has a graphic novelization out). I wouldn’t so far as recommend the Jack of Fables spinoff, mostly because I effing HATED Jack and his Literal friends (and gods, AVOID Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover if you can, it really doesn’t add shmat to the story), but hey, who knows, it is probably enjoyable to others.

Alright, there. I’m done tooting the Fables horn.

Have you read the series? What did you think?


Fairy Tales and Werewolves and Telltale Games oh my!

I’d been meaning to gush about this, actually. And after seeing the Fairest spinoff at the regular geek store I go to, I had planned to make a post about Bill Willingham’s Fables this week (it was either this or talk about my pop music taste, and believe me…you did not want that). Imagine my pleasant surprise that timing agreed with me, ’cause the Telltale Games trailer of the newest addition to the company’s franchise was released yesterday!


My sister had told me that Telltale Games was making a new set of graphic adventure games (a sort of choice style interface). When she mentioned it was fairy tale-themed, I had already become intrigued, since, you know, I’m a little obsessed with fairy tales. And when I saw the main page for The Wolf Among Us? Suffice to say it took a lot of willpower not to get up and squee that Bill Willingham’s series was being turned into a game. And by the company who did such a fantastic job with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series, too!

For those unfamiliar with the Fables series, a brief summary:

Fairy tale characters have been forced out of their environment (the Homeland) by the menacing Adversary. In order to survive, they make their way across the magical portal to live in a New York City community, what they come to call as Fabletown. There, these characters attempt to live a normal way of life, or, at least, what normal can get when you’re suffering a fairy tale complex. It’s not peachy keen, either, especially when evidently, not everyone fits in (heck, they have to ship the more animalistic characters upstate to the Farm to better hide their identities).

fablesThe beginning of the series pretty much introduces us to some of the problems in trying to adapt to Fabletown. It’s obvious not every fairy tale character escaped to continue their happily ever after. Prince Charming is a renowned cheater, Snow White is divorced, Beauty and the Beast are suffering from their cursed romance–and doing so with meager income, and the reformed Big Bad Wolf (aka Bigby) has been charged to keep Fabletown safe. Hard to do when half the characters in the town are a danger to themselves.

The series is published by Vertigo, which is an imprint of DC Comics. Vertigo has also published The Sandman series, so, um, that’s already plus points in their favor. But I won’t digress (Neil Gaiman and his Sandman take are completely different squeeing fests altogether…).

I love Fables, though admittedly, I have not had the opportunity to read all of the spinoffs that emerged due to the popularity of characters and storylines (and I think I might have stopped reading after issue #82 because I was still depressed over one of the character deaths). I definitely have to pick up Fairest at some point, though, solely because I think the Fables women are fantastic in their own right.

So yes, kind of excited how Telltale Games will pay homage to this fantastic series. From what I saw on their Facebook page, it looks like Willingham is pleased with the direction that the writers are heading with the game. The fact that Bigby is the main character is even better, seeing as he’s one of my favorites in the series. And if it’s anything remotely close to The Walking Dead? Count me sold.

See the trailer here!