Thursday, May 01, 2008

April Book A Month Challenge: Beauty

Fables: Legends in Exile. Bill Willingham, writer, et al. New York: Vertigo, 2002.
Fables: Animal Farm. Bill Willingham, writer, et al. New York: Vertigo, 2003.

Hundreds of years ago, the lands of fairy tales and fables were overrun by "The Adversary" and the characters of our favourite stories, forced into exile in the real world. The human fables live quietly in New York, ruled by King Cole, the Mayor of Fabletown, who is merely a figurehead. The true power behind the throne is Snow White, Director of Operations, who is supported by her Sheriff, Bigby (i.e. "Big B.") Wolf, transformed into human shape somehow. That is the premise of the Fables series of graphic novels, which are collections of the Vertigo comic books of the same title. Each title in the series is a complete story arc from the original books.

Legends in Exile, the first novel in the series, is a standards murder mystery, solved by the traditional means of the genre, with no dependency on the special skills of the characters (beyond the fact that Bigby can ID the crime-scene blood by smell). All the usual suspects are dragged out to solve the mystery of the murder of Snow White's estranged wild sister, Rose Red: her sometime boyfriend, Jack the Giant Killer; the wealthy and mysterious Blue Beard; Snow's ex-husband, Prince Charming; and there's even a cameo by the witch of the Black Forest, last seen dining on children in her gingerbread house. Legends is a light take on the noir hard-boiled detective genre, and Bigby doesn't disappoint, solving everything while managing to piss off everybody.

The second volume in the series, Animal Farm, is, as suggested by the name, a tale of political upheaval and revolution. In Legends, we get glimpses of a talking pig, one of the "three little" tormented by the big bad wolf in the homelands, wandering through the scenery as a bit of porcine stage business. At the beginning of Animal Farm it is revealed that Colin has escaped from "The Farm," a sanctuary for the non-human fables in upstate New York. Snow White, and Rose Red leave the city for the Farm to return Colin and to check in with the manager of the Farm. While there, they discover that many of the animals are unsatisfied with they're lives for forced seclusion and dream of returning to the Homelands to fight off The Adversary. This dissatisfaction has risen to the level that many of the animals are considering armed revolt against the human government of Fabletown merely for the chance to try to recapture the Homelands. Because of the animosity of so many animals towards Wolf, he's banned from visiting the Farm, so White and Rose are on their own in the middle of the conflict.

These stories are well-told modern tales featuring the characters we remember from childhood (with a few obscure, or more modern references to pique our curiosity). Because of a small amount of sex and slightly larger amounts of blood and violence, the books are not suitable for younger children, but should be fine for young adults (if they're watching CSI, they can read these).

Oh, and Legends in Exile opens with Snow White trying to explain to a couple why she can't help them with marriage counseling: Beauty and the Beast.

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