With movies and games influenced by or based on comic books, it’s high time to have a look at the most prominent examples, starting with Bill Willingham’s Fables series.
Fables started in July 2002 and found its conclusion in July 2015 with 150 issues, all of which I read thanks to the 15 hardcover deluxe editions, published by Vertigo. These don’t only present the stories with more vibrant colors and better paper quality, but also feature artwork and various introductions by all kinds of artists and marketing/industry people involved in the production or from other branches of entertainment. Some prose writing of Willingham with illustrations are a nice distraction, too. The reason for reading all of these books was the Telltale Games episodic adventure game The Wolf Among Us with the first season finishing in 2014 and the second one coming in 2019.
The main idea of this comic book series is that all kinds of fairy-tale and folklore characters have escaped from an all-powerful adversary into the real, mundane world. Either living in a district of New York or on a farm outside, depending on how human or animal-like they are and how good their glamor spells work that hide their true forms, the characters don’t only have to cope with the modern ways of life, but also with their sins of the past. So Bigby Wolf, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf who tore down the house of the three little pigs and ate Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma, tries to make amends by being the sheriff of Fabletown, while Snow White is responsible for administrative duties. All the characters who found their happy endings in Disney stories or the Grimm fairy-tales are presented in more realistic ways, as they have their own personal problems despite or maybe because of their immortality, e.g. Pinocchio can’t forgive the Blue Fairy that he’ll be a boy forever, even if his mind has already grown up. Of course it’s not only European stories Willingham takes inspiration from, as all kinds of others, like from 1001 Arabian, make an appearance, too, with all its characters, creatures, and ideas.
The bigger story is about the Fables’ struggle to get back to their Homelands and defeat the Adversary with his armies. What sounds like standard fantasy fair turns into something much more surprising that won’t be spoiled here. Suffice it to say that there is always enough mystery and suspense, characters that feel real and aren’t the superheroes and invincible beings they are made out to be in the stories they come from. While the superhero theme and some allusions to comics turn up at some point and are actually a bit annoying, the rest of the books offers surprisingly touching moments and a mix of sex and violence that is used sparsely but effectively. It’s not all dark and gloomy, though, as there’s a lot of humor, and as the genres change from adventure, crime, noir story to more epic fantasy, boredom doesn’t set in. As with every comic series, the change of artists in between issues isn’t always successful, but the overall quality of the art direction with so many detailed backgrounds and the amazing cover artwork are of a very high standard. So all in all, this is a comic book series for grown-ups who like to remember the stories and characters they knew as children, but want to know what happened after the happy endings.
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