DC Comics' Vertigo imprint is known for publishing series with a 'Mature Readers' label, which can mean anything from a sexual or violent content to more sophisticated storytelling than is usually found in mainstream comic books. The best-known titles from the imprint include Sandman, Swamp Thing and Preacher. Fables, a recent (2002 onwards) hit from the imprint, includes much that earns it the 'Mature Readers' advisory label and yet one of the central characters is Snow White. Yes, that Snow White. Her with the dwarves1.
The 'hook' of the series is that it tells the stories of characters from fairy tale, fable and legend, who have been forced out of their homelands by the mysterious Adversary and are now living in New York. Of course, they can't tell anyone in the 'mundane world' their true nature, and it can sometimes be a little hard to hide a community of people who never age, not to mention giants, dragons, talking animals and flying monkeys. Within this framework, just about any type of tale can be told - a murder mystery, a political thriller, a supernatural yarn, a caper and a love story all featured in the first year and-a-half of issues.
The Creative Team
Bill Willingham, the writer of the series, is known both as an artist on mainstream comics, and as a writer of more off-beat series ranging from 'adult fantasy' series Ironwood and tales set on the fringes of the world of Sandman to Proposition Player, about a poker player who accidentally gets control of various souls. Fables has elevated him to cult status, and is probably what led to him getting the job of scripting Robin on a regular basis, no doubt in an attempt to woo non-superhero fans and get them hooked on Gotham's vigilantes.
The artists of Fables change for each story arc, giving it a fluid feel and ensuring that the various styles of tale are handled in a distinctive manner. Artists have included Lan Medina, Mark Buckingham and Craig Hamilton.
The cast of Fables is potentially huge, including any character from any fable, fairytale or myth across the world (as long as it's no longer in copyright). However, although a great many do appear, the series tends to focus on a few at a time, with a small core of regular characters.
Old King Cole - Old King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown, the fable community in New York. However, he is mostly a figurehead (though good at speeches) and does very little real work, leaving that to...
Snow White - Snow White is the mayor's deputy, who is the real power in Fabletown. What she says goes, and she is generally ruthlessly efficient. She is a workaholic, who rarely stops to breathe, let alone relax, and has an antagonistic relationship with the sheriff...
Bigby Wolf2 - Bigby has reaped great rewards from the fable community's general amnesty, in which all actions prior to their exile to the mundane world are forgiven and forgotten. He has established himself as a doggedly-determined law enforcement official, and simply can't be fooled. Although he has a human appearance, his wolfish true nature comes to the fore when he's really angry, particularly with his biggest rival...
Bluebeard - Bluebeard has also had much forgiven due to the amnesty. He is arrogant, an aristocrat to the last, and is desperate for status in the fable community, becoming quite the rebel, and even plotting to get rid of Bigby and Snow. It is hard to say which drive is more powerful in him, power or sex. The latter came to the fore when he had an affair with...
Rose Red - Snow's lesser-known sister, who is full of ideals when it suits her, but is more likely to do something rash and stupid and be led astray by those around her. She is also extremely jealous of how the mundane world adores her sister. However, to her credit, she is one of the few Fable women never to have married...
Prince Charming (though she did once have an affair with him) - He's a complete cad. He was the handsome, gallant prince in the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, but it seems he has a roving eye. He is now even having flings with non-fables (Mundys), much to the horror of those from the fable community.
Other fables who have appeared include Beauty and the Beast, Goldilocks, the three bears, the three little pigs, Cock Robin, Pinocchio, Little Boy Blue, Bagheera, Jack of the tales, the Frog Prince, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and others, often doing things you wouldn't normally expect them to be up to. The revelations of which characters are, or have been, bedfellows, as well as their political ambitions (or moneymaking schemes) all make sense from their original context, but have been extrapolated to a degree which makes them fresh and surprising.
The Story Arcs
This brief guide to the story arcs published or announced up to the date of writing will try to avoid spoiling the twists of the plot, but if the reader wishes to avoid spoilers, they would be best advised to skip this section.
Who Killed Rose Red? - Issues 1-5, also reprinted (with a bonus Bigby Wolf text story) in a collected edition called Legends in Exile (January 2003). This story arc introduces the main characters by way of a murder mystery where many of them are suspects. Bigby Wolf investigates, interviewing such characters as Snow White and Bluebeard in his attempt to find out who (if anyone) murdered Rose Red. At the same time, Prince Charming tries to regain some of his lost fortune.
Animal Farm - Issues 6-10, also reprinted in a collected edition (August 2003). This is a political thriller, taking place on the Farm, an area outside New York where all the non-human fables are concealed from prying eyes. Rebellion is brewing among the talking animals and similar characters, with Snow White and other human fables caught up in events. Several fables are murdered or executed in this story, which also shows us something of the power us normal folk have in the fable world.
Bag O' Bones - Issue 11. A one-issue story featuring Jack of the Tales (he of Beanstalk fame, among other adventures) and his encounter with Death and the Devil back during the Civil War. It's a supernatural tale with a liberal smattering of gore and debauchery.
Caper - Issues 12-13. Bigby Wolf, with help from Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming, Bluebeard and others, must ensure that their community is not exposed by an inquisitive reporter. Cue lots of running around in dark clothes, hacking and other skullduggery.
Storybook Love - Issues 14-17. Could it be love between Bigby and Snow? Surely not? And what do Bluebeard and Prince Charming have to say about this? A tale of love, betrayal and espionage.
The Last Castle - Special issue, featuring a story of the fables back in their homelands, their last stand and subsequent escape, including Red Riding Hood's first appearance in the Fables saga.