J.G. Keely's Reviews > Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile

Fables, Vol. 1 by Bill Willingham
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's review
Nov 10, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: comics, fantasy, reviewed
Read from November 10 to 11, 2010

I remember being somewhat taken aback the first time I read an original Fairy Tale. They aren't child-friendly, in fact many of them were written to unnerve and frighten children. The characters in fairytales are usually half-mad, murderous, sexually-charged, and grotesque.

Authors have returned to them again and again for inspiration, exploring the history of storytelling, moralizing tales, propaganda, and archetypes. Gaiman's 'Sandman' is notable for some remarkable insights into the nature of fairy tales and how they comment on what has changed in our modern storytelling tradition--and what hasn't. Likewise Mignola has recalled to us some of the less pleasant aspects of fairy stories in 'Hellboy', where the madness of these myths is hardly forgotten.

Hellboy was a decade before Fables, and Sandman twenty years before, but Fables is, if anything, a regression, doing less with myth than earlier comics. Names are dropped, but the characters attached neither typify nor subvert the characters they are aping. In the end, Willingham portrays a less nuanced take on the original myth than the average Disney movie.

His dialogue is wooden, lacking in subtlety or thrust. The characters say what you would expect them to, with plenty of awkward exposition:

"Todd, my brother, what are you doing here at the government headquarters when you should be searching for your lost wife?"

There's no style or charm to be found in the writing and the characters show none of the grotesque vividness of their sources.

Willingham seems unable to imagine a larger world than the one directly implied by his plot, which is a straightforward murder-mystery. His setting has all the depth of a painted backdrop. If he had hoped to achieve a sliver of what Gaiman did with old myths, he should have delved deeper into his source materials.

His interweaving is clumsy, with the suggestion that Oz and 'The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe' are part of his fairytale tradition. This inclusion conflicts with the backstory, since both were written after the fables were ousted from fairy land and relocated to America (the result of a war with Satan in a flashback swiped from 'The Lord of The Rings' Films).

The art is workmanlike, often as wooden and simplified as the dialogue. It tells the story with little flair or movement. Characters are successfully reproduced, but not explored or played with. Most of the frames are closeups of people talking, and the rest are mid-range bird's eye group shots. It's all yawningly safe. The color palate shows little variance or mood, more 'Jughead Digest' than Vertigo, and lacking even the lurid appeal of a 4-color.

Once again I'm haunted by the phrase "it gets better!", which is all the more maddening because in a tiny fraction of cases, it proves to be true. Unfortunately, the next two volumes don't get much better, though with practice, the dull, awkward storytelling does get more streamlined, which is kind of like a bad restaurant which puts out fliers to announce that it now has delivery service.

Mediocrity is one of the few things made worse by improving its convenience.

I usually save one-star reviews for books that were overtly insulting or stupid, but this one gets it purely on uninspired dullness. I tried reading it when it first came out, and couldn't get through it. After hearing all the praise more recently, I tried again. I'm not going to be one of those who says that comics used to be better and suck now, I know there must be good comics out right now, but they can be hard to find. I'm back to looking, it seems.

My Suggested Readings in Comics
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02/23/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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Hans I have picked this one up and put it down several times as well. I am a big fan of what Gaiman did with Sandman and have been craving more. Have you had a chance to read Alan Moore's "Promethea"? I've heard it's his spin on old mythologies, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

J.G. Keely I have had the chance to read a few issues of Promethea. Seems interesting, as a cyberpunk/Greek mythology crossover would naturally be, but I didn't get very deep into it.

I've been going through the 'top rated comics/graphic novels' here on GR to see if I'm missing bits of the canon, and this was on there. I'm looking for something better-written to intersperse with it to help me get through it without chewing my tongue off, but I'm not sure what else to read.

I started 'From Hell', but that doesn't seem to be a very easy companion; I think I need to save that for a time when I can devote all my attention to it. Any glaring holes you've noticed in my comic reading?

message 3: by mark (new)

mark monday i stopped reading after this first volume. terrible. can't believe it is so well-loved.

Promothea: great. although a little monomaniacal in its goals; became a wee bit oppressive at times.

Ronyell Awesome review Keely! I agree that they should have shown more moments of the fairy tale characters showing their popular traits.

J.G. Keely Yeah, they just felt too generic to me. Glad you liked the review.

Ronyell Thanks!

message 7: by Dylan (new) - added it

Dylan Tomorrow Thanks for helping me blacklist that one. What a shame ...

J.G. Keely Yeah, it's always disappointing when some highly-recommended comic just doesn't cut it. good luck finding something better to read.

Mateus Nascimento I understand your point of view and agree to some extent but I'd say that Fables gets much better somewhere around issues #15 to #17. Maybe not enough for you to change your general opinion but the art is improved and so is the quality of dialogues.

message 10: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David Great review - you put it much better than I ever could. I ploughed through, and was relieved to finish. It never grabbed me.

message 11: by Abi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Abi Sangarab Comprehensive review. I have read the first issue and it was really hard to finish.

message 12: by Abi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Abi Sangarab Comprehensive review. I have read the first issue and it was really hard to finish.

Evelyn Looi To be honest with you, I like any recreation of fairy-tales whether they are original or NOT so much. But the thing that SERIOUSLY cheeses me off is the term, "mundy". I don't understand why they find non-Fables to be "normal" when they actually are NEW to the non-Fable world.

Keegan I guess I can agree with your points but when I read it I enjoyed it . :)

Larry Gaiman Sandman has nothing to do with fairy tales. It is steeped in various cultures mythologies, religions and DC characters. Reading your review you have completely missed the theme of Fables and the foundation the first story sets for the fun and ingenuousness that is to come!

message 16: by Sean (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sean Kelly As critical as this review is - it's easy to be just critical - it really taught me a lot. I read a lot of graphic novels/comics and I think I know what to look for now.

message 17: by Ada (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ada I found this to be a fascinating review. I never thought about all those things you pointed out. I do have to agree with one of the commenters above it does get better but I think a brilliant comic will snare people from the first issue. So saying it gets better is not very helpful because it means someone have to waste time on something they don't enjoy.

But the thing that SERIOUSLY cheeses me off is the term, "mundy". I don't understand why they find non-Fables to be "normal" when they actually are NEW to the non-Fable world.

I actually thought mundy was the short version of mundane... Which has multiple definitions. For me these fits the most.
common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative.
of or relating to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven; worldly; earthly: mundane affairs.

Great review!

Raposa To be fair, this series got actually fun in volume 6, although it carried on formulaic and the delivering of the big reveal felt a bit flat. However, I felt so beaten up by the reading of the previous 5 volumes that I ended up dropping it in the middle of the 8th volume, even though I was liking it. I will probrably return to it in the future if I got the time, I am curious to see where the author went from there.
I don't even know why I kept reading up to that point. I was probrably being driven by having just finished The Wolf Among Us, which was a decent game.

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