Title: Fables: Legends in Exile
Collected from: Fables Issues 1-5
Author: Bill Willingham
Artist: Lan Medina
Inkers: Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton
Colorist: Sherilyn van Valkenburgh
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover by: James Jean
Publisher: Vertigo, imprint of DC Comics (2002)
Genres: Comic Book/Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Mystery
Sub-Genres: Fairy Tales/Myths, Adventure, Murder Mystery, Urban Fantasy
Summary: In the midst of New York City, a group of Fables (who we know as characters of myth and legend) have been living in our world for the past several centuries. Exiled here by an army of goblins lead by the evil Adversary, who conquered each world he came across, the Fables gathered here, on the so-called "mundane" world, which was without magic. The deputy mayor of Fabletown Snow White helps Bigby Wolf, sheriff and former Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame, hunt down the killer of White's sister, Rose Red. The main suspects are Rose's boyfriend Jack of Fables and the famous bridekiller Bluebeard, who claims to have been engaged to Rose. With the help of Snow's ex-husband, Prince Charming, Bigby and White manage to solve the case in time for Remembrance Day, a day in honor of the Homelands, where each of the Fables once lived.
What I Liked: Really, this time, it should be called "What I Loved". Willingham deftly manages to introduce the reader to a whole world, seemingly effortlessly, by having only a few characters give us the backdown of how the Fables' existence figures into our modern world. And he pillages his characters from everywhere, with everyone from the witch from Hansel & Gretel to a flying monkey from Oz making an appearance without so much as a hiccup. In fact, the majority of the major players for the next 100 issues (which Fables, in monthly installments, is quickly approaching) make an appearance here in the first five issues.
Willingham's dialogue is also a strength, with each of the characters quickly picking up their own voices, and the characters who appear in just a few panels are already identified as full-blown characters to be mined for stories later on. He not only creates a world in a few pages of art and dialogue - he populates it with fully realized characters, as well. Any writer could learn from his techniques. He's also not afraid to take risks, like having the major mystery be carried out over several issues or having Prince Charming's letter to his latest conquest be a complete panel, in handscripted type.
The art here, too, is beautiful. Medina does not go on as the regular artist past this arc, but he sets the book's tone. He has a few stylized pages, like with gold etching or storybook scrolls, that really sets up how the book will look for the future. Medina also does a great job of making each character easily recognizable, something hard to do when no one is wearing the same outfit repeatedly, like superheroes do. Valkenburgh's muted colors are also wonderful, helping to separate the book from others on the comic book shelf.
What I Didn't: While I enjoyed Medina's art here, it's really got nothing on what comes next. The next artist, Mark Buckingham, took Medina's ideas and basically exploited them to their fullest extent. There are also little touches where the story seems to start and stop - with the murder mystery taking a backseat to those great character and world introductions. Also, the action here is actually fairly minor - Fables is at its best when it does world-ending peril, but this story is much smaller than what comes later.
Similar Works: Myths in Modern Times: Neil Gaiman's American Gods
Fables in Novel Form: Peter & Max: A Fables Novel
Buy It Here: Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
Last Thought: Who knew Snow White was such a fierce bitch?