Sunday, 19 May 2013
Don't read Fables. Seriously. Don't even try.
The central idea is wonderful, if not wholly original: characters from fairy tales, folklore and children's stories are all real and have been living in New York for decades. A simple idea that someone even mildly creative could do spectacular things with. Sadly, someone even mildly creative didn't pitch the idea to Vertigo. Bill Willingham did.
The first few issues follow an uninspiring murder mystery setup. Fable policeman Bigby (a human Big Bad Wolf) is roped in as lead investigator. While it's not exceptional the story does a good job of introducing the lead characters and the premise of the book. You're left to assume things will pick up in the next batch of issues.
They don't. The murder mystery is followed by a listless rehash of Animal Farm, an unengaging Civil War tale, and the story of a journalist discovering the true nature of the Fables. Along the way hints are dropped as to the history of all the characters and the hows, whys and wherefores of them being in NYC. Sadly it all feels cackhanded, forced in because Willingham's more interested in the backstory that what he's actually writing.
In one sense this isn't too bad. Hints of what's gone before can often be interesting, fleshing out characters and the world they inhabit. But Willingham goes too far and leaves you wondering why he just didn't start the book with his cast escaping from the Homeland. The answer to that is obvious of course: because it’s not an interesting enough story. It's the contemporary setting that gives Fables its appeal. That the escape pitch wouldn't have been enough to sustain the comic in its own right should have told Willingham to leave it at enigmatic hints.
The biggest failing of the book is Willingham not knowing what to do with his ideas. He's unsure whether he wants to try writing a contemporary anthology series starring well known characters with their more interesting tropes emphasised or a sprawling meta-mythology that encompasses every story ever told, like a fairy tale League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That both ideas can't coexist in one title and he can't choose between the two means he ends up writing neither satisfyingly.
Artist Mark Buckingham’s artwork is best described as reliable. It’s not bad but it’s not going to wow anyone who’s ever read a comic before. It feels workmanlike. Some of the less identifiable characters can often become muddled with each other. It’s not the book’s biggest problem but it still makes it tough to enjoy.
I read the first eleven volumes of Fables as well as a number of its ludicrously abundant spin-off media. It was frustrating. Good ideas constantly cropped up but went underdeveloped or veered off in ill-conceived directions. Even though I generally rate good ideas over anything else in a comic I couldn't stand the approach here. There was nothing to latch onto but an endless cycle of disappointment.
Please avoid this series. You'll regret reading it.