Most good (and bad) works of fiction, graphic novels or not, have a central premise. Schoolboy gets bitten by radioactive spider and develops super-powers (Spiderman). Four adventurers are exposed to gamma rays and (yawn!) develop super-powers (Fantastic Four). Sole survivor from dying planet lands in rural America and grows up a superman (Superman). The premise, its freshness and uniqueness, have a role to play in how the work of fiction eventually turns out.
Fables, by Bill Willingham, is among the best of currentlycurrent ly ongoing ongoing series (others would be 100 Bullets, The Last Man and the surprisingly long-lived Constantine, all of which will be themes for future columns). Its premise: Fairy-tale characters, Snow White (and her sister, Rose Red), Pinocchio, Prince Charming, Bluebeard, Jack (of beanstalk fame), the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf and other such who live in Fabletown.
An enemy called the Adversary, with his army of goblins attacks the town; the fables (as they call themselves) escape to modern-day New York. There, those who can pretend to be humans walk among us (the fable term for ordinary people is ‘mundies’). Others stay upstate in a farm. Meanwhile, the Adversary is never far away and won’t rest till he has enslaved or killed the fables.
Fables could have easily degenerated into an, er, modern-day fairy tale. Willingham doesn’t allow it to with little contemporary nuances and deft touches. A sampling: Snow White, it emerges, was a plaything for some deviant dwarves and got even by killing all of them; the Big Bad Wolf is called Bigby and he is a wereman (a wolf that can turn into a man), who becomes Sheriff of the Fable borough in New York; Prince Charming is a knave who uses women.
Much like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which weaves amyth (from various parts of the world), literature and history into a fantastic tale of Morpheus, the lord of dreams, Fables takes stories and characters most of us were exposed to when we were children and turns them on their head. For adults (and this writer would presume that you are one if you are reading this paper), these are better stories, better fables than the originals. As we have grown older and changed, so have the fables. And we have Willingham to thank for that.
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