The Fables Universe (SPOILERS)
81 8.2 01. Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile (Fables #1)... - Bill Willingham
"Legends in Exile" (Issue #1-#5)
"A Wolf in the Fold" (Prose Story)
The tale of Fabletown kicks off with this fantastic story arc. It pulls in a lot of the characters that will be regulars. King Cole is the mayor, Snow White is deputy Mayor, the Big Bad (Bigby) Wolf is the sheriff. Jack Horner (of the Beanstalk, Jack and Jill etc) comes to Bigby to report the murder of Rose Red (Snow White's sister, screw-up for the most part). Jack being her boyfriend, is the prime suspect. It is up to Bigby and Snow to solve this mystery.
I was instantly hooked after reading the first volume, heck, I was hooked after the first issue. I've read a substantial of the fairy tales and other stories that these characters come from, or seen them on screen or TV. It was an absolute thrill to see them re-cast into this imaginative universe.
A Wolf in the Fold is a prose story by Bill Willingham, detailing Bigby Wolf's past before he came to Fabletown and his inexplicable connection with Snow White.
51 8.1 02. Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm - Bill Willingham
"Animal Farm" (Issue #6-#10)
The second story arc introduces us to the other half of Fabletown - The Farm. This is where all the non-human form fables live, away from prying human eyes, and they are not all happy about being stuck there. There is rebellion brewing in the air, and Snow White and Rose Red are stuck right in the middle of it. The ring leaders are the Three Pigs and Goldilocks (who is sleeping with the Baby Bear from her original tale).
Bill Willingham continues to imaginatively re-use the characters, either by giving them interesting personalities or by casting them into interesting situations but keeping their personalities intact.
44 7.8 03. Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love - Bill Willingham
"Bag 'O Bones" (Issue #11)
"A Two-Part Caper" (Issues #12-#13)
"Storybook Love" (Issues #14-#17)
"Barleycorn Brides" (Issue #18)
This volume is actually composed of four different story arcs. One of the minor story arcs has Fabletown under threat from a reporter who thinks that the Fables are actually immortal vampires. It's takes some magic and skullduggery to silence him. Another one has Jack Horner up to his tricks during the American Civil War and the propensity for all his schemes to go horribly wrong for him.
The major arc ("Storybook Love") involves an unsuccessful plot by Bluebeard and the fugitive Goldilocks to kill Bibgy and Snow White. This is the start of the budding romance between the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White, an unusual pairing, if there was one. It explores their mutual attraction that has it's roots in the events of "A Wolf in the Fold", which was included in Vol. 1.
Bill Willingham has twisted the Goldilocks character into a power hungry and promiscuous woman who will sleep with any species that crosses her path (starting with the Bears from the classic fairy tale). It's a startling re-invention, one that illustrates Willingham's penchant for taking well known characters into surprising directions.
37 8.4 04. Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers - Bill Willingham
The Last Castle (One-shot)
March of the Wooden Soldiers (Issues #19-#21, #23-#27)
Things start to get really serious at Fabletown. While the first three volumes were largely concerned with the Fables squabbling among themselves, we new encounter the forces of the 'Adversary' for the first time.
The Last Castle is a one-shot release outside of the continuity of the series. It tells the tale of the last door to the mundane world that was still available to the Fables escaping from the relentless onslaught of the Adversary's forced. It is told from the perspective of Boy Blue and how he lost the love of his life, Red Riding Hood, to the battle, even as he escaped.
Prince Charming intends to run for mayor, and Snow White deals with her pregnancy by Bigby (which was discovered at the end of 'Storybook Love'). In the middle of all this drama, Red Riding Hood shows up at Fabletown. This surprises everyone since she was assumed dead after the events of 'The Last Castle' (which is the first part of this volume). Bibgy is suspicious that she's an agent of the dreaded 'Adversary' and subsequent events bear him out.
This is the first story arc that marks the beginning of the battle with the Adversary, which will consume the series for nearly 4 years.
32 8.4 05. Fables, Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons - Bill Willingham
Cinderella Libertine (Issue #22)
War Stories (Issues #28-#29)
The Mean Seasons (Issues #30-#33)
The main story arc deals with the first year of Bigby and Snow White's children. The children don't look entirely human, consigning Snow and them to the Farm. Trouble is, Bigby is banned from the farm, a result of pre-Fabletown exploits that involved killing and eating a lot of animals. Things are hard for Snow and get even harder when she realizes that she delivered a mysterious, and dangerous, seventh child at birth, unknown to everyone.
At this point, the series has hit a quality plateau. The plots are still good, but the highly imaginative re-inventions which were the hallmark of the first three volumes have largely given way to straight up storytelling. It's still engrossing stuff, largely because the characters have been so well drawn, and because the over-arching storyline of the Adversary is still not resolved.
The War Stories arc deals with Bigby's exploits in WW II and the Cinderella Libertine issue introduces us to her service to Fabletown as a spy. Neither is earth shatteringly good, but is pretty good filler material.
29 8.6 06. Fables, Vol. 6: Homelands - Bill Willingham
Jack Be Nimble (Issues #34-#35)
Homelands (Issues #36-#38, #40-#41)
Meanwhile (Issue #39)
The major story arc in this volume is centered around Boy Blue's secret mission into the Homelands. The fairy tale lands that the Fables have been driven out of, now ruled by the Adversary. Boy Blue makes his way to the Adversary, finally uncovering his identity. The Adversary has to be Bill Willingham's best character re-invention in the series. Clearly, this is something he had in mind before he started writing the series.
In another story arc, Jack Horner takes off for Hollywood and sets up a movie studio. He creates a trilogy of films based on the character of Jack, with money stolen from Fabletown. Just when it seems like he's finally pulled off a successful scheme, his past catches up with him. This is the spin-off point for the 'Jack of Fables' title, the second title in the Fables universe.
27 8.3 07. Fables, Vol. 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) - Bill Willingham
Arabian Nights (and Days) (Issues #42-#45)
The Ballad of Rodney and June (Issues #46-#47)
The main story arc in this volume involves Fabletown making contact with the Arabian Fables, which has been recently invaded by the Adversary's forces too. There's some interesting aspects explored coming out of the cultural clash between the two groups of Fables.
The minor story arc is actually much more interesting. Bill Willingham tackles a story of characters who are not from Fabletown, instead they are part of the Adversary's army - Rodney and June. It traces their seemingly doomed romance all the way from when they met at wooden puppets to their current lives as human spies living near Fabletown. It's a very intriguing story, much above the quality of the general filler in this series.
26 7.8 09. Fables, Vol. 8: Wolves - Bill Willingham
Wolves (Issues #48-#49)
Happily Ever After (Issue #50)
Big and Small (Issue #51)
Mowgli tracks down Bigby somewhere in Alaska and persuades him to come back to Fabletown after a 5 year exile. Before Bigby and Snow White can have their happily ever after, there is an extremely important mission he has to complete. The mission is Fabletown's first retaliatory strike aimed at the Adversary, a prelude to all out war that is coming.
In the 50th issue, Bill Willingham inserts a big dollop of his personal politics into the story. Personally, it was really annoying. It his prerogative to do what he wants with the story, he's the writer, but I don't have to like it.
Easily my least favourite Fables story arc till this point.
15 8 010. Jack of Fables, Vol. 1: The (Nearly) Great E... - Bill Willingham,Matthew Sturges
The (Nearly) Great Escape (Issues #1-#5)
Continuing where we left off in the the Fables story arc 'Jack be Nimble' (#35-#36), we follow Jack on his further adventures. The tone of this series is decidedly more light hearted than Fables.
Jack is captured by a mysterious group called the Librarians, who specialize in capturing Fables and destroying their magical powers. But Jack being Jack, immediately starts planning his great escape. This is the first appearance of the Librarians in the Fables universe and they will continue to play a major part in future storylines.
20 8.6 011. Fables, Vol. 9: Sons of Empire - Bill Willingham
Sons of Empire (Issues #52-#55)
Jiminy Christmas (Issue #56)
Father and Son (Issues #57-#58)
Burning Questions (Issue #59)
After the devastating attack by Bigby, the Adversary and his advisors start planning an attack on Fabletown. Meanwhile, he also sends an Ambassador in the form of Hansel to Fabletown, whose actual purpose is to find Baba Yaga and the wooden soldiers captured by Fabletown.
The rest of this book is short story arcs. We get a single issue on short stories focused on Christmas. One of them explains how Santa Claus delivers all his gifts (he's a Fable too). Bigby travels to his father, the North Wind, to make peace with him and bring him on Fabletown's side in the war with the Adversary. He also has an unexpected meeting with the rest of his family.
The last issue collected here is a set of shorts in which Bill Willingham gives amusing answers to reader questions. It's an interesting little aside from the main story.
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