I wrote something about Bill Willingham’s Fables comics in this post, but since then I’ve read much more of the series. The local library system had all of the trade paperback collections up through Volume 16. I’m anxious to read the next two, since I understand they include quite a bit of Oz, but I don’t have the resources to obtain them. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed the series. The basic premise is that fairy tale characters are living in exile in our own world, centered in New York City. These are mostly public domain characters, although there are some not-so-subtle references to Narnia and Aslan, and the characters who inadvertently free Mister Dark are thinly disguised versions of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. The books start out with Old King Cole as Mayor of Fabletown, Snow White as his deputy, and the Big Bad Wolf in human form (well, usually) as sheriff.
Willingham isn’t afraid to alter the status quo, however, and all of these things change throughout the series, as do relationships between characters. At one point, the Fables lose Fabletown entirely. The stories differ in style, ranging from mysteries to love stories to war adventures. There’s even a story arc in which some of the Fables become superheroes, although it doesn’t last long. There’s a gritty feeling to the whole thing, with some familiar characters not being very likeable at all, but it’s pretty fun as well. I find myself particularly interested in the reformed villains, like Bigby Wolf and the witch Frau Totenkinder.
One of the more interesting plot twists along the way involves the identity of the Adversary, who’s probably not anyone you’d expect. It’s also notable that Willingham tends to combine similar characters from different tales, with Bigby being the wolf from a few different stories, Jack being pretty much every Jack from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and even Snow White being both the one who hung out with the Seven Dwarfs and Rose Red’s sister.
Since I’m an Oz fan, I feel obligated to comment on the elements of the series that involve Oz. I don’t have too much to add to what J.L. Bell has already written on the subject, but I’ll try anyway. Ozma is a regular character in the series after the defeat of the Adversary, and she’s really nothing like the character L. Frank Baum introduced. First of all, she’s a witch instead of a fairy, and her attitude toward others is quite callous. In fact, she’s almost the opposite of the Ozma we’ve come to know and love. Could you imagine Baum’s fairy ruler threatening to shrink Pinocchio’s penis? I didn’t think so. Other characters, like Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, the Glass Cat, and the wicked Nome King, appear to be more true to form.
The final volume I read includes Bufkin the Winged Monkey’s arrival in the Land of Ev, where he meets up with Jack, the Sawhorse, and Bungle. The metal men on billiard balls who serve the Nome King are a quite Ozzy creation, and I enjoyed seeing pictures from various Oz books on the lunchboxes Bufkin finds. I’m not sure when Willingham’s version of Oz is supposed to have diverged from the Famous Forty, but there’s a lot for him to work with in the public domain Oz books.