Starred Review. Probably the smartest mainstream comic going, Fables usually concentrates on the contemporary activities of characters from children's stories who now are living as secret refugees in New York. This collection gives glimpses of their individual backstories before the armies of the brutal Adversary drove them out of Fairyland. Readers will learn, for example, what spoiled the Big Bad Wolf's disposition and what happened to the witch after Hansel and Gretel pushed her into the oven. It would be relatively easy to do clever, merely cynical readings of the fairy tales, but Willingham is after something much more interesting. Like Neil Gaiman and Tanith Lee, he's reimagining the old stories, trying to see why they have survived and also to point out the aspects they somehow neglect: it's only natural that Snow White would take revenge on the seven little rapists who abducted her, but the independent way she goes about it casts doubt on her subservient relationship to Prince Charming. Willingham reminds readers of how much they ignore in their anxiety to believe that all stories end happily ever after. Artists like Charles Vess, Mark Buckingham and Jill Thompson work up to the level of the perceptive scripts, making this a memorable, uncomfortably amusing treat. (Oct.)
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A volume full of backstories about the fairy- and folktale characters who figure in the hit comic book Fables gets the kind of classy treatment success merits. Every story in it is drawn by a different artist who shows off his or her distinctiveness in manners ranging from traditional comics realism and photo-based naturalism to Maxfield Parrish-Howard Pyle sumptuousness and a panoply of caricatural styles. The book is painted throughout, and it's debuting in hardcover. But is it any good? In a word, yes. From latter-nineteenth--century Fabletown in Manhattan, Snow White is dispatched to the Arabian sultan's court in the homeland to enlist his support in the fight against the Adversary, who drove the European fables into exile but hasn't yet threatened the Middle Eastern contingent. The ruler entraps her, and she must, a la Scheherazade, tell him the primary contents of the book to stay alive while wooing his cooperation. The stories are both clever and psychologically explanatory of the characters as they appear in the ongoing, contemporarily set Fables story. Ray Olson
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