There’s a big bad wolf living in Manhattan. His father is the North Wind, he smokes like a chimney and he lets a pig crash on his couch now and then. His boss is a the fairest woman every to have shared quarters with a posse of dwarves. Her pay depends on charity from Bluebeard, and Mary’s little lamb really does follow her wherever she goes. Little Boy Blue is often warned not to blow his horn.

Thus it is in the world of Fables, a comic series by Bill Willingham released on DC Comics Vertigo imprint. Fables operates on a simple premise. What if all fairy tales, nursery rhymes and legends were true and took place in some alternate universe.. A world where magic and story rule, and characters are bound by their stories. Until a villain, known only as “'the Adversary”, conquered all those Fable worlds. A few hundred years ago the 'Fables' fled to the one world the Adversary didn't seem to want, our own. Now they live among us in a secret borough of Manhattan. Unless you happen to look like a pig, a giant, or a dragon. Non-human appearing fables have been banished to a farm in upstate New York so the ‘mundanes' won’t learn of the legends in their midst. Old enmities have been set aside for the exile, and all dream of a day when they can retake their real homelands.

Because of the need to keep secret their true nature as storybook characters, the Fables have their own government. King Cole is a glad-handing politician, and Snow White a stern moralist and efficient administrator. Bigby (short for Big Bad) Wolf is the top cop. And they need the government, because most Fables are not so innocent as their stories. They fight, squabble, scheme and lust. Jack (of Beanstalk fame) is an inveterate social climber, constantly trying new schemes to get rich. Prince Charming has a 25 charisma, but frankly bores quickly of commitment, and has been reduced to seducing waitresses for a bed. Goldilocks is a quite grown up Marxist revolutionary who really does find an adult Baby Bear’s bed "just right’. Fables murder, cheat and steal just like normal people. And they fall into love. There is magic, which costs plenty and the government is dependent on the charity of rich fables.

The book was created and written by Bill Willingham. who has done work on Green Lantern and Aquaman as an artist. As a writer he is responsible for creating Coventry, Ironwood and Proposition. The writing is topnotch, occasionally diminished (or possibly enhanced, depending on your viewpoint) by Willingham’s right-wing politics. (Goldilocks is quite the cardboard villain for example) The art is uniformly excellent (given that Willingham is an artist himself, that should be expected) and the plots interesting. Most importantly, in a world full of superheroes Fables offers something unique to the comics reader.

To date there are five Fables collections available, in order.

  1. Legends in Exile
  2. Animal Farm
  3. Storybook Love
  4. March of the Wooden Soldiers
  5. Fables: The Mean Seasons