I’ll start off by admitting that the Fables universe is pretty big; the main series is set to end next year with issue 150, and there are spin-off series, crossover events, mini-series and graphic novels, prose novels, and even a video game from Telltale Games. However, you can read the main series without much trouble, since it’s a mostly self-contained world.
Fables posits that all fairytale creatures exist in countless worlds adjacent to our own. Hundreds of years ago, a mysterious being known only as “The Adversary” began conquering the worlds of the Fables, so many of them escaped to our world. They set up camp in New York City under a general amnesty, exonerating all Fables of their crimes committed in the Homelands. The series tells stories about their day-to-day lives, their interactions with the mundane world, and eventually their struggle to protect their way of life from The Adversary and other foes.
If you’re into reinterpretations of fairy tales, this is definitely a series to check out; they take the characters in some really interesting directions. Writer Bill Willingham has come up with a set of rules to keep Fables safe from discovery, and it’s always fun seeing them interact with modern technology (with varied degrees of comfort). He also interprets some of the characters in unconventional ways; Cinderella is secretly a super spy, Prince Charming is a thrice-divorced womanizer who couldn’t be less noble if he tried, and Goldilocks is a fanatic who wants to overthrow the “speciesist” Fables in New York who force non-human Fables to reside in seclusion outside the city. The series employs many artists, but the most consistent is Mark Buckingham, whose work is distinguished by minimalist character designs and elaborate page framing. It’s always easy to read, and often adorable.
The character roster is big, but never muddled, since the characters are all so memorable and distinct – the benefit of using public domain, well-loved characters. Early on, the narrative revolves often around Snow White, the deputy mayor, and Fabletown’s Sheriff, the Big Bad Wolf (who these days goes by “Bigby”), but with so many characters, the focus shifts frequently. Many princesses are significant too – like Beauty, Briar Rose, Red Riding Hood, and Snow’s sister Rose Red – and with so many great ladies, I often hear this series pitched as a series for girls. I think most women will enjoy it, but I think it can be enjoyed by anyone!
There are a few places you can start reading. The easiest place would be to pick up a trade paperback of the first volume, Legends in Exile, and just start at the beginning. The trades are clearly numbered, so it’s easy to just go in order. If 100+ issues sounds daunting though, you might prefer to start with a later spin-off, Fairest, which has only around 20 issues right now and focuses on the ladies. You mind find yourself occasionally confused by references to past events (not mention potential spoilers), but that’s nothing Wikipedia can’t fix. Telltale Games (who did the Walking Dead game) have also released a game called The Wolf Among Us that takes place before the beginning of the series. You can count on lots of cameos, so if the world and characters seem interesting, you can jump into the comics. Full disclosure: I haven’t played the game yet, but I know it’s available on Steam, and it’s been getting insane reviews – the Xbox 360 version has a 9.6 rating on IGN.
With an end in sight and the recent game release, now is a perfect time to jump into this flagship Vertigo series.