I have never read an issue of Fables in my life. I knew of Fables. I saw the title at my local library, but I had never had the compulsion to read it. Luckily, Fables 1001 Nights of Snowfall doesn't burden you with the task of reading all existing issue of Fables in preparation to read this book. 1,001 Nights is a prequel, as the book's introduction will tell you.
The Fables comic book series takes place in modern New York, while 1,001 Nights takes place before all the Fables established their sanctuary, called Fabletown. Fables are called such because they are the classic characters we know from literature, Disney movies and the like. In fact, the main character in this book is Snow White. Yes, that Snow White. In 1,001 Nights, she is in the role of ambassador for Fabletown. Snow travels to visit a sultan and ask for his assistance.
The main conflict that Fables have had to endure is between themselves and The Adversary. More on that later. Snow's job is to convince the Sultan to join the Fables in their conflict with The Adversary, but the Sultan has other things on his mind. You see, the Sultan has a habit of marrying virgins – and then killing them. Guess who's next on his dance card?
Fortunately, Snow is not the average woman, so she crafts a plan to stay away from the gallows. So Snow White beings to tell magnificent tales to the sultan, King Sharyar – wait a minute! As soon as I heard the title of the book, I already knew that this very situation was familiar, but if you don't know, please look up "1,001 nights" or "Arabian nights" for the source material. Writer Bill Willingham has decided to use a fable to tell a fable, which was my first indication of how Willingham goes about playing with these great tales.
Snow White starts, of course, with a tale about her own life, the story of what happened after she and Prince Charming lived "happily ever after." I'll keep the juicier details to myself, but what you should know is that neither Snow White nor the Prince come off looking like completely likable people. This story is called "The Fencing Lessons." Prince Charming has to investigate grisly murders that threaten the peace between the land of humans and the land of dwarves, who live underground. At times, I was thinking of a procedural TV show like Law & Order when the prince surveyed the crime scene or when he questioned people. The language used is not out of some dull period piece, which I am thankful for. Jon Bolton's illustration is, at times, photorealistic. As I read, I felt as if this story could work on television or in a movie because most of the faces are given life, as if they were patterned on specific people. What was more surprising than who the killer turns out to be is what the killer's motivation was.
Next, Snow tells a couple of anthropomorphic tales. One is about a group of animals under siege by the Adversary, and one animal who hatches a fine scheme. These animals appear later in a story about Old King Cole (he was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he). The other, which is one of my most favorite stories in the book, is about the one and only big Bad Wolf. Willingham incorporates a couple fables into Big Bad's story, which only serves to make the wolf look like more of a terror. The story doesn't start when Bigby (his nickname) is huffing, puffing and blowing houses down. It starts with Bibgy's mythological origins, where his godlike deadbeat dad had a romance with his wolf mother, only to leave. Bigby, like most of the characters of Fables, is not a squeaky clean hero by any stretch of the imagination, but with time his sins have largely been forgotten about.
Now when you talk about evil people, Snow White's story about a witch who was bested by two children makes me wonder why Snow and her sister, Red Rose, decided to save her wicked life. The origin of this child-murdering witch is fascinating, but she's still a creepy child-murdering witch. I guess you always need some powerful magic when the Adversary's on your tail, but what's she going to be up to when you leave your toddler unattended? Got off on an anti-witch rant there, didn't I?
On the completely other side of the moral spectrum is the Frog prince, who's only real crime is being too much of a coward. His tale is the saddest of all. He's a complete victim who starts out suffering from one ailment, then suffers from another ailment which protects him from sad, sad memories. The only one who seemed to live a relatively happy existence is Mersey Dotes, who I have never heard of before. Is this the inspiration for the Little Mermaid? I guess not all Fables are well-known.
When I finished reading 1,001 Nights of Snowfall, I came to the realization that these old children's fairy tales are sad to begin with, then Bill Willingham comes along and adds a depth to them which makes them incredibly endearing and likable, but he also makes a superhero fan like me interested in these powerful men and creatures.
I think that Willingham has absolutely scored with Fables and he has wowed me like Neil Gaiman did with Sandman. The only downer about this book is that it leaves you dangling off a cliff. I loved his take on these characters and I can't resist the temptation to read more. Bill Willingham knows that if this is your first Fables book, your cash will be flying into his pockets soon enough.