Vertigo’s “Fables” comic is not a series known for metafictional storytelling. It’s claim to post-modernism lies in it’s basis, a then-familiar Vertigo cliché, of recasting yesterday’s myths, this time around children’s fairytales, into the modern world, fully inspired by Neil Gaiman’s seminal “Sandman”. Since then on, it’s built up a continuity and settings it’s own that, though populated with fairytale characters famous or less so, has continued on as a basicly large and ambitious epic fantasy series.
It’s a wonder then how little mention was made of the writer Bill Willingham’s wink and a nod to Fables’ influential “predecessor”, Vertigo’s “Sandman”. “Sandman” started off with it’s God-like main character freeing himself from the prison he’s spent a long time in and going on a quest to gather his items of power. Having completed it’s initial arc, the series’ writer Neil Gaiman, opted to continue in a different direction, focusing on the profound questions of life, while continuing in less common story structure for what was still on the outside a fantasy series.
What has happened in “Fables” then, was that it’s creator, Bill Willinghem decided to have a massively powerful being awakened from it’s year-long confine and dealing with the beings that have usurped his power since. The similiarity to Gaiman’s series extended to the imitation of his main character’s look and the way of speech. But, just thinking on the subject for a bit more, makes the more interesting connection apparent.
“Fables” is without a question, Vertigo’s best-selling series, that even spawned a relatively successful on it’s own, in “the Jack of Fables” ongoing series. One could even go so far as to say that it is Vertigo’s most succesful series since “Sandman”, and it’s myriad spin-offs (the most notable of which being Mike Carey’s excellent “Lucifer”, a noteworthy comic and, interestingly, a direct structural parallel to Gaiman’s series). And yet, it was “Sandman” that popularized the trend of updating parts of folklore in today’s setting, as evident by many of Vertigo’s offerings since it debuted.
Willingham is not only aware of this, but he is commenting on it as directly as he can, using his own stand-in, in “Mister Dark”, a character that acknowledges to having many other names before. This was, of course, another trait that Gaiman’s “Sandman” exibited, along with the obvious ability to afflict the dreaming, which is how his opposite number in “Fables” seems able to influence the children of the world. He was also possessing of a magical weave whose threads Fables stole and remade into a magical cloak, that has help them conquer insurmountable odds and triumph. It should go without mention that the storyline that effectively ended “the Sandman” made many comparisions to storytelling comparing it to weaving a cloth. Using the chivalry code Willingham’s fantasy series has followed from the start, it only made sense to have the evil king return and claim back his spoils. Along the way he is, of course, building his castle, with his fate seemingly tied in with the workings of the three witches.
It’s very amusing to watch this new turn in Willingham’s “Fables”, and another sure sign that the series is in every way as vital as before, having entered it’s second major storyline with #76. Now, it would be excellent if Neil Gaiman saw this “challenge” as an opportunity to find a way to reach compromise with Vertigo, so that the proposed prequel to “Sandman” could see the light of day. That would be great way for Gaiman and Vertigo to continue their collaboration, but most of all, it would be a delight to fans, and I’m sure that most of the “Fables” aficianados“ hold a soft spot for “Sandman” in their hearts. It must be that Bill Willingham shares that belief, or else we wouldn’t see as much of “Mister Dark”, and with such a charm.