It was one of the most beloved comics series of the aughts, with a 150-issue run, a highly regarded video game, multiple awards and even its own convention. And just in time for its 20th anniversary, Fables is coming back….to a very different world where its author’s politics (and the book’s not so subtle expression of it) is being heavily scrutinized.
But let’s get the news out of the way first: Fables is back! Bill Willingham’s exploration of Fabletown, where characters from legend and public domain mingle and fight will pick up where it left off in 2015, with not one but SEVERAL Black Label series, including a team-up with Batman that brings the story into the DCU, and Fables #151, the start of a 12-issue run which will reunite the team of Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Lee Louridge and Todd Klein.
First, on sale in September, Batman vs. Bigby! A Wolf in Gotham sees Fables’s infamous sleuth Bigby Wolf go head-to-head with the world’s greatest detective, Batman, in this six-issue spinoff miniseries from DC Black Label. Written by Bill Willingham with pencils by Brian Level, inks by Jay Leisten, and colors by Lee Loughridge, this crossover detective story will delight fans of both Batman and Fables—or fans who just love a good noir mystery.
“I’ve wanted to do this since the very first year of Fables,” says writer Bill Willingham. “Why? Because Batman is a detective, and Bigby is a detective, and I love a well-crafted story crossing over characters from two different fictional worlds. It’s automatically a fish-out-of-water story for at least one of the main characters, and that sort of story always works. Plus, I knew from the very beginning of Fables that my fictional universe would allow for many ways to get Bigby Wolf into the DCU and Gotham City. Even though those cosmic story structures wouldn’t be introduced in the Fables books for a year or more, they were baked in from the very beginning.”
Then, on sale the first week of May 2022, the main story line continues with Fables #151—just in time for the 20th anniversary of Fables #1. Fables #151 is the first installment of “The Black Forest,” a 12-issue arc that picks up where the story left off in Fables #150, and is also a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. The series also reunites the core creative team, with pencils by Mark Buckingham, inks by Steve Leialoha, colors by Lee Loughridge, and letters by Todd Klein.
“We introduce a great new character and catch up with many of our most beloved characters from the previous issues,” says writer and creator Bill Willingham. “Mark Buckingham has agreed to draw all twelve issues of this tale and I believe he’s doing the best work of his career. Yes, I know I’ve said that several times before, but can I help it if he keeps getting better and better?”
Bill Willingham’s return to DC will also include Cursemas, a 48-page standalone holiday special featuring the Justice League.
That’s great, right? Fables ran from 2002 to 2015, yielding 22 best-selling collections, winning 14 Eisner Awards, and in general being one of the most “beloved” books of the era. How beloved? It even had its own convention, FablesCon, organized by Willingham in 2013 and attended by about 400 people, including a bunch of comics luminaries. It was, by all accounts, a wonderful time for all.
But now, creator Willingham’s politics — which he often injected not so subtly into the book — is being scrutinized, along with his some of his more questionable actions along the way. Willingham has never been shy about his conservative politics, although in the naive bipartisan paradise of 2002, liberals and conservatives working on a comic together wasn’t as much of a political statement as it is now. In particular, a pro-Israel storyline and an anti-abortion statement from Snow White were among the more obvious expressions in the pages of Fables. In 2009, Willingham wrote an essay for the conservative site Breitbart complaining about “superhero decadence,” which could be a blueprint for some of the more strident comics culture wars that followed — and stirred up a storm of controversy at the time.
Willingham’s Wikipedia page quotes him as being “rabidly pro Israel,” a quote from an interview that seems to be lost to time. However he was open about it in a 2007 interview with the AV Club:
The Israel analogy, probably at the time I was writing that, I thought it would be controversial, because just the mention of Israel in any context is a hot-button issue. But once again, I thought even the people upset that that analogy was used understood the analogy. Bigby made his point of the little guy with vast forces arrayed against him. Some wackos online who don’t sign their name to what they write have said that I’m a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda, and things like that. A paid mouthpiece, which would be wonderful. I haven’t gotten any pay yet, but if any of my Israeli commanders are listening, the checks arriving would be a nice thing. So, yeah, the controversy on that didn’t surprise me, the Israel thing. A little more heated than I expected, but then most things are.
AVC: You’ve said in the past interviews that you’re unequivocally pro-Israel. Do you think of Fables as communicating a political message, or as being persuasive in any way?
BW: No, I actually thought that that would be the best example in politics today to use as an example. Maybe my fondness for Israel helped in deciding that that was a good example to use, but no, Fables is not didactic in any way. At least, not intentionally. I don’t expect people to read that issue, bop themselves in the head, and say, “Oh my God, I’ve been so stupid about my politics in Middle Eastern affairs. I’m going to change my tune right now, because, Bigby would want me to.” I don’t expect anything like that, and I wouldn’t put that line in almost any other character’s mouth, just because I couldn’t imagine other characters thinking along those lines. Whereas Bigby was a guy who we’ve already established that historically, he went to war several times, and was involved in World War I and II. He would be the type of character who would think along those lines.
And then there was this:
So rather than a joyous, open-armed reunion, comics Twitter came out with a strong “read the room, DC!” reaction, and the general realization that what could be overlooked in 2007 is not acceptable now.
In some ways it’s like a comics version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — something once lauded as progressive that must be reassessed in light of revelations about the people behind the stories.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the press tour for all this rolls on. On a business level, DC bringing back one of its greatest hits of the early century (one that seemed to have the steam to run indefinitely) is impressive…but also going back to that well again and again. As revealed in some previews at Screen Rant, it sure is pretty.
But the ongoing discourse about this book and Willingham’s politics is likely to be anything but pretty.