WILLINGHAM on the Coming of Superheroes in FABLES



Way back when the characters of Fables were gearing up for their war against the Adversary, Bill Willingham assured Newsarama readers that nothing was sacred, and that the status quo of his series could change at any minute.

The writer came through on that promise when the Adversary was defeated, and the Fabletown characters were no longer in exile.

But now, that's all changed again. As readers saw in the oversized Fables #100 by Willingham and series artist Mark Buckingham, the horrific Mr. Dark not only defeated Fabletown, but found out where the Fables characters were hiding. Fabletown is destroyed. The Farm is no longer safe. Mr. Dark intends to hunt all the Fables characters down.

And everything about Fables is, once again, changed.

After a break during issue #101 to catch up with Bufkin the flying monkey, readers will now pick up the main storyline again with this week's Fables #102.  As the Fables characters head toward Haven, the new witch-in-charge, Ozma, handles the fight against Mr. Dark, complete with superpowered helpers that look a lot like comic book heroes.

In fact, the covers will pay homage to famous DC comics of the past, setting the stage for the Pinocchio-inspired team that will fight for the characters of Fabletown.

In this first installment of a two-part series, Newsarama talked with Willingham to find out more about the fight against Mr. Dark and what's coming next for characters like Bigby, Beast, Beauty and Bufkin.

Newsarama: Bill, Fables is moving into a brand new storyline with a new status quo for the characters. Can you tell us what we’re going to be see with Fables #102 and beyond?

Bill Willingham: After the defeat of the Adversary, everything was fine and wonderful for just a bit. But I wanted to do a story wherein we systematically took away every single thing that the Fables in exile have come to rely upon. We took away Fabletown, we took away the business office with its cache of all this wonderful magic stuff, and we exiled them to the Farm, and then of course as you’ve seen in Fables #100, we just took away the Farm. We’ve taken away everything they can hope to rely on, anything that would make their life and plans and strategies easier.

Nrama: Is that to shake things up a bit?

Willingham: It's just to see, when they’re left entirely to their own devices, what are they made of? And issue #102 starts the storyline whose premise is they’ve got nothing left, and nowhere left to run to.

Haven, Flycatcher's kingdom somewhere in the Homelands, was their last fallback position. They hadn’t thought that they would be needing it. They don’t have another last fallback position prepared. As a matter of fact, there was a little hint in #100 that that was what Bigby’s mission was. They’re running out of places to run away to, so Bigby needs to go find more places like that. And we will find out in #102 what success he had with that mission.


There’s a wonderful speech coming up — in either #102 or #103; I forget exactly which issue it takes place in — where Beauty is kind of scolding her husband, saying, you guys are preparing for this big final battle and we’re not good warriors. We are not battle people. As a matter of fact, what we’re best at is running away.

Fabletown itself was founded on the big prospect of, out of the millions of people that were conquered and the hundreds of kingdoms and all these worlds, we were the ones that were smart enough to run away. That’s why we survived and the others were either killed or lived in what can amount to slavery for all these centuries. 

We shouldn’t have been preparing all along for new ways to fight. We should have been preparing an endless array of ways to run away. And we didn’t. And now we’re stuck. Now, because Mister Dark knows — in #100 he learned where they went to this time — we don’t have the option. We’re the ones who are boxed now. I think that pretty well describes the predicament they’re in. 

Nrama: Beauty and Beast’s child is obviously going to be a bit of a troublemaker. Are we going to see that developed in the coming issues?

Willingham: Yes, we are. Bucky and I are actually taking our time with that a little bit as Beauty and Beast are finding clues that their perfect little baby girl Bliss might be a bit of a hellion. So far, it’s in situations like: She just cleaned in there, she walks out to the kitchen for a while, comes back and the whole room is trashed again. How did that happen? Or finds a half-eaten rat off in one corner; what the hell is going on? There’s going to be some fun moments with her as her loving parents begin to find out maybe they’ve got a little more on their hands than they suspected. 

Nrama: Does the main storyline focus on Ozma, since she is now going to take her shot at defeating Mr. Dark after Frau Totenkinder's failure?

Willingham: Yes. And her idea is pretty much an expansion of what Totenkinder did, which is like fighting one-on-one. After all, Totenkinder nearly had him. She wore him down. She proved that the guy can be worn down, so we’re going to put the best team of fighters together who are the most fearless — because of course we don’t want to be feeding him power at the same time we’re trying to degrade it. We’re going to put that team together and just wear him down until we’ve got him again, and this time make sure we have a good place to contain him or something to do with him.

Nrama: And that's where the super team comes into play?

Willingham: It’s Pinocchio who comes up with the idea. He says, "Well, what you’re describing to me sounds like a super team from the comics. It’s his idea to, like, let’s put us all in fancy costumes and things like that, and he’s kind of the comic relief in this storyline. Ozma’s trying to put a serious military action together and Pinocchio is just going silly with his ideas on how to help. 

Nrama: Is this kind of paying homage to comic book fans or comic book type ideas?

Willingham: Sure, I mean, I’ve got an affection for superhero stories and this is a little bit of mockery, but kindly good-natured ribbing. Immediately the reaction was, at least what got back to me was, "This kind of thing has no place in a Fables type story." My favorite was the speculation somewhere online that "evil DC must be forcing Willingham to put people in costumes and stuff because superheroes is all they know how to do," which I was quite amused at. No, it’s not any of those things. It’s just one Fables character acting completely in line with what his character is like. 

Nrama: It’s been established that Pinocchio reads comics.

Willingham: Yeah, and he's given to flights of exaggeration and fancy that maybe aren’t always the most practical. 

Nrama: You mentioned Bigby going off to try and find places as backups, but Snow White and Bigby also have very open-ended trouble with the North Wind.

Willingham: Yes they do.

Nrama: Will that be picked up in this storyline, or is that something we’ll see further down the road?

Willingham: No, it’s in this storyline. As a matter of fact, we had a little conference, and [editor] Shelly [Bond] and Mark Buckingham and I decided that perhaps too many of our good story ideas are being set up too slowly. So in this storyline, we’re cramming everything we can possibly get into it.

In this storyline, we have the Bigby’s mission coming to its conclusion. We have Fabletown and the Farm and Haven all trapped together in one place with one last desperate idea on how to get out of it. We have the Beauty and Beast situation. We have Pinocchio throwing his giant monkey wrenches into things. And we have the conflict between Bigby and his father come to a head.

As we saw in a recent issue, Bigby's father just found out that they’ve been hiding the seventh child all along and that it’s an invisible zephyr, which is considered a malformed creature by wind standards and has to be destroyed. 

Remember in the Father and Son two-parter, Bigby said, “If you and I ever come in conflict again, I’ve made certain arrangements to make sure this time, I win.”  We’re going to see if that’s true. 

Nrama: Then finally, let's talk about Bufkin, who was the center of attention in issue #101. We see that he's now in Oz, or just outside it. Will his story be picked up within the pages of Fables?

Willingham: Yes. But that story is not crammed in with the super team story arc, but in the very following story arc, which picks up with, I think, issue #107. We have a main thing that goes on with the main Fables cast, and what is happening with Bufkin and the revolution in Oz as the go-to story during that. We need a theme change, so let’s go and see what’s happening here. Yes, we do pick up on that fairly quickly. We’re not going to let it lie fallow for long at all. Because the main storyline is going to be pretty grim, we wanted some good comic relief, and nothing seems designed better for comic relief than a monkey like Bufkin trying to lead an entire revolution all on his own. 

Check back tomorrow as we ask Willingham about his departure from JSA and find out more about his other upcoming projects, including Werewolves of the Heartland.

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