I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:
Fables: Legends in Exile: In which classic characters, exiled from their homeland and forced to survive amongst the mundanes in New York, find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery right before Remembrance Day.
Knowing Fables is an ongoing series, this first volume reads like the pilot episode of a television show. It is self-contained and easy to understand. The real story will come once readers are acquainted with everything here.
The artwork is beautiful. The book is full of visual Easter eggs. Layers are added if readers know the backstories of characters, but familiarity is not necessary to understand the story. Everything readers need to know about the characters is present in the actual text. The occasional bit of expositional dialogue does slip through. Willingham lampshades this in-text when Snow White reminds Bigsby that she knows her own sister’s name, so it is somewhat easier to forgive.
Willingham does some interesting reimagining of the characters in the book. Prince Charming is everyone’s Prince Charming, including Cinderella and Snow White. Snow White is the jaded de facto head of Fabletown’s government. The Big Bad Wolf has redeemed himself into a human form and the sheriff’s office. A little more diversity amongst the characters would have been nice though. There’s no reason for them all to be white and straight.
Fables does not set itself apart from other fractured fairy tales in any hugely noteworthy way. It is entertaining but not necessarily a must-read.