Willingham Unleashes Capes & Tights on "Fables"

SPOILER WARNING: The following interview discusses the latest issue of "Fables, including specific, spoilery developments.

Since the debut of "Fables" in 2002, creator Bill Willingham has literally reinvented dozens, if not hundreds, of the most famous characters in the history of fairy tales and folklore. And while he has certainly empowered many of the series' main cast -- for example, turning the Big Bad Wolf into a law enforcing sheriff -- he hasn't granted anyone actual superpowers. Until now.

With this week's release of "Fables" #102 from Vertigo, a new five-issue arc entitled "Super Team" kicks off. CBR News spoke with Willingham about supersizing his multiple Eisner Award winning series.

The issue hits stores later today, so be forewarned as below Willingham discusses which Fables will be answering the Super Team's roll call, who is brave enough to lead them into battle against Mister Dark and why centuries from now, we may not be reading "Fables" #3702, starring Bigby, Snow White, Superman and Batman.

CBR News: I have to be honest, I was a little worried when I read that superheroes were coming to "Fables," but after reading the first issue, I'm really excited to see where this goes. Why was this the time to introduce capes and tights to the "Fables" mythos?

Bill Willingham: I'm really just trying to mess with the readers. [Laughs] And hopefully not in an evil way, though I've been accused by some of my readers of being evil. In this case, yeah, it's a look at superheroes, but it's a very twisted viewpoint. It's looking at a very, distorted mirror and it's not exactly what you think it's going to be.

"Fables" #102, on sale today, kicks off "Super Team"

One of my most treasured responses when readers heard that there was a superhero arc coming up in "Fables," was something along the lines of, "Oh, it was only a matter of time before DC forced Bill Willingham into doing superheroes." Or something like that. It was the heavy hand of DC Comics. And of course, that is just ridiculous. As a matter of fact, when I first mentioned to Shelly [Bond] and Karen [Berger], the Vertigo editors, that this was coming up, I got a very, almost reluctant "OK. I don't understand this. I don't think I like this but I guess we trust you." And now that they've seen the scripts for the entire arc, they understand what we're actually doing with this.

But yes, to answer your question -- all things being said, let's keep the book unusual in a sense that as a reader, you don't know what's coming up.

I think you've said in the past that with "Fables," you get to tell spy stories, murder mysteries, romantic comedies -- really, any genre you choose.

Exactly. And I suppose it was only a matter of time before the superhero genre -- which is still, pretty much, the driving force of comics -- was dealt with in some way. It's just probably not the way that many would expect. And of course, a lot of it is a real, lovely bit of misdirection and slight of hand, so that hopefully the readers won't know what the story arc is really about.

I understand you don't want readers -- including me -- to know what the arc is about just yet, but can you at least fill us in on the Super Team's secret origin and roster? Pinocchio is the team's leader, correct?

Yes, Pinocchio is the Professor X of the team, if you're dealing with Marvel, or the Chief from Doom Patrol, if you're dealing with DC. Self-appointed, of course. And being the resident expert on comic books amongst the Fables, he decided when you're the power behind the power, or the man behind the curtain for the team, for some reason, they have to be in a wheelchair. So he puts himself in a wheelchair, and to be all grown up and professorial, he takes up a pipe, but of course, it's a bubble pipe. He's also definitely comic relief for the team.

Pinocchio gives a little speech in "Fables" #102 about what the thinking is behind this. "As long as you're putting a team together, Ozma, to go after Mister Dark again, make it a superhero team and here's why it's an intelligent choice." And within the context of how we see the Fables universe working, it kind of makes sense in a never-trust-Pinocchio-all-the-way sort of way.

Besides Ozma, we also have Bigby. Pinocchio's choice for his name is Werewolf Man. We also have someone coming up called the Golden Knight.

Can you tell us who that is just yet?

I'm not gonna. And we have Captain Blueheart, too, which is a nod to the old Archie comics. I really love the old Archie comics when they would do superhero stuff. Not the Archie superheroes, which were the Fox and the Fly. I love those guys too, but I'm talking about when they would actually dress Archie and Jughead in superhero costumes and Archie's superhero name was Captain Pureheart, which I always thought was a great superhero name as a kid. So Captain Blueheart probably harkens back to the influence of things like that.

We have Thumbelina, who Pinocchio tries to name Miniature Maid or Maid of Mininess. Many, many names that she rejects soundly.

Grinder is there too, right?

Yes, he's recruited as the muscle for the team. And in a couple of issues, I believe it's "Fables" #104, we have a cover that shows the entire team. It's a little bit of a take off the famous "Justice League" cover. People were wondering, who or what is in the background, you can just barely see the kneecaps of someone. And that is, of course, Grinder standing back there, faintly, in the distance.

And we also have one more, but that reveal happens in the next issue, so I don't want to give that away just yet.

Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker. You can't have a Super Team without a supervillain, and this team has a great one in Mister Dark. You've introduced a lot of great villains over the years in "Fables," but it doesn't get much better than Mister Dark. What do you love to hate about him?

The thing I really like about him is that he is one of the really powerful ones. He's every Bogeyman. He's every dark, fearsome character that every kid has every worried about being under his bed. But I didn't want to just make another Geppetto/Adversary type of thing where we just recreate that villain again and again. Geppetto was not that personally powerful, but he was just as smart as a whip and he wielded his power and built an empire that was hundreds of worlds upon worlds.

Mister Dark kind of embodies personal power, and yet what he's really about is just this little personal vendetta. He wakes up after all of these years and all he wants to do is get back at who he sees as responsible for using his powers while he was out of touch. He's a very immature...well, that's not the word I'm looking for, but petty. He certainly has no lofty goals. He's just having a tantrum against a group of people that he's never met for some imagined slight. And I like the pettiness of it.

Geppetto had some personal pettiness in his life, but his empire was not a petty thing. That was a grand goal. Mister Dark, not so much. Imagine someone that petty with that kind of power. That's a pretty frightening thing and really the opposite of the trouble the Fables faced with Geppetto.

In "Fables," you reimagine characters like the Frog King and Cinderella, characters who have been around for 300 and 400 years. Do you think, in the year 2310, writers will be telling new adventures with Superman and Batman set well outside the DCU in the same way you are with Pinocchio and the Big Bad Wolf?

People certainly talk about Superman and Batman and comic book characters like that as the new mythology, but, of course, in old mythology, it was really an attempt to explain what was really going on in society. They started as religious stories to explain to people about the world around them, but they became myth, in the sense when people started to say, "OK. This isn't really how the world works, but we still love these stories and we still love these characters." So they've attained this mythic status.

I don't think we're at a point where we actually believed that Superman and Batman and characters like this actually existed, and now that we know they don't, we're still going to tell fun and entertaining stories with them.

That said, we might almost be doing a reverse mythology with them where we started with these legendary stories and now we've maybe moved to a point where they're going to come true.

By that I mean, right now, when you see a real strong man, an appropriate metaphor for him is that he is a real Hercules. And we're not saying, of course, that he is authentically the son of Zeus. No. This is a real guy. So 500 years in the future, who knows what we're going to be able to do. Right now, the abilities available to any normal person are still fairly limited. We can't run 300 miles per hour, but we can get in a car and go pretty fast down the road, which is something no ancient character has ever been able to do. With machines, we can lift, we can throw, we can shoot bolts of fire from our fingertips as long as our fingertips are holding a gun, that type of thing. So we're giving ourselves these pretty amazing abilities compared to what we were as human beings just a few generations back. So 500 years from now, who knows? Maybe Superman and Batman will inspire life. "Well, as long as I've got all this stuff going for me, I might as well call myself this thing out of ancient legend. So we might just go in the reverse.

Was Mark [Buckingham] happy to get back to drawing tights and capes?

Yes and no. He was scared to death, like the others, that I was just completely losing it. But then, when we started talking about the details, that went away. But also there was a worry that we would make it too silly. I think he, like me, enjoys the absurdity that creeps into "Fables" every once in a while but doesn't wasn't to go too overboard. But when he started getting the scripts and realizing the rather dire and dramatic things that are happening in this arc while the superhero analogue serves more as comedy relief, he got over that pretty quickly.

But drawing superhero costumes? Yeah, I think he's tickled to death.

One last thing I want to address is that we've been accused of maybe dragging our feet a little bit with some of the stuff leading up to "Fables" #100. And that may have been true in a sense because we wanted "Fables" #100 to be a big, spectacular thing, so we held off certain things, certain developments until then. Now that we're free of that milestone issue, we're not dragging our feet at all. I think readers will be surprised by just how much happens in the next five issues and in the next arc following that.

Will that arc feature the big showdown between Bigby and his dad, the North Wind, that's teased in this month's solicitation for "Fables" #105?

What can I say here? How's this? The very last page of the Superhero Team arc will tell the readers everything they want to know about what happens next. And I suspect that they are going to be screaming for answers.

"Fables" #102, written by Bill Willingham and featuring art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha, is in stores today.

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Tags: vertigo, fables, bill willingham, mark buckingham, joao ruas, super team

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