The Wolf Among Us Episode 1 Review: Grimmly Satisfying
Trying to describe Fables, the long running DC Comics/Vertigo series written and created by Bill Willingham, risks making it sound like the most terminally silly concept ever attempted.
The premise: characters from fables, folklore and fairy tales are real, and hide in plain sight in a magically concealed community called Fabletown that sits in the middle of Manhattan. Driven to our world centuries ago by a ruthless enemy known only as “the adversary”, the fables attempt to maintain a low profile and dream of the day they might be able to mount an attack and retake their homelands. Lots of intrigue, murder, sex and the general range of human (or magical) awfulness ensues. The main characters include Prince Charming, The Big Bad Wolf, and Snow White. Yeah, it’s that kind of thing.
But the silly-sounding premise disguises the fact that Fables is one of the smartest comic series ever produced by the mainstream comics industry, which makes it a great fit for Telltale Games. Telltale, who previously took the idiotic zombie comic The Walking Dead and turned it into a thoughtful, character-driven story, works similar magic with The Wolf Among Us, a 5-part adaptation of Fables that captures the spirit and tone of the comic, and adds new wrinkles to the already complex story. The first episode is now available, and though it might be a tad esoteric for people who haven’t spent the last decade obsessing over the comic series, it’s a fun, engaging detective story with enough twists to keep Hammett fans and Grimm fans alike satisfied.
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, PC
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Released: October 11, 2013
The strength of Fables is that, much like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, it’s a story as much about stories themselves as about the characters in it. Series-creator Bill Willingham is a vast repository of literary and folklore knowledge and he puts it to good use, using the original stories as a jumping-off point for exploring class struggles, real world political hot potatoes, and sometimes just the chance to show off. While his reimagined characters often bear little resemblance to their original-story counterparts, they’re always tied to the stories from which they came, making it easy to jump between spy thrillers, epic war stories, romantic drama, even detective fiction, which is where The Wolf Among Us starts.
Set about 10 years before Fables’ 2003 debut, Bigby Wolf – AKA the Big Bad Wolf of Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs – serves as Sheriff of Fabletown. Tasked with investigating any and all crimes related to Fablekind, he must also enforce laws that keep their existence a secret from the mundane world. After a routine visit to a tenement in The Bronx to check out a domestic violence complaint involving two very different fables, he finds himself caught up in the murder of an obscure Fable woman called Donkeyskin.
Over the course of investigating the crime – joined by assistant Deputy Mayor of Fabletown Snow White – he begins to catch glimpses of a larger conspiracy within the Fable community. Of course, things don’t go smoothly: centuries-old grudges and serious financial pressure lead more than one character to deceive or even attack Bigby, and the episode culminates in a shocking cliffhanger, at least for people who’ve never read the comic series.
One thing the game gets particularly right is the tenuous relationship between the various characters. In the comic’s backstory, upon arriving in the mundane world many centuries earlier, the fables agreed for the sake of unity and cohesion to forgive past wrongdoings by any Fable who sought refuge in Fabletown. This means any wrongdoing, including the countless magical animals and people Bigby
ate murdered during his tenure as Big Bad Wolf. While the citizens of Fabletown adhere to the letter of the law, it’s obvious many of them haven’t forgiven in their hearts. This causes plenty of problems for Bigby as he questions former enemies connected to the case, and it’s nice the way the game nails Bigby’s outsider status while never sugar-coating the reasons for it.
The game’s story also hints at the class struggle bubbling under the Fable community. Wealthy (or connected) fables get to live in a luxury hi-rise, with access to magic that conceals their nature and allows them to more or less move about the mundane world without trouble. Poor fables are stuck living in the projects, barely keeping it together and sinking into the abyss as poverty does it’s usual trick of ruining relationships as well as one’s hopes and dreams.