Telltale Games released the first batch of screens today for The Wolf Among Us, the studio’s upcoming episodic adventure set in the Fables universe. We’ll share those screens with you here, but this write-up isn’t about the game. Not directly. There’s a very good reason that Telltale was drawn to Bill Willingham’s ongoing Fables comic book series as a source of story content for an episodic adventure.
If you read the books, then you know what the reason is: it’s a damn excellent story populated by a memorable cast of characters. If you don’t read the books… well, you should. But keep reading, and consider this a primer for Telltale’s followup to the award winning The Walking Dead. Prepare yourself for some light spoilage on a few points pulled from early in the series’ life. Nothing that will ruin your good time if you should choose to read it, but enough that the spoiler-haters of the world should be alerted beforehand.
What is Fables?
At the most fundamental level, Fables subverts everything we know about characters of myth, legend, and fairy tales. It posits that all of these beings – from Snow White to the Big, Bad Wolf to Pinocchio to the North Wind – exist in a series of separate yet connected worlds, collectively referred to in the comics as the Homelands. At some point in their history, a terrible being known as The Adversary rose up and conquered them all, sending many into exile.
Those Fables – the term used to refer to beings born of the Homelands – that weren’t killed or reined in under The Adversary’s rule escaped in the mundane world, or Mundy. This is our world, the one that we know and live in. The escaped Fables now live on in relative (and magically induced) anonymity. Those who can pass as regular humans dwell in the magically concealed New York City neighborhood known as Fabletown, and those who can’t enjoy a more idyllic life in upstate New York on the Farm.
The principal strength of Willingham’s work is in the way he contrasts the wholesome image of well-known fairy tale characters against the realities of our present day existence. Snow White and Prince Charming did not, in fact, live happily ever after. In truth, Charming is a philandering blowhard and Snow divorced his unfaithful ass. The Big, Bad Wolf, renamed Bigby Wolf in the Mundy, is able to assume human form and has given up his porcine obsession to become a defender of the peace.
The story presented in the comic book becomes this strange mixture of familiar characters thrown into unexpected situations that feel very grounded in the reality we know. Snow White and her sister Rose Red are locked in a vicious exchange of sibling rivalry. Old King Cole struggles with self-doubt in his role as the Mayor of Fabletown. Bufkin, a winged monkey from the Land of Oz, struggles constantly with an inferiority complex. Fantastical characters dealing with very real problems.
Who’s afraid of the Bigby Wolf?
The upcoming game taps into this universe and faithfully recreates the characters the fans of the comics will be familiar with. As an ongoing series, Fables is very much wrapped up in giving a vast range of characters some time at centerstage. The early issues establish the most important characters in the major arcs to come, but you’re frequently meeting new faces – both familiar and unfamiliar – as time goes on. We already know that Bigby Wolf is the star of The Wolf Among Us, but you may not know who he is if you haven’t read the comics.
The former Big Bad Wolf was once a pure wolf, born of a union between the North Wind and Winter. He was the runt of the litter, and earned the name Big Bad Wolf – Bigby for short – when he became a target for his siblings’ mockery. All of Bigby’s siblings went to their father’s side after Winter died, but the wolf stuck around to protect his mother’s corpse. He was unsuccessful, and from that failure he vowed to kill something bigger with each new day.
Bigby became a hunter, aided by innate abilities received from his father. Now you know why huffing and puffing at the homes of the Three Little Pigs was so effective. Bigby developed a taste for human flesh after his encounter with Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. This turned out to be a problem once The Adversary rose to power, as the flesh of the conquerer’s servants carried a foul taste. Bigby refused to join the marching armies as a result, and instead set to work on disrupting The Adversary’s plans.
For some time after that, the outcast wolf lent assistance to Fables wishing to escape from the Homelands. He led them to a portal leading to the Mundy, but only after they allowed him to taste their flesh, to ensure it wasn’t tainted. Over a long period of time, Bigby helped save many important Fables, including Snow White and her sister, Rose Red.
It was Snow who eventually offered him a place in the Mundy settlements. Unfortunately, Bigby was not welcome on the Farm due to his past sins as a hunter of Fables. It was only with the help of a magical knife that we was able to assume human form and make a place for himself as the sheriff of Fabletown.
What’s the deal with The Wolf Among Us?
Telltale’s story is set prior to the events of the first comic book arc. The Fables have long since been run out of the Homelands and the threat of The Adversary looms large. Bigby Wolf is the sheriff of Fabletown, but Snow White is not yet in the deputy mayor position that she holds when the comics open. That post instead belongs to Ichabod Crane, of Sleepy Hollow fame. Wolf opens with Bigby setting out to solve a murder.
The story is meant to serve as a lead-in for the comics, a prequel that sets the stage for longtime fans and newcomers alike, according to a recent Game Informer preview. Seeds are even planted for larger character and relationship arcs that develop over time in the comics. Bigby’s connection to Snow White, for example, is vital to the larger narrative of the comic. Wolf will explore other facets of their relationship, with the goal being to build a frame for how they view one another when the comic stories open.
Building relationships continues to be an important component in The Wolf Among Us, just as it was in The Walking Dead. Colin the pig (one of the Three Little fellows) exists in the game as a sort of moral sounding board for Bigby. As lead designer Ryan Kaufman described it to GI, “Colin’s the only character who can tell Bigby to his face that he’s being a monster.”
Telltale also builds on The Walking Dead‘s successful delivery of a player choice-driven narrative in The Wolf Among Us. The choices players make as Bigby in the role of Fabletown sheriff guide the way the story unfolds and the way characters interact with him. There will also apparently be the option of visiting certain locations during the story at the expense of visiting others. Telltale is speaking only in vague terms for now, but it sounds in the GI preview like there’s a concerted effort to build on top of The Walking Dead‘s success rather than an attempt to simply repeat it.
One thing is clear: this is a good time to be a Fables fan. For those who have never read the comics, The Wolf Among Us will almost certainly win over some new fans thanks to its direct link to Willingham’s work. Longtime readers, on the other hand, get to appreciate this added bit of back story that builds new context into the early issues of the comic.
Don’t wait though. If you’ve never sampled Willingham’s story, jump on it now, before Wolf arrives.