by Bill Willingham (writer), Matthew Sturges (writer), Mark Buckingham (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), & Todd Klein (letters)

The Story:
The Great Fables Crossover continues as Kevin Thorn tries to break his writer’s block, calling in the Genres and two of his fables to help out.  Meanwhile, Bigby, Snow, Gary, and Revise hit the road in pursuit.

The Good: Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges are writers who I’ve always really admired for their creativity, and nowhere has this been on better display than in the concept of the Literals.  It’s an English Literature student’s dream come true, as it borders on being deconstructive while making a laughable mess of the fourth wall.  It’s all just so damned clever.  Take for instance the outward manifestation of Thorn’s writer’s block, a version of himself that is always sitting nearby, drooling in a straitjacket.  The figure is never addressed or spoken of, but he’s always there.  That’s just genius.

The writing here is remarkably intelligent while also being truly funny.  The Genres are a great laugh and the crossover has succeeded in portraying Snow and Bigby’s reactions to some of the….stranger….characters of Jack of Fables.  Bigby’s interactions with his “new sidekick” Gary, as well as Dex’s sudden appearance shows just how distinct the two Fables comics really have become; what is just another typical day for Jack is utterly insane for the other Fables.

The introduction of Kevin’s “advisors” is another stroke of genius and I can’t wait to see where it goes.  The idea of a “good angel” and a “bad angel” over the shoulders of arguably the most powerful entity the series has ever seen?  Yes, please.  The Hansel/Old Sam combo works so perfectly as the two are such opposite, yet tertiary, characters.  It’s a pairing I NEVER would have thought of, and yet it pairs an impossible to dislike character with one that is impossible like.  Hats off, and I want more NOW.

Art-wise, by and large, Mark Buckingham is perhaps the best penciller on any Vertigo title today.  For the most part, he’s up to his usual standard.

The Bad: I said “for the most part.”  Doing two comics in a month for such a detail-oriented artist has to take its toll, and indeed, I did find some of Buckingham’s panel layouts a little lifeless in this issue.  Some were great (the parallel double page spreads showing Kevin working on the world was great), but for the most part, the layouts felt a little bland.  Also, Buckingham seems to have some difficulties drawing Gary.  This is always a danger in any crossover, but honestly, it took me a while to figure out the identity of Willingham’s Gary.

Writing-wise,  my only niggling concern is just how necessary this whole crossover is.  Right now, there are just too many disparate elements, which leads to some things being left forgotten on the backburner.  The Jack Frost segment was just weird and out of place and needs to be made relevant FAST.  Also, having Kevin Thorn and Mister Dark as adversaries at the same time is just odd, as focusing on one leads to the other’s being forgotten, and the existence of one threatens to dilute the threat of the other.  It seems the comic has chosen to focus more on Thorn, but that leaves Dark as the elephant in the room, and it’s awkward.  For instance, Bigby is revealed to become more feral when in the same state as Mister Dark.  This issue, he’s right in New York City but experiences no difficulties whatsoever.  Huh?

The Bottom-line:
Despite my nagging, as an individual issue, this is fantastic.  It’s witty, funny, and clever as all hell and it’s Mark Buckingham drawing.  As a Fables crossover issue, it may be the best yet and the particular focus on Thorn is amusing and well done.  Also, the ending of the issue has great comedic potential, especially if Jack returns before the “change” can be undone.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans