by Bill Willingham (writer), Jim Fern (pencils), Craig Hamilton (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Mister Dark’s back-story is explored as we finally find out just how he ended up in that box.

What’s Good: I’m not going to lie here.  By far the best thing about this issue of Fables is that it’s left the horrendous “great” Fables Crossover in the dust.

Most compelling in this issue is seeing the evil Empire, if only a small sect of it, as the good guys.  It feels odd supporting characters that are utterly devoted and loyal to the forces we’ve grown to despise, but it works, while also managing to convey that there are worse things out there than Geppetto’s machinations.

On the last page, Willingham also manages to reveal a twist to Dark’s powers that gives this new villain a ton of legitimacy.  I won’t spoil it, but Willingham implies that Dark has been influencing much of the series, unbeknownst to its characters and readers.

I also enjoyed Willingham’s use of Mister Dark as a narrator, who he never even attempts to make sympathetic.  Make no mistake, the Boxers are the good guys and Dark deserves to be in that box.  Dark is arrogant, vengeful, and violent throughout, and his voice adds a sinister tone to this issue.  Whether through narration or the actual present-day framing structure, Willingham’s has Mister Dark speak directly to the reader makes him all the creepier. This is only enhanced by Fern’s particularly disturbing rendition of the villain staring directly at the reader, his gaze almost comes off the page.

Speaking of which, Ross’ art in general is fantastic and shows that the series can impress visually even without the mighty talents of Mark Buckingham.  The sheer amount of mayhem he’s able to throw on the page is impressive, particularly in the massive magical battles between the Boxers and Baba Yaga.

What’s Not So Good:  Unfortunately, as an exploration of back-story, this issue doesn’t feature any of our favourite characters.  In fact, while it is good, right now it’s hard not to call it anything but a digression.  While Mister Dark is on the front cover, outside of his narration, he actually plays a very small role in this book as a whole.  Make no mistake, the focus is on Dunster Happ and the Boxers.

Not only is Dark’s appearance brief, but the way the Boxers get him into the box is actually surprisingly underwhelming; there’s not much of a special plot or witty solution, it’s just another day at the office for the Boxers.  Frankly, Dark doesn’t feel all that much worse than the other things the Boxers have boxed in past.

How worthwhile this issue is will only become known in the future.  If Happ and the Boxers return in the present day, this issue would become really cool. However, if they don’t, this book becomes a bit irrelevant.

Conclusion: Thank goodness the Crossover is over. This could be foreshadowing of good things to come.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans