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

The Story: Frau Totenkinder prepares for war, Baba Yaga takes over the business office, and the rivalry between the witches deepens

What’s Good: At the heart of this issue is Frau Totenkinder, and we see her quite literally unlike we’ve ever seen her before.   The old witch’s history has proven labyrinthine to say the least and seeing her reveal her true form, or at least her war aspect, was both incredibly cool and quite enlightening.  It gave an idea of how old she really is, while slipping some unpleasant hints regarding her origins and ancient past, all of it fairly cryptic.  Willingham is a great writer when it comes to portraying magic, and here he shows just how meaningless physical appearances are in a magical world like that of Fables.  From her knitting needles to her rocking chair, to her own appearance, every appearance belies another form, and every item transitions easily from one state to the next.

I also enjoyed the devastating problem King Cole brings up with Totenkinder.  I felt it a real testament to Willingham’s skill as a writer that such a logical, mundane problem was not only remembered, but also treated with the appropriate amount of dread.  I can think of a great many writers that would have just passed over the fables’ financial issues.  That Willingham treats it seriously is admirable.

Art-wise, this issue is drawn by Mark Buckingham, and that’s really all you need to know.  The man is incredibly consistent and always has an impressive balance of distinct character and impressive detail.

What’s Not So Good: Not a lot happens in this issue.  While it’s not unforgivable, this felt like an exercise in decompressed storytelling.  Everything I just described above takes quite a lot of page-space to unfold.  For instance, King Cole’s conversation with Totenkinder felt like it dragged on a little longer than it needed to.  Also, having this conversation directly precede Totenkinder’s transformation and Cole and Gepetto’s own forest wanderings made for a very static issue.  Simply put, almost the entire issue was spent in one small space of the forest; most of it centered around one character, Totenkinder’s, dialogue.  It felt a little drawn out and not the quickest of pace.  Emphasizing this is how Buckingham, usually endlessly creative with his gutters, repeatedly draws the same forest/tree-related borders.

Also, Baba Yaga’s scenes in the business office were a little jarring given that they seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the comic and felt completely detached.  For the second month in a row, Willingham also emphasizes that these scenes take place before the other events in the comic, with captions that specify when they occurred.  Like last month, absolutely nothing is done with this time difference though and no reason is even hinted at regarding why it’s important.  This only heightens the sense of detachment respecting these scenes.

Furthermore, I hated the scenes with Ozma’s cat.  They felt fairly extraneous, and again, overly drawn out.  I also loathe the lazy tactic of having a character introduced by having him/her talk about who he/she is in detail, out loud, with no one listening, for no discernible reason beyond the writer’s needing to inform the reader.

Conclusion: Totenkinder’s transformation is awesome, but really, this isn’t a particularly exciting comic.  Also, I need more Bufkin!

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans