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

The Story: Bufkin the monkey starts on the path to becoming a hero.  Meanwhile, Totenkinder follows Mister Dark’s trail.

What’s Good: This is quite possibly the best issue of Fables that 2009 has seen thus far.  Regular readers of WCBR know that I’ve often been critical of Bill Willingham’s recent work, especially as it relates to the Great Fables Crossover.  The reason why I loved this issue so much is that it’s simply a case of Willingham going back to basics and returning Fables to its roots, as, well, a fable.

Fables has always been such a lovable series due to its narrative often focusing on the little guy taking on the big guy, becoming a hero, and realizing he’s not really so little after all.  Willingham has done it successfully with Boy Blue, Flycatcher, and perhaps the entire Fables community itself in its war with the Empire.  Now, in this issue, Willingham begins grinding the old gears once more, carving out perhaps his most unlikely hero yet in Bufkin the monkey.

It shows what a master Willingham is that even the most tertiary characters of the Fables world (Bufkin,  the head of Frankenstein’s creature, the mirror) are so fully developed.  On paper, the idea of Bufkin the monkey leading the entire Fables comic sounds ludicrous, and yet it works.  Bufkin is so engaging due to his being a bizarre mixture of innocence and seeming stupidity with cunning and intelligence.  He’s always been naturally likable and humourous, and so Willingham has crafted his greatest underdog yet.

Of course, the last page of the comic cannot go unmentioned.  Pitting a lovable underdog against massive opposition is one thing, but such power is evoked when little hints are made about that underdog’s true potential.  I challenge any Fables reader not to get goosebumps over the last line of this book, relating to Bufkin’s true power, which incidentally touches upon Willingham’s own belief in the power of reading and literature.

Though nothing hugely remarkable happened, I have to add that Totenkinder, now in her true form, has an indescribable magnetism and mystique about her.  Even with little going on, she eats up the pages she appears on.

Lastly, Buckingham is up to his usual standard here on art.  Having Baba Yaga and the giant blue Djinn running about truly allows Buckingham to let loose, resulting in some awesome images that only Buckingham, and Fables, can deliver.

What’s Not So Good: Very little, really.  I suppose the short scene with Mister Dark, Bigby, and Beast wasn’t particularly necessary.  All it does is remind us that Mister Dark is evil and powerful while providing an opportunity for Beast to shill the new Peter & Max novel.

Also, though it did allow him to display his cunning as well as the advantages inherent in his unassuming form, Bufkin’s confrontation with the djinn was really very abrupt.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t enjoyable, but the overall ease and brevity were a little disappointing.

Conclusion: This is Fables doing what it does best and doing what it’s supposed to do, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Grade: A –

-Alex Evans