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

The Story: A childhood adventure from the past lives of Snow White and Rose Red is recounted.

What’s Good: I’ve always enjoyed it when Willingham stretches his legs a little and gives us a good old fashioned fairytale, even if it means a digression from the main story.  That’s exactly what we get here; Willingham writes a fanciful tale in the homeworld which, thanks to its talking bear, grumpy villain, and child protagonists truly feels like a classic childhood yarn.  It has just enough whimsy, innocence, and gleefulness to capture that energy.  With its narration and tone, it also has a very “constructed” feel, only further heightening its “once upon a time” nature.  The narration, for example, is very well done and surprisingly light.

This’d probably even qualify as an actual fable, were Willingham not so smart as to leave its actual moral message ambiguous, left to pieced out by the adults in the present.  Certainly, the issue’s ending is a laugh if only because it apes the typical fable/fairytale pay-off by placing the usual princely transformation and marriage proposal in an utterly ridiculous context.  In a stroke of genius, “happily ever after” feels more like “wtf.”

Despite this though, the majority of the tale is one of childhood energy and fantasy.  Rose Red and Snow White have a strong relationship and  Willingham populates their forest with a couple of amusing characters.

A talking bear serves as sympathetic character who again provides grounds for Willingham’s love of making those who appear ferocious end up as anything but.  The issue’s villain, on the other hand, is a dwarf so curmudgeonly and grumpy that he serves more as comedy than menace.  Of course, when the two clash, there’s an act of bloody violence that’s so contrary to the rest of the issue that readers are bound to have whiplash, though in a good way.  Only Willingham can make decapitation light-hearted, if only thanks to its randomness.

Buckingham’s art, meanwhile, is absolutely spot-on this month.  He gives the book the bright, cheery look that its classic fairytale nature requires.  His illustrations of the dwarf in particular are excellent and a source for laughs on more or less every appearance.  The poor guy looks like a demented garden gnome.

What’s Not So Good: There’s this really weird and utterly out of place sub-text of pedophilia that occurs briefly.  I’m not sure why Willingham decided to do this, let alone in such an otherwise light-hearted book, but it feels really uncomfortable and generally inappropriate.

There’s a very, very awkward line by Rose and Snow’s mother.  In a panel where her face appears darkened and suddenly gravely serious, she essentially implies that she knows the bear to be a pedophile and she warns him of her suspicions as he plays with her children.

Why is this here?  How did Willingham think this to be a good idea?  As far as I’m concerned, the less pedophilia in my comics the better, particularly if the issue goes entirely against the tone of the book and is tossed out there so cursorily and with such abandon.  It also colours the otherwise absurd ending with a gravity and seriousness that it does not need.

Conclusion: A really fun book save for one baffling, inexplicable component.  Best to just pretend that that one speech bubble doesn’t exist.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans