By: Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (inkers), Lee Loughridge (colorist)

The Story: It’s up to one team of super Fables to defeat the dastardly Mister Dark—provided Boy Blue doesn’t come back to life and do it himself.

The Review: Jumping onto an ongoing title can be quite daunting, especially with one such an immensely packed history and cast as Fables.  The best way to handle the plunge is simply to roll with whatever the jump-on issue gives you, use a liberal amount of Wikipedia, and try to absorb as much as possible the most important points of the current running plot.  As an English major, I always wanted to give Fables a read, and this issue just happened to be my pick to start.

Of course, a strong, careful writer like Willingham can make things easier simply by delivering the story and characters as clearly as possible, which he does very well.  The first few pages quickly introduce you to the heroes of the moment, the band of warrior Fables known as the F-Men, and their foe in question, the formidable—scratch that—all-powerful Mister Dark.

This issue emphasizes just how dire the situation is for the fairy tale citizens, as every one of them works with the expectation that failure is the likeliest outcome.  Willingham underscores this point with both the F-Men, who become increasingly portrayed like the Fables’ Suicide Squad, and Brock Blueheart’s insistent preaching of Boy Blue’s resurrection as their savior in need.  These are characters that are facing their doom the only way we know how: struggling to the last for survival, and praying for miracles.

The very idea of the F-Men is fun enough in itself to deliver some much needed lightness to this grim issue, but don’t take it for granted.  Willingham doesn’t assemble this team as a funny gimmick, although it is undeniably amusing.  This team really represents the Fables’ last stand against assured destruction, as Beauty perceives and even F-Man Bigby admits.  Even amidst the humor of the opening sequence, where the F-Men hypothetically defeat Mister Dark using one of the oldest, silliest superhero tricks in the book, the trails of skeletons borders the panels.

That sense of resignation lingers beneath every character’s lines, and shows just how adept Willingham’s dialogue-writing is.  He’s had years to develop their history and personalities, which comes through in all their interactions, especially in the scene where Bigby tries to persuade Snow White to save herself and their children when he falls, and she persistently tries to deny the inevitability of that option.  There’s not much sentiment in their outward behavior or words, but the love between them is never lost on you.

Buckingham’s simple, retro style suits the old-school superhero look very well, but he’s also very capable of getting across subtle details in the settings and characters’ faces that add layers to the already solid script.  He also delivers some very smart paneling choices to easily transition from one scene to another, without ever making you lose sight of where you are in the story, like his cut from Bigby and Snow White’s mention of Boy Blue, to the relief of Blue’s horn on his tombstone, to Blueheart’s homily to the other animal believers.

Conclusion: As storied and well-written as its fans make it out to be, Fables is well on its way to making me yet another of its devotee.  If you try it, you’ll likely wind up the same.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Does anyone find it a funny conflict of interest that Bigby’s semi-wolfish father wears a fur-lined cloak?