By: Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker)

The Story: Things come to a head for the man with a tophat and the man with a fur coat!

The Review: All along Willingham has built up Mr. Dark’s street cred, what with spending so many issues having all the Fables work themselves into a veritable lather of tension and fear as they prepare for their final (literally so, since none except the Boy Blue devotees have any hope of survival) confrontation with their infallible foe.  Now that the showdown’s come at last, you can only have high hopes it’s the spectacle you’ve been led to expect.

And once you’ve turned the last page, you’ll probably think, Well, that was something of a letdown.  Last time, Bigby’s dad set himself up to take care of Mr. Dark—Duladan, as the North Wind knows him—by himself, a rather lucky midnight-hour save for the Fables.  For the same reason, it also seems like Willingham chickened out in a way, as he’d already established any battle with Dark could only lead to innumerable Fable deaths, and goodness knows he doesn’t want to depopulate his cast in one fell stroke.

That’d be fine, except the battle between the Misters North and Dark winds up as nothing more than a few splash pages of Bigby’s dad keeping his vampiric opponent in a chokehold as they twirl through an icy wind.  It’s a far cry from Dark’s claim that “a battle between two such as we would crumble this frail world in its wake,” and feels all the more anticlimactic for it.  Since North takes the trouble to drag their fight to a separate realm, you’d think they’d have more freedom to go all out on each other, living up to their formidable reputations.

It feels like Willingham set up a very easy way out for this story arc.  How convenient it is that just before the Fables’ Ragnarok, North shows up vowing to kill Bigby’s son, then changes his mind, except the only way to get out of his spontaneous vendetta is to do away with himself, which—surprise!—confronting Mr. Dark would accomplish quite neatly.  Talk about killing two birds with one stone.  It’d be a noble moment, except you have to remember he was the one who inexplicably wanted to kill off his own grandkid in the first place.

The rest of the issue is your usual recovery epilogue, everyone breathing a sigh of relief that the fight they didn’t fight is over.  Setting aside how unearned it all feels, Willingham lays some intriguing groundwork for future storylines: Ozma and Pinocchio’s chat about destiny hints at a possible love interest for the undersexed boy (about time, too); Rose Red discovers greatness (for good or ill) lies in her future; while Snow White and Bigby amaze over his father’s sacrifice seconds before being informed one of their children has to take the North Wind’s place.

Buckingham offers his usual clean, effective work, and he does a particularly nice job montaging Mr. Dark and the North Wind wrestling through the ice elemental realm (love Dark constantly changing form and shape as he struggles to break out of North’s hold).  But really, this is a very chatty issue, so there’s really little to remark on here.

Conclusion: A disappointingly passive conclusion to what should have been the most fraught battle of the Fables’ lives.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – North Wind’s defeat of Mr. Dark leads Brock Blueheart to believe that Boy Blue did come save them all, only he left before anyone noticed.  Signs of Harold Camping in that logic.

– I suppose this means Nurse Spratt just had the experience of her man excusing himself out of the house for a moment and then never coming back.