By: Bill Willingham (writer), Terry Moore (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist)

The Story: One can only imagine the morning breath of several years’ enchanted sleep.

The Review: A few of Vertigo’s titles do an interesting thing where after every major story arc or so, they’ll follow up with what we would call in mainstream comics a “filler” issue.  Like most fillers, the subject and structure of these issues are usually free-form, open to anything within the series’ extended universe, but unlike the typical filler, they tend to have some impact or shed a little light on the overall plot.

For a while now we’ve been occupied by the tense showdown between Haven and Mr. Dark, to the point where the Fables’ war against the Empire, for years the most important conflict on the series’ plate, has almost faded from our minds.  This issue serves as a kind of afterword to the last major event involving the Empire, when Briar Rose (better known as Sleeping Beauty) pricked herself to shut down its crucial administrative and sorcery arms.

Itching to get his armies back on the road to conquest, General Mirant needs to first revive his bureaucratic resources to run the empire again, but to do so, he must find a way to awaken the comatose lady who keeps them out of commission.  To that end, he and his right-hand sergeant cook up a number of elaborate, at times ill-conceived plans to produce a prince whose kiss of true love might break Rose’s spell.

As far as interlude issues go, this one sets out purely to entertain, a Shrek-ish sort of story that tries to apply a contemporary business attitude to the inexplicable, arbitrary rules of fairy tales.  The results of these efforts turn out disappointing, of course, though Mirant’s sergeant devises a fairly clever (albeit a bit cruel: “…I’ll isolate them from the fairer sex. Never so much as a local milkmaid will they see.”) system that has a Hail Mary possibility of success.

Unfortunately, before the last-ditch plan can go into effect, the re-headed Prince Lindworm and his goblin cronies kidnap Rose (and Lumi the Snow Queen, unsure which is actually Sleeping Beauty; “They were both lovely and sleeping in an opulent setting…”) and fire a parting shot at Mirant, which, as the issue tells us, “marked the final death rattle of the Old Empire.”  Certainly, that’s not to say we’ve just seen the last of the Empire, but if it returns, it will go under a new guise.

Moore, like many Fables artists, has a light, playful quality to his art that deftly handles the whimsical looks of the fairy tale characters.  How else can he lend credibility to a unit of midget, goblins in black, special-ops cat suits?  Moore’s thin, clean lines also offer a lot of delightful details in the backgrounds (I particularly like Humpty Dumpty observing Lindworm’s beheading from a stool).  Loughridge’s colors bold the Fables, but scale back to give realistic depth to humans like Mirant, who remains utterly serious in spite of his mind-bogglingly silly plan.

Conclusion: An enjoyable palette-cleanser to the fairly dire stuff we’ve gotten lately, and a valuable epilogue to an older plotline

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I find it hilarious that General Mirant, despite his eagerness to have dudes plant some wet ones on Rose’s face, sets some strict sexual harassment guidelines:  “No Tongue!  No Touching!  No Ogling!  No Drooling!  No Gifts!”  As a kind of belated afterthought, he also tacks on, “No Singing!”