By: Bill Willingham (story), Mark Buckingham (pencils), Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), Shawn McManus (feature art)

The Story: If your own family can’t rescue you from the clutches of maniacal toys, who can?

The Review: When Ozma delivered her prophecy regarding the fate of the Cubs, it was natural to assume that however dire the foretelling, we could rest on the Cubs getting to grow up a bit before such anxious events come to pass.  Upon reflection, this is a very naïve belief.  When it comes to Fables, disaster tends to strike sooner rather than later, and the more unprepared the characters are, the better.

Although the prophecy’s temporal context is so loose that you can’t really trust that any particular event is actually fulfilling it, we might as well take a good stab at it.  Willingham wouldn’t give us the thing if he hadn’t meant for us to do some wild speculating.  Winter, by succeeding her grandfather as the North Wind, has become a king, so that’s one down.

Last issue, Darien woke up to the fact that he’s an annoying brat who allowed his own sister to get kidnapped before his very eyes.  His guilt combines with his natural adventurous spirit this issue as he, too, gets dragged off by a living toy to fulfill his destiny—although it would be churlish to call Lord Mountbatten a mere toy: “I’m cursed to live oppositely in two realms.  In the real world I’m a clever toy.  In the toy world I’m a real tiger.  And always one foot in each.”  The monocled tiger calls attention to Darien’s “heroic soul,” claiming such folk “have no choice but to answer the call,” which fits into “The fifth child will be a hero bold” quite nicely.

As for Therese’s queenship of discarded toys, the imagery at least suits the “The second child a pauper” bit, doesn’t it?  It’s worth noting that despite the myriad names Teddy Saint Ives gave to this awfully grim realm, Lord Mountbatten unhesitatingly refers to it by one only: “Madland.”  And truly, even if these broken playthings aren’t totally mad yet, they’re clearly disturbed, if Teddy’s rather menacing taunts to Therese prove anything: “Only silly Dorothys arrive in a magical land and want to go home.  You don’t want to be a silly stinking Dorothy, do you?”

While Therese’s brother has gone to her direct rescue, the rest of her family and friends keep up the search back home, giving rise to a couple significant moments.  First, Rose Red implies that she’s not only taken up her role as an agent of Hope, she’s also chosen what kind of hope she stands for, promising sister Snow, “this time, hope won’t run out on you.”  We also get a bit of tension between Pinocchio and Ozma, the latter not seeing it in the same romantic light as the former.  Here’s hoping the haplessly unlucky former puppet finally gets his due.

When the book’s full of talking heads, Buckingham’s art does little more than allow the story to function pleasantly.  When the opportunity comes for grander imagery, he rises to the occasion proportionately.  Certainly that two-page sequence of Lord Mountbatten leaping across worlds like each is his stepping-stone, Darien with sword and shield on the tiger’s back, has the same beautiful illustration as a great children’s book, the kind that resonates within a kid’s imagination long after he’s grown up.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning the Bufkin in Oz back-up, which has advanced so slowly and with so little meat that you only have the vaguest investment in the tale by now.  Still, it makes for a fun diversion (especially with McManus’ wacky art) to the real substance of the issue, and since it only takes up a couple pages, it works pretty darn well as a bonus treat, actually.

Conclusion: Vertigo’s anchor title continues to churn out one reliably intriguing issue after another, though it’s been a long time since you’ve finished one with your jaw slack from amazement.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Therese, Winter, and Darien match up to the three lines of the prophecy I’ve mentioned.  Where do you suppose Blossom, Ambrose, Connor, and Ghost fit with the remaining parts?  Although since the two girls have been checked off, that leaves Blossom to be the one to “do an evil thing,” since “The fourth will die to stop her.” (emphasis added)