By: Bill Willingham (story), Mark Buckingham (pencils), Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: On the bright side, Therese, pretend cake is less fattening than actual cake.

The Review: I have to say, it’s a nice change of pace that Willingham has scaled back his multiple storyline format for a more focused, and thus more driven, plot.  In some issues the constant gear-shifts from one Fable’s story to another could get frustrating, especially when they had no connection to each other.  Besides, when you only have so many pages to tell three stories at once, you can’t help feeling each one gets shortchanged a little to make room for the others.

So it’s been a real luxury to spend so much time on just two central characters whose respective plotlines are bound to each other anyway.  Aside from a one-page excursion to the returning citizens to Fabletown (who play right into Spratt’s hands by moving onto her home turf), and your usual dose of Bufkin & Co. (whose tale of revolution grows less captivating every issue, despite Shawn McManus’ charming art), the issue keeps the spotlight on the boldest of Snow White and Bigby’s children.

In a poetic twist, Therese, who has the greatest ambition for royalty of all the Cubs, proves quite unfit for the responsibilities of such position.  In her defense, Queen of Madland isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, what with there being no source of mortal nourishment other than stone-filtered rainwater.  Besides, it’s clear her subjects haven’t been entirely honest in their motives for honoring her.  In previous issues, they implied her very presence would restore their kingdom, but it seems more physical work is involved, something for which Therese seems very ill-suited.  Beyond that, there’s also “the other thing” Mr. Well-Stuffed foreboding refers to, though Teddy St. Ives quickly shoots down mentioning the specifics to Therese while she’s still out of sorts.

And the more time we spend in this realm, the more we share Therese’s dismay at finding herself seemingly trapped there.  At one critical moment, Teddy reveals a major detail: “Here in the land of happiness, everything is pretend.”  The words have rather chilling implications; by corollary, it means that happiness, too, is only imaginary in that land, indicating the kind of doom the toys of Madland must live with every day.

There are also physical side-effects to this principle Teddy mentions, one Therese experiences in painful fashion and which results in the issue’s big cliffhanger (a very appropriate word given that it literally takes place over a cliff).  A couple months ago, Darien looked like he had gained some perspective on himself, but here he proves he still has an overabundance of enthusiasm, and a habit of taking his “specialness” for granted.  Obviously, no one wishes him to suffer deadly consequences from this blind spot—not that we have much choice in the matter—but Dare is ripe for a rough wake-up call.

As I mentioned last issue, Buckingham delivers some beautiful work with some grand imagery to work on, but otherwise, his art simply conveys the story and no more.  It’s not particularly evocative nor dynamic, with most of the characters’ facial expressions reduced to scrawls, so you have little to remark upon, but also little to complain about.

Conclusion: As always, an interesting read, but not particularly gripping.  What’s really needed to jolt this series is a big, consequential twist, and it looks like next issue will serve us that one.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Been a while since we’ve seen Bigby pulling out his cop-on-the-beat routine, huh?  I have to say, I missed it.

– At first, it seems a blessing that Ranger Mike Danger is on Dare’s side, but it does seem a little suspicious he encourages Dare to press on, thus opening him to the Madland toys’ kamikaze attack.