By: Bill Willingham (story), Phil Jimenez & Steve Sadowski (pencils), Andy Lanning & Andrew Pepoy (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)

The Story: A fairy tale who loves fairy tales.  A bit incestuous if you ask me.

The Review: Since Willingham is at bottom a talented writer with a lot of vision, I’m willing to believe he intended all along for Lumi the Snow Queen to assert herself as the central figure of this story.  But to me it feels more like one of those slow evolutions in the story itself, where Willingham found something that was really working—because honestly, much of this series so far has not—and let it grow.

This issue’s opening scene highlights just how diminished Ali Baba and Briar Rose’s presences have become, with Ali acting more like a featured distraction and Rose physically absent altogether.  Ali’s not even much interesting as a distraction either; most of his dialogue involves a lot of decidedly un-princelike whining, which does nothing for his already minimal personality.  Otherwise, you might be more interested that between the two women he kissed in the debut, it may not be Rose he’s meant to end up with (according to Jonah’s thus far reliable prognosis).

Now here’s an interesting thing: Ali does end up gaining a few layers of character in this issue, but not from anything he does, per se.  Jonah’s truncated retelling of the thief Fable’s original fable gives you the sense that Ali’s not really motivated by the wealth or women in themselves when it comes to his scheming; it’s the adventure in his misadventures that keeps him going.  You learn that at heart, Ali’s neither unscrupulous or a womanizer, and so his expression of gratitude and loyalty to Rose at the end of the issue suddenly carries weight and charm.

Speaking of Rose, she also gets to show some substance beneath her fair appearance in this issue.  We got hints in #2 that she has an independent, no-nonsense streak, but now we actually we get to see in her rolling up her sleeves and getting dirty.  And you know, with her sweating and grunting, luxurious hair tied back, nose bloodied, and, most importantly, not complaining about it, you can’t help liking the princess a whole lot more, so this arc may not be a loss after all.

Clearly, though, Lumi is the star and emotional heart of this story, ice queen she may be.  She has this affectedly indifferent, elitist manner that reminds you distinctly of Emma Frost, and her relentlessly unconcerned insults (“Exactly the level of scholarship one might expect from a lowly bottle imp.”) to Jonah are very Emma-like, not to mention you the vicarious pleasure you derive from them.  I don’t have a fine-tuned grasp of Fables continuity, so I can’t tell if her storytelling addiction and her drinking from Gepetto’s chalice—which doesn’t refer to anything dirty, by the way—are ret-cons or not.  But at least Willingham doesn’t use these developments to instantly absolve her of her past misdeeds; as Jonah reminds her, she has “debts” to pay.

What’s left to praise about Jimenez’s work?  This issue he gets a bit of seamless assistance from Sadowski, and it all looks as lush as it ever did.  Cinematic is definitely the word that comes to mind, as every scene hits all the right beats with pitch-perfect tone, even if it’s not the one you expect.  When Lumi and Jonah get into an academic debate about the evolution of stories, your first thought wouldn’t be for Lumi to be lounging in bed, but when Jimenez does it, you can see how perfectly the setting and her posture communicates her coquettish, yet sophisticated appeal.

Conclusion: The strongest outing yet from this series, one convincing me it deserves a life of its own.  It was touch-and-go for a while there, but this issue makes you feel it has something special to offer.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Is it wrong of me to hope fervently that Jonah perished in the battle between Lumi and Hadeon?