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

The Story: It doesn’t take a genius to realize this Briar Rose can make you bleed.

The Review: A lot of what Fables is about has been taking the childish notions of the original fairy tales and holding them up to the light of current understanding.  We remain endlessly fascinated by these characters because they have all the means and knowledge to operate by modern standards, yet they’re still restricted, even frustrated, by their own essential natures, which were often crafted from superstition, ignorance, and wishful thinking.

Is it any wonder then that Briar Rose finds herself constantly disappointed by her failure to find true love, despite supposedly blessed with a magical guarantee of it?  Of course, she discovers along with her fairy godmothers that the definition of love, even true love, is a whole lot broader than any of them could have expected.  Panghammer’s ridiculous metaphors (“Waking you with true love’s kiss just means someone got the cake recipe right and successfully baked a very lovely, incredibly tasty cake.”) aside, Briar learns the kind of love she wants has to be earned.

Which kind of makes you wonder about the budding romance between Lumi and Ali Baba.  We’ve never gotten a good reason to believe they belong together.  Their limited interactions up to this issue have been devoid of chemistry, and you have only Panghammer’s word that Lumi’s “crazy about the jerk.”  Still, if she intends to get back in the game, the King of Thieves ain’t a bad choice.  He might be all manner of unsavory things, but he respects women (as he stated in #2), and his appetite for life might be just the ticket for someone ready to live her own again.

Nice as it is to see the Snow Queen about to get the happiness that’s eluded her for so long, the most satisfying part of the issue has to be—spoiler alert—Briar singlehandedly kicking the ass of the witch who cursed her.  True, you get deprived of the chance to see some fairy versus fairy action (and make no mistake, that’s quite a loss for this title), but the amusingly professional manner in which Briar’s godmothers discuss Hadeon’s defeat almost make up for it:

“Hadeon’s clearly set her ‘Redundancy of Effort’ filters too strictly.”

“Good way to stave off phasma waste, but perhaps not the best way to orchestrate combat resources.”

And perhaps this sets apart the good folk from the bad in the Fables universe: while the passing years have made them all cannier and more resourceful, only the good ones have grown wiser.  In other words, they’ve matured, in the way children mature enough to learn that happy endings are possible, but without the fairy tale trappings.  All the blessings Briar’s godmothers levied upon her failed to bring her joy; only by charging in with her own hands—well, fists—does she find some kind of peace.

While Willingham has managed to redeem his storyline from the dull middle issues, Jimenez never needed to.  His artwork pretty much carried this title when the script ran mediocre, with its delightful array of facial expressions and designs.  How many other artists can make seven fairies look so drastically different, to the point where you get a sense of their origins and nature just by appearance?  And kudos to Dalhouse, unsung hero of this arc, for his glowing colors, pulsing with life.

Conclusion: While not exactly the breakout hit you might expect from the creator of Fables, it’s an appropriate successor to his trophy title, and at the least, it’s provided some outstandingly beautiful art.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “Just because you didn’t get invited to a party, you decide to kill a newborn baby in revenge?”  With that one line, Briar strikes at the sheer insanity of these old tales.