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

The Story: Evidently, no one ever told Dare about the downsides of heroism.

The Review: I have to confess that when I first picked up this series, I almost regretted it shortly afterward.  The story arc running at that time involved the Fables anxiously awaiting their doom by Mister Dark, only to have the North Wind step in and save them all at the last minute.  This development was deeply disappointing as it just sucked away all the tension Willingham built up over this impossible foe, basically concluding with two godlike immortals fading out quietly.

I figured if this was the kind of finish I could expect on a storyline with stakes this big, what could I expect with later arcs that had less scale?  Anyway, I stayed on; it would’ve felt a little silly dropping the title when after only three issues.  Since then, we’ve had quite a bit of soft material (the entire contest for the new North Wind was pretty much just for fun), and only now have we reached a point in Fables where you feel you have something to lose.

By this issue, Therese has nothing left to do except wait either to be saved or to eventually perish by starvation or regicide.  It’s pretty clear that whatever the Madland toys thought would happen to them when she became their queen probably isn’t going to work out.  Indeed, they’ve finally just started to catch on to that notion themselves, though it’s unclear how they’ll deal with that realization.  It makes you wonder how they came to this semi-religious tradition in the first place.

Religion, or at least religious motifs, plays a huge role in this issue.  In addition to Arthurian legend and Celtic mythology, Willingham definitely casts Darien as a Christ figure.  He goes through his own agony in the garden at the beginning of the issue, receiving and resisting visions which all tell him what he must give up to save the day.  Yet if he turns out to be the sacrificial lamb in this story, then he’ll be saving more than just his sister.  The repeated mention of the Fisher King reminds you in that tale, the destined knight would restore not only the king’s health, but that of his wasted land as well.

Major spoiler alert.  Ah, man.  Dare.  Granted, I never much liked the cocky little brat, but I definitely would never wish this kind of ending for a kid, even a fictional one.  Perhaps even sadder than seeing his final act is his physical and psychological toil leading up to it.  He strives at first to find a way to avoid the hard choice, but once he chooses, he still has to labor to make it happen, essentially digging his own grave.  Believe me when I say it’s one of the more shudder-inducing scenes you’ll have seen in a long time.

Buckingham rises up to the occasion by depicting it with great taste and reservation.  He realizes the substance of the scene is graphic enough; simply drawing it straight gets the job done without exploiting the violence of it.  That said, his strength has always leaned more towards design than anything else, and he proves it with all the stained glass-inspired imagery he uses for Darien’s visions, reinforcing the metaphor of Dare as religious martyr.

Talk about Bufkin in Oz, you say?  If I must.  As you might well imagine, revolution in that wacky land has its humorous side, even at its bloodiest.  Shawn McManus approaches his little feature with a bright, lively hand, in rather grim contrast to the actual atrocity taking place.  And I suppose it’s worth mentioning Bufkin’s intelligent, philosophical method of rebellion.  Who knew a wingless monkey could have such leadership skills?

Conclusion: A praiseworthy issue, if only because Willingham tackles an exceptionally sensitive and outrageous subject with such care that it never once feels unnecessary or gratuitous.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Boy, it’s weird seeing grown-up Ambrose.  Still a bid pudgy around the middle I see, though the leather jacket suits him.