By: Matthew Sturges (story), Shawn McManus (art)

The Story: Your wife’s a hottie, but she’s also a real snake in the grass.

The Review: Now that fiction has become a largely manufactured business, storytelling devices have turned into commonplace—dare I say, cheap—products.  Along with cliffhangers, dramatic irony, and in medias res, the most overused and increasingly impotent fictional tactic is nothing other than the “twist.”  The bulk of these things turn out silly and artificial; a handful prove to be actually surprising; and then you have ones that teeter right on the edge of excellent and lame.

We have one such twist in this issue.  It’s a doozie, no doubt about it, but size really doesn’t make a difference with these things.  There’s no use beating around the bush, so—spoiler alert—the revelation that Beauty (as in “and the Beast”) is not actually one of the fairest maidens of the land, but rather a shapeshifting snake-woman in disguise hits that sweet spot between amazing in a good way and amazing in a bad way.

Speaking as a relative newcomer to Fables, this revelation hit me like a wet squirrel in the face: briskly shocking, but so inexplicable and out of context that I have half a mind to laugh at it.  For one thing, I wonder if there’s any groundwork whatsoever that could make this new origin of Beauty a faint possibility, let alone something that makes sense.  Wikipedia’s understandably inadequate info tells me that Beauty has something of an insensitive streak towards her husband, but if that’s the only thing Sturges is working off on, then I’m not convinced this twist works.

There’s also a “What now?” element to this ending.  Once the initial surprise wears off, what exactly are we supposed to make of this new status quo?  Should we expect a schizophrenic arc where Beast’s wife wrestles between her two personas (a storyline I’m already dreading, to be honest)?  With Beast no longer in the transforming way, who’s to stop her the next time she has one of her “episodes”?  And oh, ugh—does this mean we’ll have to have an inevitable showdown of love versus justice?

But let’s try to set all that aside for another date (as 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon would say, “Oh, Pete, that’s later.  Maybe we’ll be dead by then.”).  Instead, let’s focus on how Sturges gets to this conclusion.  Old-timey, pulp dialogue can get pretty darn corny, but dang if that isn’t most of the fun of it.  Besides, the completely unrealistic and snappy banter can lead to some real quotable lines: “I tried to tell her Johnny was bad news, but you know what she said?  ‘People like bad news—that’s why the papers are full of it.”  So Sturges has fun with the period and setting, overdone as it is and despite the fact it doesn’t really do anything for Beast’s character except introduce a new, rather random wrinkle into his life.

McManus, as we’ve seen in his Bufkin back-ups on Fables, has an intensely cartoony style which seems mostly wrong for this kind of tale.  It’s so naturally comical that you can’t quite beat the urge to laugh even when there’s absolutely nothing funny about the scene he draws.  So as much as he’d like to convince us there’s an air of angst and melodrama when Beast embraces his twisted wife, tears streaming down his furry face, it just calls attention to how silly the whole idea is.  My suggestion?  Stick to Oz, McManus.

Conclusion: This is one case where I’m very reluctant to make a judgment call, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d imagine you’ll be left as torn between enjoyment and disgust as I am.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – On a more abstract note, this does seem to call into question the nature of the Fables, doesn’t it?  Perhaps the longtime fans can clue me in, but how does it work when the manifestation of a beloved story gets bumped off?  Does she exist as a result of her presence in the collective human conscience, or does her existence make the story about her possible?