By: Bill Willingham (story), Gene Ha (art), Art Lyon (colors)

The Story: The first and last time a lord of monsters took advice from a dainty turtle.

The Review: As I’ve mentioned, I try not to let my fictional preferences show around these parts, but I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m something of a fantasy nut.  Maybe not so much in the dragons ‘n’ sorcerers sort of way, but I do love tales of the hidden and unknown, the idea that there’s a whole world in our world that we don’t know about, that sometimes superstitions and stories are hinting vaguely at something much bigger and real.

So between the Japanese folklore in Fairest and the intersection of myth and fairy tales here, you can safely conclude that the Fables series have been rocking my boat this month.  These kinds of stories really get at the heart of why we started telling stories in the first place: to pin down the unknowable, to try to make sense of a world where good people die young and crooks get away scot-free and folks who take more than one sample at Costco don’t get severely beaten.

That’s why the ancient Greeks (or their predecessors) came up with the notion of three blind women determining our fates by spinning thread.  We know better now, but it’s still a rather fetching idea, isn’t it?  Willingham captures that strange, ungraspable appeal almost perfectly within the Fates’ pronouncement of their most recent batch of destinies:

“Three invoke cataclysms of war.”

“Three incite acts of mercy that will change the course of kingdoms.”

“The remaining destiny brings about a love affair that will be the ruin of four kingdoms.”

That there are beings who can so solemnly yet casually describe the course of the world is kind of thrilling to read, not to mention lesser beings who can scavenge and trade in that business.  The “Green Woman” may just be a “personal courier” to the Fates, but her abilities are just as spectacular to us Muggles. This is the kind of power I look for in magic—amazing, yes, but with a logic you can wrap your head around, and important limitations as well.

The big confrontation between the Green Woman, the Lord of Wolves, and Magus Atlantes plays out as you might expect, especially once the Woman settles everyone’s respective fates.  The real reward of this story of Bigby’s past is how it connects not only to the life he lives now, in Fables’ ongoing pages, but also to his future.  It’s a delightfully warm and lovely moment, perhaps a sign from Willingham that in the end, these characters can’t escape the fate of all fairy tale characters: that of a happy ending.

After seeing what Ha can do with sci-fi and superhero and now with myth and fable, I am ready and willing to declare him as one of the top-class artists in DC’s ranks of picture-drawers.  Think of everything he had to draw in this issue: turtles carrying teacup civilizations on their backs, giant wolves fighting conjured serpents and ogres, ancient goddesses and warriors of old—and all done in lavish style, with great energy to boot.  Bigby’s battle with Magus Atlantes is a wondrous thing to behold, but you can also feel the epic struggle in every panel.  And Ha should never go anywhere without Lyon to color his work; if Ha draws things you’ve never imagined before, Lyon colors them in ways you’d never dream of—turquoise-greys, reddish browns, dark and misty golds.

And I must say, I’m grateful that the Oz storyline is coming to an end at last.  Anticlimactic as the demise of the emperor may be, it’s a fitting conclusion to a mostly anticlimactic plot.  I don’t recall a single moment where I felt invested in anything happening in this feature, nor do I remember a point where Shawn McManus’ candy-coated characters succeeded in endearing themselves to me.

Conclusion: The story and art of a fantasy lover’s dreams, saddled with an unbecoming and inert back-up.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Must be fairly convenient to be married to someone who can prescribe the future, no?  So long as you stay on her good side, of course.

– I hope we find out what happens to that turtle with the teacup.