By: Lauren Beukes (story), Inaki Miranda (art), Eva De La Cruz (colors)

The Story: It’s a war between freaks on the streets of Tokyo—someone grab the popcorn.

The Review: Every great journey starts out looking for one thing, only to find another.  A young man leaves his desert homeworld in search of adventure and winds up saving the galaxy.  A hobbit sets off to see the elves and along the way brings down a dark lord.  A boy with glasses goes to magic school to find companionship and strikes down the most evil wizard of his time.  Ultimately, however, they all find what they’re looking for in the end.

For Rapunzel, this arc has just been yet another chapter in her quest to find her children.  If you opened this issue expecting to see twin girls waiting for their mother on the last page, you’ll be mightily disappointed, to say the least.  But although Rapunzel fails once again to retrieve her children—her human children, at any rate—the fact that she can finally return to her ex-lover with the bounty she promised makes for a mostly complete resolution of Beukes’ story.

At some point, Tomoko’s foxfire became a central focus of the plot, and here, it serves as a motivating factor for nearly every character, not just our lead.  That said, it holds a strange position in this arc.  Nearly all the events of the past five issues wouldn’t have been possible without the foxfire, and yet in itself, it doesn’t strike you as particularly important.  It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself; among other things, it allows Rapunzel to earn Tomoko’s forgiveness and it gets Totenkinder more deeply involved than she might otherwise.

More successfully put to use are Rapunzel’s bezoars, which start the issue intended for one use, only to serve a completely different purpose later on.  Even though you might have liked to have seen them unleashed in warfare, it’s rather brilliant that these instruments of revenge end up saving someone’s life instead.  This seems a very appropriate reflection of the way our heroine reconciles the trauma of her past to the optimism of the present.

Since this is a Vertigo title we’re working with, though, Beukes does not content herself with a conventionally bright, happy ending.  Though Rapunzel’s last thoughts express some hope as to the future, you know that once you finish that final panel, a more ambiguous fate lies in store for her, thanks to Totenkinder’s self-protection (to be fair, one that happens to protect Fabletown and possibly Rapunzel herself) and Joel’s desperation to take his relationship with his fair-haired lady to the next level.  All this hints at another confrontation down the line for Rapunzel, but when we’ll get to see it is unclear.

It’s pretty obvious though that Beukes has plenty more ideas bubbling away in her head, not just with Rapunzel, but in all sorts of places.  You come away from this issue with a distinct sense that she’d like nothing more than to continue exploring these Eastern Fables, since between the Hundred Demons Night Parade and a Godzilla cameo,* she throws pretty much every Japanese monster, spirit, and creature into the story.  DC should take note and put her endless imagination to work (perhaps on Justice League Dark—hint, hint).

And if that ever happens, they should put Miranda to work with her.  His overwhelming enthusiasm for everything Beukes writes comes through on every page.  It’s one thing for her to include all the Japanese Fables she can think of, but it takes Miranda’s fantastically gorgeous sense of form and figure—and De La Cruz’s glowing colors—to give them the impression they deserve.  Rest assured, this arc is as much a visual treat as a fictional one.

Conclusion: I wasn’t entirely convinced Fables needed a spin-off, but Beukes has made me a believer in not only the concept but the series as well.  Bring on the next one, I say.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I also think Beukes would be fantastic writing a Jack arc, particularly if Godzilla is thrown in there somewhere.

– Maybe it’s the cocky way Tomoko wields her foxfire over others when she has it and the whining crybaby she’s reduced to when she doesn’t, but I kind of did want to see Totenkinder get her hands on that prize at some point.



  • Gerry O

    I started out loving this story arc but my enthusiasm waned as the story progressed. It seems that there were perhaps a half-dozen really important and interesting story points spread out over the whole story arc and Buekes could have explored any of them with much greater detail and depth (Rapunzel’s defiant decision to leave Fabletown and go to Tokyo; the origin of her relationship with Tomoko; the loss of and search for Rapunzel’s children, etc…) but each of these elements that are particularly important to this story are squeezed in with a whole lot of seemingly extraneous plot elements that don’t serve to propel the story and are confusing and distracting. For instance, what purpose did Jack serve in this story, other than comic annoyance (I hesitate to say comic relief)? Also, the superficial exploration of Rapunzel and Joel’s strange relationship and the appearance of Totenkinder just seemed unnecessary to the story and instead of a streamlined, interesting story arc, the plot became weighted down and crowded with a whole lot of noise. The Hundred Demons Night Parade is an enormously fertile plotline that is tossed in as a clever plot device to wrap up the conflict but c’mon – a couple pages in the last issue? I still admire Beukes’ imagination and the artwork was consistently good (better in the earlier issues, I thought) but I found myself wishing that there wasn’t so much frenetic action and a little more focus on the core story elements. Also – the bezoars are ridiculous and poorly named. A bezoar is a medical term that refers to indigestible materials that are found as concretions in the stomach and occasionally have to be removed endoscopically. They may or may not contain hair. In my humble opinion, “The Hidden Kingdom” started out with an A grade, but finished up with a B minus.

    • Minhquan Nguyen

      I wouldn’t really classify the Hundred Demons Night Parade as a plotline so much as clever concept thrown in to even the odds in the Japanese Fables battle.

      I also probably wouldn’t quibble with the use of “bezoars” so much. Calling them “hairballs”–because that’s essentially what they are–would have been accurate, but sort of underwhelming, no?

      While there were lots of little details that probably could have been fleshed out more, I thought Beukes gave us everything we needed to have a satisfying, cohesive story. Short of having an ongoing (and I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, either), I’m not sure Beukes could have done anymore to deliver a complete arc and flesh out all those items you thought were lacking.