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

The Story: Just as one marriage is in the works, another begins to show the signs of strain.

The Review: With a run spanning over ten years, Fables has had a lot of time to develop its community dynamic.  The bonds among the various characters have changed since they first began (some multiple times), but by and large, they’ve all grown more intimate and affectionate.  They’ve weathered several wars and quite a few lean years together; that kind of communal suffering breeds familiarity and smooth tensions that make for enduring relationships.

So it’s rather nice to see that with Snow White essentially taken hostage by Prince Brandish (and I’ve decided, for the sake of convenience, to use his true name from now on), all of Fabletown rallies to support her.  Unfortunately, they encounter some unexpectedly strong resistance from Brandish himself, who confounds them on both a legal and magical level.  Far from the demurring fencer he started out as, this Brandish is incredibly cunning—and cruel.

You have to remember that this is a man who’s been living with Mr. Dark, the embodiment of terror and evil, for some time, and that’s got to have some reflection on Brandish’s character.  While he’s been (relatively) passive toward Snow’s rebellious behavior for some time, he’s not about to take crap from anyone, not even her.  That said, I’m pretty sure that he’s gone too far in reaffirming his power in this issue; I doubt Snow just lets people break her arm and get away with it.  Remember what she did to those dwarves?

There is a fairly large obstacle standing between her and a slain Brandish, however, one that she acknowledges (“He has some big magic at his command.”).  Even the 13th Floor witches, for all their power, decide to tread carefully around the prince.  Ozma: “He’s got some sophisticated magical defenses surrounding him…  It’s overly complex and definitely foreign.”

Green Witch, explaining further: “Note how any mortal attack on him will automatically be deflected to harm Snow.”

Maddy, on the source of his power: “An object of some kind, always near him, but not always present in this frame of existence.”*

This is all very diverting, of course, but it’s also part of a larger narrative Willingham has in mind, as usual.  King Cole, who’s proving sharper with every issue, notices the sudden absence of Grimble the same day Snow is taken hostage.  Combined with his suspicion of Spratt from last issue (and no one can overlook the gradual return of her prickly attitude), I wonder how this will all play out for her revenge plans once this fiasco is all over.

Meanwhile, Beast’s con of the Blue Fairy proceeds as neatly as could be hoped for.  Basically, it’s a stall tactic, pure and simple, as offers of marriage in the fairy world require a great deal of formality and fanfare.  It’s a clever play, to be sure,* especially with Beast’s commitment to the act (“We look forward to receiving your ambassador of the heart with every anticipation of a delightful and productive negotiation.”), leading Reynard the Fox to remark admiringly, “And I thought I was the prince of schemers.  You’re like a god to me.”  The appearance of the Green Woman from #123 as the Fairy’s agent, however, is a sign things won’t proceed that smoothly.

Once again, I have little to say about Buckingham’s work, due in part to my own failings as an art critic as well as the fact that Buckingham simply isn’t that remarkable an artist.  He’s a good artist in the sense that he always conveys Willingham’s script with perfect clarity (but in an issue of mostly talking heads, that is hardly a major feat), but he never adds much energy or flair beyond what’s inherent in the script.  If you look at Snow attacking Brandish, well—it is Snow attacking Brandish, with just enough drama to make it credible, but not enough to impress upon your mind.  Loughridge’s colors are similarly respectable and unimpressive.

Conclusion: With Hellblazer gone, that leaves Fables as Vertigo’s most reliable batter, and it proves its status with another reliably entertaining issue.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I love this kind of magical analysis, by the way.  Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes, are you paying attention?

* Though it makes the Blue Fairy seem like a simpleton for how taken she is about the idea of marrying the man who once preyed on her for centuries.