By: Bill Willingham (story), Barry Kitson (art), Inaki Miranda (finishes), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)

The Story: A crappy meal can get in the way of any date.

The Review: Love is the trickiest of all things to manage and the most difficult to obtain, particularly when it’s true.  Considering how many fables are dedicated to illustrating those points, it should perhaps be no surprise that so many of our Fables have been, to say the least, unlucky in love.  In that regard, the fairest of the Fables endure a special kind of suffering: for all their beauty and other virtues, they live rather lonely, loveless lives, which are the worst kind.

So it goes with Princess Alder, the dryad, who sees the most depressing problem in her life as her “deplorable dating life.”  Honestly, this would be an exhausting premise for a story had this involved any other kind of woman—namely human woman.  Fiction nowadays is inundated with stories about women running the gauntlet of the dating game.  But put a half-tree, forest creature in the same high-heeled shoes and suddenly you have a story that’s funny and kind of brilliant.

Alder’s unfamiliarity with the ways of humans allows Willingham to skewer the customs and mores of modern courtship, exposing its ridiculousness in various ways.  Her plant-based perspective turns every seemingly romantic gesture on its head: candles become fire hazards; flowers have all the sentimentality of a person handing over the corpses of her distant relatives; and the ordinary awkwardness of sex becomes even more so when considered as “recreational pollination.”  What’s a man to do when his date sees the thing he aspires to as nothing more than a tactic for long-term species survival?

Perhaps the problem is men, or at least men grown used to certain, rigid ideas of romance over centuries of existence.  So having Reynard the Fox, also a newbie to this dating thing, try his hand with Alder seems like a pretty good idea.  He has the benefit of not only knowing her pretty well, but also learning from the experiences of her prior suitors.  Besides his own charm and confidence, he comes armed with some fairly generic dating advice from Peter Piper:

“Compliment her.  I understand women like compliments.  But not too much.  I also understand women don’t like their men to seem too needy.”*

Alas, all proves unavailing.  Though Reynard, too, is only semi-human, the differences between him and Alder prove too great for him to overcome.*  True to tradition, he feels compelled to offer a lesson from his dating disaster, and in that, we get an indication his human love life may be as doomed as for all the other Fables.  For if “all animal tales have to end in important life lessons,” and one usually learns lessons by trial and error, then things look grim for him indeed.  On the other hand, the moral, “Never try to turn a friend into a lover” doesn’t quite capture what went wrong between him and Alder,* so perhaps there’s hope for both after all.

We get a mostly talky and straightforward script in this issue, so Kitson has do to no more than deliver pretty visuals to look at, which he undoubtedly does very well.  With Dalhouse’s rich, textured colors, Kitson’s usually flat style takes on layers of depth on top of its already lovable personality—if Reynard’s winning expressions don’t make that clear enough already.

Conclusion: A light and entertaining interlude between arcs, but like all light and entertaining stories, it has a hard time keeping a hold on you after you finish reading.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Matched in uselessness by his wife Bo Peep’s equally cliché, “The only thing that matters to men is what they don’t or can’t see now.  Even the recent past is ancient history, obscured beyond all hope of recalling.”

* And honestly, it is mostly his fault.  It’s usually a good idea to ask what something is before tasting it, after all.  Particularly if it’s something being eaten by a woman who loves a “subtle dead fish smell” on a person.

* Again, asking what your date’s eating before you plop it in your mouth seems more apt here.

– Why is anyone letting Gepetto carry around a potted plant?  Doesn’t it seem pretty obvious that’s a signal for danger?  And shouldn’t his declaration that he’ll grow a new lover for Alder in a year or so be a red flag for her to warn somebody?