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

The Story: It’s sad a woman can’t even depend on her husband to slay her ex-lover anymore.

The Review: What makes a good throwdown?  Two opponents of equal measure, because a one-sided fight just bores everyone.  Some real stakes in the fight, attached to something internal for the characters: pride, honor, vengeance, justice, etc.  Most of all, you want unpredictability.  You want to be shocked and surprised by a turn of events.  You want the things you least expect to happen to actually happen.  If you have all that, it hardly matters who wins or loses.

That doesn’t stop you rooting for one person or another, however.  In the matchup between Bigby and Brandish, I’m sure most of us would place our bets on our favorite big, bad wolf—or at least, we’d like to bet against the fastidious prince.  But I think going into this fight, we know that on a narrative level, the odds are against Bigby.  With an arc centered on Snow, it wouldn’t be right for her husband to swoop in and end the matter, rendering her no more than your typical damsel in distress.  Willingham would never let that happen.

Even if you didn’t expect Bigby to win the day, you probably didn’t expect Brandish to totally dominate him either.  Yet from the moment Bigby appears, it seems like Brandish is already one step ahead of him, and he remains so for the rest of the issue.  At no point does Bigby actually lay a paw on Brandish, nor does he manage to inflict damage of any kind.  As annoying as it is to see Brandish so cocky and confident (“For civilized man will ever triumph over the most brutish forces of nature,” he declares), you’ve got to respect his utter competence.

Engaging as the duel is, the really important stuff happens outside of it.  The interesting question is why Snow won’t tell Bigby about the damage-deflecting spell on Brandish, the one that will send all harm back to her.  Writing retrospectively, Ambrose offers two explanations: Rose chalks it up to stubborn braveness; Snow calls it “pig-headed stupidity.”  Whichever it is, it doesn’t help Bigby seal the battle—quite the opposite, really.

Good thing, then, that Ozma and the Green Witch are reworking the spell on Brandish so that his death doesn’t ensure Snow’s.  Once Bigby’s out of the picture, it’s hard to see how anyone else could possibly fell Brandish, least of all Snow.  But in the context of the narrative, there’s no one left to do the deed but her, and victory, however way it comes about and however much it costs, is all but assured.  This leeches the suspense of the next issue somewhat, but it doesn’t make you any less excited at the thought of Snow testing her swordplay against her husband’s.

Meanwhile, Beast is still playing the long con with Lake.  For some reason, you just feel nervous for him the entire time.  Maybe it’s Lake’s mysterious nature and connection to higher powers, but you just really don’t want to imagine what will happen if Lake finds out Beast’s ruse.  For the time being, though, he successfully maneuvers around her pointed questions, making impossible requests patently designed to stall for even more time (“Your principal’s dowry to Gepetto must include at least three magical treasures beyond price.”) and offering smooth explanations in the process (“Greatness must be honored, no matter how dark and terrible the source of it.”).

While Buckingham remains a fairly low-key artist, he certainly perks up when the script allows him to draw more action.  The battle between Bigby and Brandish actually looks pretty spectacular, what with Brandish swiftly dodging his opponent’s attacks, dashing across the rubble Bigby creates in his wake, at times practically leaping off the page to land in the next panel.  It gives you a great sense of his dueling prowess, and is by far the most memorable scene Buckingham’s drawn in ages.

Conclusion: Willingham once again proves himself a master of pacing and direction, delivering another solid issue that gets you interested in the one to come.  Little wonder that Fables has become the most venerable title on my pull list.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – You know whom Brandish reminds me of, between his amazing swordplay and ever-changing sword effects?  Erza from Fairy Tail, the Hiro Mashima manga.  Kind of funny, how these parallels happen.

– Oh, yeah, Rose and Snow are twins.  Forgot all about that.