By: Sean E. Williams (story), Stephen Sadowski (pencils), Phil Jimenez (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)

The Story: If you’re a Fable with an appetite for sex, India’s your kind of place.

The Review: As a real latecomer to Fables (my first issue being #104), it’s not surprising that I missed out on quite a lot of the series’ history.  I’m not just talking about major events, like everything to do with the Empire, either.  There are some characters whom I’ve heard of only in name and never actually go to see, as they were long dead by the time I got around to the series: Boy Blue, Goldilocks, and Prince Charming, to name a few.

Still, you’d be amazed how much familiarity and attachment you can develop for a character with a thorough reading of their Wikipedia entry.  So while longtime fans of the series may be far more enthused about the return of Charming (which I don’t consider a spoiler since it is only right there on the cover), I can honestly say I’m quite intrigued, too.  I’ve heard a great deal about the resilience of a Fable, even one that’s killed, so I’m very interested to see it in action.

That will have to wait for next month though, I’m afraid.  This issue focuses mainly on our latest and fairest heroine, Nalayani, a figure from India’s particularly enormous mythology.  As she is presumably new to the Fables cast, all you know of her at this point is whatever can be gleaned from her original legend: the devoted wife of a virtuous sage, whose devotion is rewarded with a whole lot of guilt-free sex with multiple lovers.  Obviously, there’s more to the tale than that, but this is the generally agreed-upon gist of the story and frankly, it sounds good enough as is.

None of it has much bearing on Williams’ plot for her Fairest incarnation, however.  Here, she falls more in line with the strong-minded, independent young women with archery skills that’s become so common these days as to practically be an archetype.  Her virtues make it easy to admire her, as she has the right blend of spirit and compassion that keeps her from being overly sensitive or strident.  In short, she’s an immediately charismatic protagonist, and we’re quickly invested in her quest to save her village from monsoon starvation.

The plot of this issue is straightforward and Williams executes it in the same manner, perhaps to its injury.  After all, Nalayani’s travels through her Homeland, accompanied only by a jackal, should be fraught with more adventure and peril than a few ultra-chauvinist jags, the only men to have not disappeared in the war against the Empire.  But at least it brings us efficiently to the big moment of the issue, the introduction of Maharaja “Shah Ah-Ming,” pronounced “Charming” by the man himself.  Besides that, the only detail of note is Nalayani’s belief that “The gods left this world a long time ago,” which in the Fables world can easily be literal as figurative.

Aside from the one-shot #7 with Shawn McManus, this series has gotten artists with some of the most purely beautiful styles in the business, and Sadowski is no exception.  Besides drawing some extraordinarily attractive-looking characters, he gives them a good dose of humanity.  The residents of Nalayani’s village have wonderfully believable faces, and our heroine herself looks like someone you might have met at some point in your life.  There’s a bit of risk with having Jiminez on inks and Dalhouse on colors in that both have such distinctive tastes that they can almost subjugate another artist’s pencils to their own trademark style.  While Sadowski retains his individuality in this issue, there are many moments when you can fool yourself into thinking Jimenez drew the scene himself.

Conclusion: A respectable start to a new arc which not only promises to add some new territory to the Fables universe, but which also has major implications for its future stories.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I have to shake my head at letterer Todd Klein’s use of Cyrillic script as the font of choice for the entire issue.  At that point size, it gets a bit dizzying to read.

– I say Charming keeps the beard, even if he goes back to a Western look after this.  Wears off some of that pretty-boy look.