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

The Story: With that, Snow officially has the worst love life of all the Fables.

The Review: I find it quite interesting that for this arc, Willingham has chosen Ambrose to narrate the last few issues.  I don’t know if this will be a permanent thing, seeing how his destined role is to judge the past through his journalistic histories, but I do wonder why now, for this particular story?  In some ways, his hindsight vision ends up stealing some of the suspense from the plot, as he hints at the chain of events to come.

Perhaps allowing Ambrose to serve as narrator is an act of compassion on Willingham’s part for a character doomed to be sidelined.  In Ozma’s prophecy, all the Cubs are fated to do great things (and some already have), all but one, who is merely to judge the actions of the rest.  He promise of survival is his doom; he exists to observe, rather than participate, in Fables’ great events.  “My life in a nutshell,” he muses, with no small hint of ruefulness, “insignificant bits and pieces of other stories.”

At the same time, as someone relating these stories from the distant future, we are all within his power.  What he states as fact, we must take as such.  Speaking in a metafictional sense, that gives him the ability to control the others’ stories to a certain degree.*  We may be inclined to take Bigby’s—spoiler alert—glass transformation and subsequent shattering in stride, but Ambrose says with particular definiteness, “[T]hat’s how my dad died,” a state in which Bigby remains for at least “the following years.”

Yet it’s hard, almost impossible to believe that Bigby could’ve survived years against various incarnations of fairy tale evil, only to go down in such a fragile sort of way.  In fact, if fate, the ever-present force in this issue, has its say, he won’t.  Remember when the Lady of the Lake switched his fate with that given to the Magus Atlantes back in #123?  Part of the Magus’ fate, as offhandedly discussed in #122, was that, “You’ll outlive all your children, but only after you’ve died seven times.”

If Bigby’s to die multiple times, one of them may be as a consequence of coming back to life.  Although the witches, especially Ozma, express some doubt as to whether he can ever return from his piecemeal demise, they seem quite certain that it can be done, with a little magical help.  The young Ambrose feels a prudent wariness about that possibility: “[I]n all the stories, bringing a loved one from the dead never turns out well.  And aren’t we the people in the stories?”

But all that’s speculating as to the future, which, as we know, is mostly unpredictable anyway, even with destiny having its say.  For now, we can enjoy the fact that with her husband gone, Snow is the biggest badass in Fabletown.  Her victory was all but guaranteed—it wouldn’t do to have this massive build-up to her duel with Brandish only for her to lose—but it’s still a surprise, a delightful one, to see her whip his cocky behind.  When he points out she’s fighting injured and with her left hand, she remarks, “With those disadvantages, this will be closer to a fair fight.”

Swordplay is a difficult thing to convey in a combat, just like any kind of close combat.  The swift, agile, reactionary movements that make them so great to watch on film kind of get lost in the stationary choreography of a comic, making them look more like a sequence of careful poses.  Buckingham does the best he can, and you do get some kind of sense of the skill involved in Snow and Brandish’s battle.  His understated style, however, does diminish the emotional weight of the issue, from Snow telling Rose to look after her children if she should die, or her grief as she sinks among Bigby’s broken remains.

Conclusion: There’s no doubt the events of this issue are important, but more for a later time and circumstance rather than the here and now.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * And were this Grant Morrison, not Willingham, writing this story, ten or twenty issues down the line we’d discover that Ambrose is a malevolent story/reality-weaver altering the fate of the Fables by his own narrative deception, resulting in a conflict between the past-fiction and the future-reality.

– Lake claims, “In the long run, wars and conquests and the rise and fall of great nations are insignificant. Wine is important.”  To which I reply, “Only if you care to drink it.”  Which I don’t.  Otherwise, it’s just rotten grape juice.

– Between the reappearance of the prince in Fairest and Snow proudly proclaiming herself his student here, it seems Willingham’s prepping us for a major Prince Charming comeback in the near future.