By: Bill Willingham (story), Barry Kitson (art), Gary Erskine (finishes), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: Someone did exterminate Castle Dark before we all moved in, right?

The Review: I can’t say that I always have my head wrapped around how the Fables exist, but one thing I do know is they depend on our investment in their stories to survive.  As the recent resurrection of Prince Charming attests, the more powerful their fictional impact, the more resilient they become.  With that in mind, it’s crucial that the Fables’ children generate worthwhile tales of their own, lest they become forgettable inferiors to their parents.

Sadly, Junebug, the fair child of former wooden soldiers Rodney and June, will probably always remain a well-liked but unmemorable member of the next-gen Fables (though on the plus side, she has the best chance of surpassing the fame of her parents).  Her little sojourn in Castle Dark is, like herself, lively, charming, and generically defined.  It’s good enough to pass a bus ride on, but not nearly good enough to make its mark on your memory once you get off.

Junebug is sort of generic herself, one of those hopelessly energetic and precocious children that pop up so often in fiction.  You know, the kind where their button-cuteness only just edges out their irritation factor.  At no point in the issue does she reveal any qualities that sets her apart from her archetype; she displays no special talents, perceptions, or characteristics that would make her stand out.  In a funny way, though, her very ordinariness makes her unique among her kind, especially in comparison to the grandiose lives of, say, the Cubs.

So it’s not really so much Junebug’s personality that makes her adventure so underwhelming; it’s the fact that it takes so long for her to get going in the first place.  To be precise, it takes eight pages—an eternity in comic book time—before she finally starts exploring the castle’s uncharted nooks and crannies.  Basically she catches a glimpse of only a single room of secretly animated statutes (a worn-out staple of fantasy concepts) before she’s waylaid by the story’s baddies.

The giant rats don’t make for compelling villains, but their maniacal confidence makes them amusing ones.  When Junebug nervously suggests that they use her to write a ransom note, the head rat exclaims, raising one claw dramatically in the air, “I don’t know what ransoms is, or notes, but this is better! Write down every words I say!  First word is—there!

“Ohhh, good starts,” compliments another rat, rubbing his paws in excitement, “‘There’ is a excellent good words.”

Honestly, I don’t know what kind of future these creatures have in the Fables’ stay at Castle Dark—they do ominously remark, “We’re not ready to be known yet.”—but they do prove that there are things the Fables have overlooked in prepping the place for residence.  After all, Rodney is hardly alone in believing that they’ve already gotten rid of all the “iffy” stuff in the stronghold, and if this incident is any indication, there’ll be more surprises to come—and more dangerous ones, I expect.

In comparison to the lush, almost voluptuous style he used for his guest work on Fairest, Kitson stretches his legs in a different direction here, bringing out the sunny, wide-eyed side of the Fables world.  The rats look appropriately menacing, but not so much so that they can’t engage in some credible physical comedy.  Even when their lines aren’t particularly funny, the gestures and mannerisms Kitson gives them bring out the humor, sparking a few laughs where perhaps none is deserved.  Loughridge provides just enough tone to make Kitson’s work look dimensional, but otherwise his flat coloring and earthy palette isn’t very engaging.

Conclusion: Reliably sweet and cutesy as needed, but not quite the most interesting interlude or protagonist Willingham could have come up with.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Rodney may be a horribly negligent parent—I mean, letting your elementary school child run rampant in a giant castle, honestly—but he does astutely point out the difficulty of putting Bigby together once you factor in “powdered glass.”