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

The Story: Nalayani and Charming get the sinking feeling that someone is out to get them.

The Review: Longtime readers of this site—specifically, longtime readers of me—probably have noticed that I have a fairly unusual (some might argue unpredictable) grading style.  You can check out this article for some comprehensive explanation behind that, but I can tell you right now what falls under C-material in my mind.  It’s the same things I used to comment on my C students’ work: passing effort, messy, lacks originality, barely functional.

I bring all this up now because this issue of Fairest and this whole arc in general seem to hit all those qualities.  If some find this assessment harsh, I offer as proof Williams’ explanation of Prince Charming’s return from the apparent dead.  It basically boils down to the fact that he’s too popular to die, even after getting blasted apart by an explosion which shattered the gateways to other worlds.  But this is simply the physics of the Fables universe.  What’s really problematic is the unaffected, nonchalant, even dull manner in which this story is recollected.

It’s as if Charming hardly cares about his own death, which of course makes you wonder why you should either, especially if you’re someone like me who’s never developed much familiarity or attachment to him in the first place.  Evidently, the most difficult thing about the whole experience was his temporary period of deformity during his recovery, making it impossible to satiate his usual, shall we say, appetites.  He describes it as “the worst week of my life,” and the whole time you’re thinking maybe he could have used another few months under the weather.

Maybe that’s why Williams feels the need to—spoiler alert—inflict another life-threatening illness upon Charming and his army of women.  This might be a somewhat interesting development but for its obvious execution; I mean, Williams couldn’t have telegraphed his intention more clearly with Charming’s double cough, then “Augh!” then perfectly ironic, “I’m fine.  I’m sure it’s nothing.”  Considering how last issue saw the appearance of a man whose magic lures the Dhole where he wishes, who wants to take a guess as to the person responsible for this mysterious, rather exotic sickness?  And considering the continued presence of an impudent guard previously humiliated by Charming but somehow still kept around, who wants to take a bet that treachery is in their midst?

Moreover, I’m just troubled by the near-complete lack of character work going on in this arc.  Though Nalayani ostensibly stands at the center of the story, Charming has definitely usurped that position, rendering her something of a shrill damsel-in-distress in the process.  This Williams cannot afford to do, since we know so little about Nalayani in the first place—not to mention Nathoo, Charming’s loyal devotee, or any other character in this story.

Sadowski’s art really depends on good inking to make an impact—which I suppose is the case for a lot of artists, but which really applies here.  The opening pages, finished by Jimenez, look bold, lush, and beautiful, in that effortlessly attractive manner Jimenez always has.  On the other hand, the thinner inks by Green and Pepoy perhaps allow Sadowski’s personal style to shine through—which is not necessarily a good thing, depending on your values.  It certainly looks much less impressive and more generic than what Jimenez brings to the table.

Conclusion: Williams’ storytelling is the very definition of merely functional.  It makes sense and operates logically, but it doesn’t have that necessary spark of creative energy nor the heart to make you care.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – If the croc wants to avoid confrontation for his meat, why doesn’t he just lie hidden in wait until Charming tries to pull Nalayani out, then make a sudden attack from beneath the surface?  You know—like actual crocodiles do?