By: Bill Willingham (story), Mark Buckingham (pencils), Steve Leialoha (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors)
The Story: Joining the Round Table is a bit like trying out for Glee Club, except less singing.
The Review: I took an Arthurian legend class once, and the one thing I took away from it was how grim most of the stories ended up. In every version of the Arthurian tales,* Camelot, which stands as a shining city of ideals against the Dark Ages, ultimately falls to mankind’s baser instincts. The chivalric code and the Round Table are undermined by the fatal flaws of the knights, the court, and Arthur himself. Virtue crumples in the face of human weakness.
So how shall we take Rose’s big idea to bring back the Round Table and to establish “a new order of knighthood, here at the Farm, dedicated to the ancient ideals of chivalry”? Given how well that turned out last time, can we possible expect Rose to succeed where King Arthur failed? Erratic at the best of times, it’s clear she’s working out this plan on the fly, though hopefully inspired by, well, hope. If Rose has one advantage over the legendary king, it’s a sense of realistic expectations. Her first table looks more like a setting for an AA meeting than a future Camelot, but, as she points out, “This is a start.”
Her next step—besides conscripting Weyland to her purposes, of course—is to gather the folks who’ll serve as her fellow knights. Though she asks for “[o]nly the greatest heroes, the best of the best,” the measure of heroism is, as Rose herself proves, a variable one. We certainly get an interesting array of candidates, many of whom are underutilized members of the Fables cast and can use some new purpose: Bo Peep, Reynard, and Briar Rose. We may not get the Super-Fables from this venture, but it’ll be fun to see a crowd of diverse Fables forced to work together.
Meanwhile, aside from Rose’s “big, epic adventure stuff,” life goes on for the other Fables, who have their own pressing concerns to worry about. Second to the Round Table business is the matter of recently revived Prince Brandish, whose particular craziness are explored in greater (and needed) detail here. To his credit, Willingham avoids blaming the prince’s problems on the usual childhood traumas; Brandish even admits that his parents were married and “[d]evoted to a fault, in fact.” Once you see his childhood matricide, you can only conclude that his evil is innate and a trick of nature, much like East of Eden’s Cathy Ames and her “malformed soul,” though his springs more from puritanical zealotry than anything else.
The beauty of reading this series with its enormous cast is never lacking for at least a few plotlines to take interest in, and this issue is special in that nearly everything has some interesting tidbits going for it: the witches consulting the Lady of the Lake (or just Lake) on their most recent spellwork (“What can you tell us about fate-transfer vectors?”); Snow White distraught at the idea of losing her now-oldest daughter once more; a tramp who encounters one of Rose’s couriers and seems disturbed by the idea of a “restored Round Table.” There’s a lot to occupy you here, even if they’re still in the embryonic stages of development.
Solidity and reliability are wonderful virtues, even if they aren’t particularly interesting ones. Buckingham’s art may not be the most eye-catching on the market, but you can always count on him to deliver a pleasant-looking issue, even if Willingham’s script does render them all as talking-heads. Beyond mere pleasantry, Buckingham’s work offers healthy doses of personality, some well-composed visuals, and the odd moment of action—Rose going Rambo on Brandish is an especially powerful break in the issue’s monotony of dialogue and exposition.
Conclusion: On average, Willingham always manages to keep at least one plotline engaging, but when he’s really on his game, as he is here, every plotline—and there are many—has something to look forward to.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * But especially in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I highly recommend as a work of fantasy that surpasses the fantasy genre.
– Dr. Swineheart may be a socially awkward letch, but you’ve got to admire the passion he has for his work. His dismay upon hearing that Brandish has killed the one person who’s mastered “the Red Keep procedure” which keeps the prince alive is kind of endearing.