By: Sean E. Williams (story), Stephen Sadowski (pencils), Russ Braun (art), Phil Jimenez & Christian Alamy (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)

The Story: Nalayani’s village becomes a victim of serious huffing and puffing.

The Review: Of all the arcs on this series thus far, this one has been the least engaging, embodying all your worst expectations about a spin-off title.  Besides stretching a thin plot well beyond what it can actually sustain, the arc has accomplished shockingly little for it.  Despite Williams’ efforts—I would say “best efforts,” but I would be appalled if these were actually his best efforts—we remain unattached from the characters and the story at large.

I suppose it’s sort of an interesting twist on the usual chauvinistic dynamic in fiction that Prince Charming has turned out to be really a very thin character in this arc, largely defined by his relationship to Nalayani.  His professions of love last issue felt so unconvincing as to make you squeamish, but it looks like Williams won’t be dropping the subject anytime soon.  Through some eye-rolling plot developments, he confirms that Charming has finally experienced “genuine true love” (as opposed to just good ol’ plain true love, presumably), but still can’t manage to offer any evidence of it, or even a good reason why.

If Nalayani weren’t so shallow character, you might be inclined to give Charming’s feelings a little more weight.  Yet despite featuring as heavily as she does in this arc, Nalayani remains a kind of distant figure, with minimal personality and a scanty background, both of which barely improve here.  Her decision to recount her unhappy childhood in the village feels poorly timed, as she tells it to Charming amidst the village’s smoking, bloody ruins.  But her admission does reveal a loving heart, as she expresses guilt for having even once wished to escape the village which had mocked her.

Maybe that’s where Charming’s attraction comes from.  His marriages have mostly been to women who later revealed a flinty personality (although that could very well be a result of being married to an unquenchable philanderer).  Snow White and Cinderella are not exactly touchy-feely ladies, and Briar Rose has revealed a rather prickly personality herself.  You imagine that if their villages had been ruthlessly sacked, they’d have no qualms about fulfilling the Dhole’s expectations that they’d be shot.  In contrast, Nalayani, though torn by her desire for revenge, insists sadly, “I just thought…killing always seemed so senseless.”

I mention the Dhole, although referring these canines as such isn’t totally accurate.  The revelation that they are actually Bigby’s brothers in disguise definitely comes out of left field, although this is only one in a string of similarly bizarre plot developments we’ve seen on this arc.  It all seems to culminate in the last-page reveal of the man behind all our heroes’ troubles, one who introduces himself as “Maharaja Sindhu Baba Singh” with a high note of drama, as if we’re supposed to gasp in recognition and shock, when really you’re wondering who the hell he is.  It’s not likely he’ll turn out to be a very worthy villain, even for our rather uninspiring heroes.

Sadowski’s art is attractive enough, and he’s capable of some impressive splashes, like the Dhole’s transformation into Makara, but he really requires good inking to stand out.  On this issue, he’s hampered in that regard by highly uneven inking, some pages looking sketchy and clumsily hatched, others lush and rich, and still others smudged and difficult to make out.  Dalhouse’s colors is the only constant, which is a relief because he always manages to deliver warm, earthy tones to these one-dimensional characters.

Conclusion: It’s only been five issues and it feels like fifteen.  You are more than ready to get this over with.

Grade: C-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – So…Nathoo’s probably got a crush on his sahib, right?  He’s proven kind of shy around the ladies so far, and there’s a pregnant pause in the way he says, “I’m…I’m relieved that you’re okay,” that makes you think there’s something else going on there.