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

The Story: Lord help the sister who gets between her and her man.

The Review: The fact that we almost all love a good redemption story attests to our belief in the essential goodness of human beings.  But make no mistake that it is mostly faith that spurs on that belief, and much less in the way of evidence.  Your views on the merits of punishment and rehabilitation often turn on how changeable you feel people can be.  Before one ever get to the redemption stage, one often requires a lot of forgiveness and trust first.

You can see this conflict play out between Rose Red and Snow White as they bicker on the fate of Brandish, someone who both needs serious redemption and for whom redemption seems impossibly out of reach.  Rose is correct in saying that if Brandish can be reformed, then that is incontrovertible proof of the power of second chances.  But can a man who seems to have been a bad egg since childhood (see #132’s matricide), who’s allied with the most purely evil forces in history, who literally has no heart—can such a man even live with himself if he actually develops a conscience?

It’s no good citing Bigby as an example of rehab success either.  Bigby’s evolution sprung from love, as even Rose acknowledges (to Snow: “He did it for you.”).  There’s even an argument to be made, considering the exchange of fates we saw in #123, that Bigby’s change of heart had a lot of help from higher powers.  Brandish doesn’t seem capable of such sentimental emotions and unless Hope herself steps in, he can’t depend on such help either.  Any alteration in behavior or mindset will have to come from his efforts alone.

So there’s reason to be pessimistic, as Snow is, and at this point, her advice to bury Brandish for an age or two seems like the prudent choice.  But we also know that domestication hasn’t done much to soften Snow’s sour outlook on life, as she blasphemes Rose’s patron: “Hope is a liar.  It’s nothing more than disappointment deferred.”  She’s had a lifetime of hardship, as she pointedly reminds us, and her response to it certainly ties into the overall contours of her character: “I dug in deep [stubbornness], hardened my heart [ruthlessness], and vowed to endure every single day [resilience]…”

But Snow may have no choice but to finally yield to the forces of life.  Undermining her willpower is fate, stronger than any human determination.  It seems harsh that Fables’ power couple should constantly stand such suffering, so much so that I find it hard to believe that Willingham would actually let either Bigby or Snow go without some kind of happy ending.  For now, you can appreciate the obstacles in their way because our heroes will have no choice but to shift away from their intended course, and that’s always exciting for a story.

In an issue with such dramatic intensity, Buckingham’s straightforward art seems a little blasé.  Not that you’d want him to emulate the bulging eyes and gaping mouths that characterize George Pérez’s approach to emotional expression, but if you didn’t have the dialogue to inform you, Snow and Rose would look like they’re doing no more than arguing about what to order in for dinner that evening, not debating the viability of redemption itself.  Also, and this is obviously a more minor point, it’s hard not to get distracted by the way the characters’ eyes always seem a bit crossed, with each eyeball looking in different directions.  Loughride’s flat colors look even flatter when applied so monochromatically, often with only Rose’s shock of hair to break the monotony of hue.

Conclusion: It’s not often that a writer can get away with a completely talking-heads issue, but with so much drama going on, Willingham manages to sell it, even with limited support from Buckingham.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Snow’s recollection of her life’s story isn’t much of a pep talk, but Therese seems inspired.  Can we expect her to join Rose in seeking out a second chance for herself?