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

The Story: You have plenty of time for deep conversations when you’re death.

The Review: This sure has been a year for seeing Fables long dead, hasn’t it?  Like Prince Charming, Boy Blue was a character who had already passed away well before I ever hopped aboard this series, but whose reputation was such that even without once encountering him personally, I knew instantly from this issue’s cover that he’d be appearing and what a big deal that would be.  For some characters, as for some people, death diminishes their presence little.

I must say, after getting a chance to experience Blue up close, he really is something.  He just has a quiet magnetism to him, in sharp contrast to the flamboyance of Charming or Jack Horner, but different still from Fly’s similarly reserved charisma.  It doesn’t surprise me that Fly and Blue were close once upon a time; they share a mixture of purity and wisdom which sets them apart from the rest of the generally embittered and cynical Fables.  If anything, dying has only enhanced the virtues which Blue already possessed in abundance.

This makes him the ideal counselor for Bigby, newly arrived in the “Lands After Life.”  Whereas Bigby would have been content to accept his personal heaven at face-value with an animalistic simplicity, Blue forces him to engage in some deep soul-searching.  What better opportunity to do so than when your soul is in transition?

I won’t spoil the issue too much by summarizing the content of their conversations, but I will say that for an issue which is the textbook example of talking-heads comics, Willingham pulls it off very engagingly and with a lot of grace.  He’s always been the kind of writer who makes the biggest impact by being direct.  For example, when Blue shortly puts to rest any hope that he will return (“I’m all done, Bigby.  I’m never coming back.”), he does so with a firm yet gentle manner that not only fits his character, but also rebukes Fable and fan alike for suggesting he should give up a reward of a peaceful afterlife to suffer once more the Fables’ endless struggles.

Bigby, however, still has that choice before him.  As a son and father of gods, death is not much of an obstacle for him.  But Blue points out that returning to whence he came poses serious risks, no matter how tempting.  We’re reminded that at bottom, Bigby is a monster; his idea of heaven places him in wolf form upon a land where he can struggle and prevail against monsters and victims alike to his heart’s content.  He admits that he only turned away from that life for Snow’s sake, and last issue determined that Snow may not be long for this world.

But it’s very difficult to take Blue’s warning or Bigby’s misgivings seriously, not after you see the very human joy he experiences upon reuniting with his son* and certainly not after he delivers one of the most touching speeches about true love you could read in a comic book:

“I had no trouble being a monster.  I loved it, in fact, and would have been perfectly content to grow ever more monstrous, day by day.  Then I ran across Snow…and I was overthrown…instantly.  From that moment on, anything short of being with her would have been misery.  I had no choice but to become the man she needed.”

If Willingham frequently prospers from directness, it’s undoubtedly because he has a very plain view of life which requires no pretense to be powerful.  Consider on what you might call the climax of the issue, which has nothing to do with the plot or the characters, but which speaks to a much bigger picture.  As Bigby frets over what purpose one has in life if death presents another life altogether, Blue advises him, “[C]oncentrate on what’s important to us.  You fight for…those who matter to you.  That’s the sole rhyme and reason of the universe.”

It may be an issue of all talking heads, but that’s something Buckingham does well enough, the same as anything else he does.  While some of the expressions he gives to Bigby are endearing enough, Buckingham isn’t the most creative artist when it comes to varying the rhythm of a one-track scene.  Blue and Bigby cycle through about four facial expressions each over the whole course of their issue-long conversation, none of them incredibly profound.

Conclusion: A quietly engaging read that gives you much to think about, both for the story at hand and for your after-reading reflections.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * It’s good to know that Dare gets his well-deserved reward, too, though he’s more than willing to postpone it for some last minute, father-son bonding time: “The one lady said any boy who wouldn’t put off Paradise to see his dad first wasn’t worth the real estate.”