By: Bill Willingham (story), Mark Buckingham (layouts), Russ Braun (finishes), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: Winter shows her oft-quoted discontent.

The Review: I may be a cold fish in a lot of ways, but even I hate to see the innocence of kids disturbed.  They already have the rest of their lives to grow cynical, bitter, and pessimistic, right?  So I’ve been distressed to see so many of the Cubs saddled with depressing fates.  Darien committed suicide and has passed; Therese is a grown queen of discarded toys; and Winter has become a force beyond reckoning, with all the burdensome responsibilities that entails.

And now we see that beneath all our noses and against Snow’s extra vigilance, Winter has already taken up those burdens in full.  The North Wind exists on countless worlds, which requires not only her power, but her presence, the experience of which in turn accumulates in her.  “Against my wishes, I’m already old and wise,” she tells the other Cardinal Winds, but more than that, she’s already gained the capacity to be ruthless.  When the other Winds attempt to horn in on her command, she takes the form of the tyrannical North Wind she dreamed of in #114.  She successfully resists their ascendancy, but she also takes a step forward to becoming the fear-mongering dictator her grandfather used to be.

Yet when the Snow Queen wonders if the true Winter is the one who talks like a child or the one who talks like she’s “weighed down by the heavy wisdom of centuries,” Winter replies, “Both. All.”  At this stage, anyway, an important part of Winter still recognizes Snow as “Mommy” and wishes to be a somewhat kinder North Wind than her predecessor.  This dichotomy reveals itself most clearly in her exchange with Santa Claus.  Though she commands him imperiously, referring to him as “first and last my vassal,” her orders are benevolent, asking for Christmas to come to every world she does.  “Scant reward for living under the North’s harsh burdens,” she admits, “but it’s a start.”

If this issue offers an ominous sign that Winter may still become a heartless North Wind despite her best intentions, it’s the fact that her affection does ultimately render her fallible.  Not wanting to chill the bodies and souls of Fabletown with her presence, she ends up missing a great evil working in Leigh’s quarters, from which “Hell” will follow, as Winter herself recounts.  I’ve often wondered how Leigh, who previously displayed no overt power, would carry out her plans to destroy the Fables, but her spell-song reveals much.  “Darkness is my true love’s dower, / Clothing me within his power,” she chants.  So that’s where the magic that threw off even the Fabletown witches came from.  Leigh further reveals how she plans to use that power and Bigby for her own ends: “Grinding away glassy dust. / Leaving but a ring. / Controlling rage, love, and lust. / And every other thing.”

And it’s not just Fabletown facing danger from within.  Even as the hope of Rose’s Camelot rises with the selection of her first six knights,* there are already plenty of people portending its doom.  Winter perceives that Rose is gathering “great forces to flow her way,” but that she’s “starting something that she may not be able to control… If this Camelot falls, like the other, more than a single kingdom will suffer.  Entire worlds will perish.”  Truth be told, it just sounds like Rose is working against what all the Fables struggle with: the fate of their own stories.

As I said in my latest review of Dead Boy Detectives, Buckingham, even when he’s just doing layouts, has the talent to draw pretty much anything, but when the script is as talk-heavy and grounded as this one, you’re not going to get art worth blogging about.  Without exception, however, everything you see looks pleasant, sharp, and appropriate, which is a lot more than you can say for plenty of other artists in the biz.

Conclusion: Like most issues of Fables, this one demands a bit more effort than usual on your part to appreciate its strengths, but if you put it in, you’ll see it’s a lot more interesting than it first appears.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * A very interesting choice of first knights: Brum, Wellstuffed, Lancelot, Bo Peep, Reynard and someone named Maeve.

– I love that to spice up the deal of taking on Prince Brandish as someone’s squire, Rose offers, “You’d be allowed to beat him.”  Sign me up!

– Seriously, Lancelot?  You finally get to clean yourself up and you choose what appears to be an unpopular girls’ haircut from the fifties?  I think I preferred the hobo look.