By: Bill Willingham (story), Russ Braun (art), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: Geppetto proves that being a tree-hugger isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The Review: The superhero genre has plenty of belief-stretching conventions, but one worth discussing for the purposes of this issue is the constant cycle of defeat and revenge where villains are concerned.  I always find it incredible that the likes of the Joker, or Count Vertigo, or any number of evil nemeses, would be allowed to return time and time again to plague heroes and innocents alike.  It just seems logistically irreconcilable and fictionally futile.

No wonder that in most other genres, a villain that goes down more often than not stays down.  Once their big play is undone, everything else that comes after seems mostly like anticlimax.  This is why allowing Geppetto to live was a noble move on Flycatcher’s part, but one that could only lead to two predictable courses.  Either Geppetto makes a genuine effort to reform or he goes back to his evil ways, striking again when the other Fables are occupied with other matters.  The first option would be ideal, from a humanist perspective, but almost certainly cheesy and sentimental, defanging a powerful antagonist.

That leaves us with Geppetto biding his time to rise up another day, which is pretty much guaranteed to happen at some point after the events of this issue.  Frankly, this isn’t such an attractive option, either.  Geppetto’s already performed his biggest act of villainy; it doesn’t get much bigger than conquest of nearly all the free story-worlds.  Even if he manages to rebuild his army as he plans, only larger and more powerful than before, it’ll only be a repeat of past feats.  You’re bored just thinking about it.  Imagine how dull it’ll be when it actually does happen.

This is all to say that no matter how entertaining Willingham might have made the quest of Sir Wordred, Geppetto’s newest miniature wooden soldier, they would have led to nothing of real import.  Unfortunately, Wordred’s journey into the Sacred Grove is completely uneventful, except for perilous encounters with woodland animals, so traditional for miniature adventures.  Wordred himself is painfully single-minded, purposely incapable of reflection, and he has little personality to make up for it.  Altogether, he makes for a dreary protagonist, even for one issue.

So do we get anything out of this issue that might be considered new information?  Well, if you count a brief exchange with the Sacred Grove in which they fuzzy up our understanding of their spiritual freedom, sure.  There’s a suggestion, vehemently propounded by Geppetto, that Ambrose’s restoration of the Grove didn’t exactly free them so much as transfer their loyalties from one master to another.  But if there’s any long-term significance in that, I tend to doubt it’ll have much of a payoff down the line.

Braun’s art is like the cute love-child of Mark Buckingham’s straightforward, adaptable lines and Shawn McManus’ comic turns.  You can see the McManus influence in Wordred’s panicked reactions as he gets swallowed by frogs or starts sprouting from his forehead by turns, but overall, Braun carries out his artistic duties respectably and with little fanfare.  You could do worse with fill-in artists.

Conclusion: Nothing to see here than an old villain gnawing on the bones of aging schemes.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I can’t help wondering why Brandish gets all the slave treatment while Geppetto walks free to lash people with that smart mouth of his.  You’d think Snow would have had him muzzled at some point.