By: Bill Willingham (story), Steve Leialoha (art), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: Never get in the way of a cat-and-dog fight, unless you want to get bitten.

The Review: I almost decided against writing a review for this issue, so turned off was I by its predecessor and so disgusted by its lazy execution. But then I remembered that part of a critic’s job is to grapple with the trash with as much vigor as he revels among the gems. “Trash” is a harsh word, I admit, but keeping in mind that I rarely throw those kinds of insults around, it’s one I think is entirely appropriate for describing the quality of this issue.

I actually don’t think Willingham would disagree with me, either. At one point, Danny Boy reminds the others about the danger of the Brochan Weir, “He cannot be killed. Except by a creature called No Man, who’ll come ages in the future to slay him at a crossroads.” Anyone who’s read The Return of the King knows exactly how this particular plotline would turn out. It doesn’t take, as it does for Briar Rose, “decades of badly written television” or training “by a legion of hacks to always look for the obvious twist.” But doesn’t the fact that things play out exactly as she guesses suggest that this, too, is “badly written,” “obvious twist” by a hack?

But much of this issue is entirely predictable, even without resorting to experience or earlier examples. Last month, after the giant the band saved ungratefully walked off, I guessed “he’ll come back later in some conscience-stricken turnaround, just when the band needs him most.” Yup. That’s pretty much what happened here, and it’s basically the only reason why the band manages to succeed against the Baobhan Sith. I’d high-five myself, but a complete waste of storytelling hardly seems like something to celebrate over.

Even more predictable is the return of Puss in Boots. Amazingly, despite Rose’s savviness with serial fiction, no one at Puss’ funeral noted the fact that they only found his clothing, not his actual bodily remains. That alone should be a sign that he never actually died, but anyway, their reaction at his (totally shocking) reappearance is so tepid that it hardly matters whether they believed him dead or not. For crying out loud, Puss can’t remain convincingly dead on-page for longer than three panels: “Uh…I guess I’m not…not…y’know—actually dead. I’ll be damned, huh?”

As you can probably tell, the writing takes a steep dive this issue, almost to the point of drowning. It’s kind of bold of Willingham to allow his name to be credited on this issue. You’d think a writer of his reputation would be ashamed to be held responsible for such lines as Rose’s cry of pain when one of the Baobhan Sith’s dogs chomps on her arm: “Oww! Oh no! It’s got me!” And then when she sees Puss getting chomped on: “Damn you!” Try saying all that out loud without cringe-laughing from embarrassment, and you’ll know exactly how bad the dialogue is.

And by the way, that whole thing about “[t]his is the way the world ends” and Fabletown dying? As you probably expected, that was all totally overblown metaphor. Once Danny Boy convinces Seamus to stay in Hybernia, Willingham reveals “that’s how Fabletown was ultimately destroyed. By the idea of why it was created in the first place. To leave someday, when they could all go home.” Haha! He sure pulled a fast one on us, didn’t he? That makes this arc more than ever seem like a misstep; if anything, Willingham should have stuck to the “died” and “destroyed” impression up until the actual end of the series, when he reveals the more accurate term is “dissolved.”

With the writing this bad, the art can hardly be expected to serve as a saving grace, and Leialoha’s completely inadequate sketches definitely won’t. His linework is so rough and uncertain, it looks as if he simply took a thoughtless first pass at the script and then got too lazy to do any polishing, simply allowing Loughridge to fill it in, shoddy as it is. With this very fundamental aspect neglected, perspective, proportion, and posture all go through the window.

Conclusion: I can’t imagine it took Willingham much effort to write this, nor Leialoha to draw it. Certainly, neither built their reputations by such blatant phoning-it-in.

Grade: D

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * The only bright spot in this issue is the somewhat amusing debate among the band as to Puss’ name. “I heard he wanted to be called The Masked Cat.”

“Why? He never wore a mask. I mean, what could he have hoped to disguise?

“Hoping to be confused with all the other swashbuckling talking cats?”