REVIEW: Fables #100

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Or – “Hello, Hello…  I’m At A Place Called Vertigo!”

My introduction to Fables came pretty late in the game, as I recall going to the local library and finding the first three trades all at once.  Once I started reading, I was hooked, but I can never bring myself to read it as a monthly, since Bill Willingham’s cliffhangers are cruel and unusual punishment for the casual reader.  With many sub-imprints going under of late, it’s good to see that at least some of Vertigo’s mid-90s greatness is still in evidence somewhere other than Hellblazer.  This issue is a major anniversary for the little comic that could, and it also serves as the climactic battle between mages of immense power.  This oughta be fun…

Fables #100
Written by Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham
Art by Mark Buckingham/Bill Willingham/Chrissie Zullo/Dave Johnson/Adam Hughes/Kate McElroy/J.H. Williams III/Joao Ruas
Colors by Lee Loughridge/Dave Stewart
Letters by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Previously, on Fables:  Every story you’ve ever heard is true.  Every fairy tale, every legend, every oral tradition, every old wives tale is real.  And all of the various protagonists, from Snow White to The Big Bad Wolf and back again live in secrecy, right under our noses in New York City.  Two factions of Fables went to war, and when all was said and done, their Adversary came to live among them in Fabletown.  But nature abhors a vacuum (and I abhor those obnoxious vacuum commercials where the English guy who looks like the guy from “Warlock” tells me how his frickin’ vacuum is worth more than my entire car…  Bygones) and in Gepetto’s absence, an even more nasty foe has arisen.  All the witches and warlocks from all the stories have gathered their forces against the evil menace of Mr. Dark, but it is Frau Totenkinder, she of the gingerbread houses and cannibalistic tendencies, who has entered the field of battle to confront him.  Be prepared to see some zappy kablammicus on an epic scales, ladles and jellyspoons.

“Once upon a time, in a fictional land called New York City…”  The creature known as Mister Dark is faced with what appears to be a young girl, barefoot, wielding a pair of knives and looking very much out of place against his zombie hordes.  What isn’t apparent at first is that young Bellflower is more than just a girl in a pretty dress, but is the witch formerly known as Frau Totenkinder under a new guise.  The pacing in this initial salvo of battle is note-perfect, moving back and forth between the clash of powerful sorcerers to Ozma and King Cole watching remotely from Fabletown.  In lesser hands, Ozma’s narration/exposition might be a case of telling rather than showing, but Willingham balances his words perfectly, while Mark Buckingham’s art makes me both love and fear Bellflower in equal amounts.  At the upstate farm where the nonhuman Fables live, Beauty and The Beast deal with their impending parenthood, while Snow White has some harsh words for Nurse Spratt, in a sequence so simultaneously touching and horrible that I misted up a bit.  (I also didn’t know whose side of the argument I was on, to be honest.)

The battle ends decisively (although there are fakeouts as we go) and the lives of the Fables are changed, at least temporarily.  Thankfully, Willingham doesn’t take the easy way out, having the characters openly say that this may only be a short-term change of venue, hanging a lampshade on the fact that ongoing comic books constantly taunt us with “permanent” change that gets retconned, reversed, revised and revisited without months.  The second tale in this issue is an adventure of Pinocchio, written by regular artist Buckingham with art by regular writer Willingham.  It’s a pretty charming story overall, with a menacing ending that regular readers might have seen coming.  There’s also a “Fables Paper Puppet Theatre” which makes me want to cut up this book and start performing my own Fables stories for my kid (although I’d have to edit out a lot of blood and thunder and such, or at least explain a great many things.)  The “Burning Questions” feature returns, with celebrity questions from the likes of Phil LaMarr and Cobie Smulders, and even a Fables board game.  It’s really a loaded issue, and is well worth the price tag of $9.99.  (Yes, you read that right…)

Fables (and its companion book, Jack of Fables) is one of the comics that I read every single month, without fail.  Even in the rare off-months, it’s a title written with care and deliberate quality that outshines much of the “Everything you know is wrong!” and “Return of Dead Guy” that seems to fill the stands these days.  So, a giant-size anniversary issue, packed to the gills with extras and a huge mystical battle full of twists and turns and magic so clever I wish I’d thought of it myself?  It’s a no-brainer.  The true test of whether or not this issue is successful is likely going to fall to whether you’re willing to shell out 10 bucks for a triple-sized issue.  For me, the fun factor of the multiple stories and the bonus content makes it more than worth it.  You’re essentially getting four comics for the price of three, and I can’t think of a single sour note in the proceedings, a very rare feat indeed.  Fables #100 earns the full bore 5 out of 5 stars overall, an anniversary gift worthy of the holiday season…

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  An average $3.99 comic runs about 18 cents per page.  This 100-page issue runs about 10 cents per page (although there are a few non-content pages in there, they’re still beautifully designed.)  How much is too much to pay for a decent comic?