One hundred issues of “Fables.” That’s no small feat for any comic book series, but doubly so as a non-superhero comic. Since it is issue #100, creator Bill Willingham was promising an extra-special issue, and trust me when I say that he delivered.
The main story, “Single Combat,” runs over 60 pages in length, as we get the final showdown between Frau Totenkinder (or “Bellflower.” as she prefers to be called now) and Mister Dark, with the fate of both Fabletown and the Farm on the line. It’s an inventive battle and fun to read, with Totenkinder unleashing one magical attack after another to try and wear down Dark’s defenses and recapture him once and for all. Willingham keeps the variety of spells varied, and Totenkinder’s secret weapon to imprison Dark for a second time is a thoroughly inventive one. And if the story had stopped at page 44, I’d say that it would have been a satisfying conclusion to the Mister Dark storyline.
There’s a lot more in store for the reader, though, and just when you think everything’s calmed down again and the Fables are going to have a relatively problem free life, Willingham throws a rather large wrench into the works. It doesn’t feel like a cheat at all, and it carries through on the promise that “Fables” will be a rather different comic starting with #101, with a new status quo for our characters. I suspect some readers are going to be disappointed, but I think it holds a lot of potential for future stories.
On the downside, though, there are some parts of Willingham’s writing that didn’t ring true for me in “Fables” #100. The big problem has got to be Willingham’s portrayal of Nurse Spratt and her hatred of skinny people. Even if Spratt’s confrontation with Snow White was the sole appearance of the character, it would still feel false and slightly demeaning. It’s such a bad motivation for a character that it’s a little startling to see Willingham take such a misstep. And when the end of the story hits and we see what Mrs. Spratt is up to next, well, it makes me even less happy about the character. Obviously not all characters are going to be likeable and interesting, but this is such a negative one-dimensional end result that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
I was also underwhelmed with this new bout of “Burning Questions,” a feature that had proven to be so much fun a few years ago. It’s nice that Willingham was able to get four actor friends of his (Phil LaMarr, Eddie Cahill, Cobie Smulders, and Michael McMillan) to offer up questions, but compared to the last go-round, these came across as remarkably uninteresting. I’m fairly certain these weren’t burning questions any reader was dying to have answered (well, except for Smulders’, which is actually a good one), and it would have been nice to have a few meatier (or at least funnier) segments here.
Also included this issue is a prose story written by Mark Buckingham, whose art graces the book most months. Buckingham’s story about Pinocchio isn’t a bad idea (and there’s a wonderfully creepy ending) but it’s heavily laden with exposition that most readers won’t need. It makes the story keep grinding to a halt as Buckingham stops to explain who characters are, and it’s too bad because if you pulled all of that out he’s a good writer. Buckingham’s art this issue, though, isn’t flawed at all. The two-page spread of the initial attack between Totenkinder and Dark is beautifully illustrated with lots of detail and energy, and that continues through the entire story. From flying goldfish to Fable snipers, Buckingham’s pencils are as smooth and beautiful as ever.
There are even some additional odds and ends throughout the comic (after all, it is clocking in at a whopping 104 pages) that include a Thumbelina story (which has beautiful Chrissie Zullo art but story-wise falls a little flat due to its short length), some paper puppet cut-outs, and even a new Three Blind Mice story illustrated by cover artist Joao Ruas (which uses its equally short length much more effectively). It’s overall a solid package, and a great celebration of “Fables” hitting its 100th issue. If all issue #100s were this much fun, well, we’d probably get them even more than the normal flood of issue #1s. Happy centennial, “Fables,” and I’m already looking forward to #200.