Expectation can be a bad thing. It can turn a perfectly good comic into a disappointment. And really that’s what we have here with “Fables” #107, a perfectly good comic that disappoints me nonetheless. Sleeping Beauty is a favorite character of mine, and while she hasn’t gotten much play in Willingham’s “Fables” universe thus far, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that her “superpower” is basically to “fall asleep and take everyone with her,” I was excited to know this issue would feature her.
Sadly, despite the hype, Briar Rose is in a total of seven panels in this entire comic book, and she’s asleep in every one of them, leaving little proactive storytelling to be done with her. There’s not much a reader can learn about her, when she continues to mostly just be a pawn in the schemes of others. All that said, once I realized that this was not truly a Briar Rose story, and got over my disappointment, this became an interesting comic, and also a supremely disturbing one.
The crux of the story is that Briar Rose continues to sleep her days away, and her kingdom has been taken over by a General Mirant intent on world, or at least kingdom domination. He has used Rose’s powers to his advantage — cutting the throats of his enemies as well as any upstarts and threats to his succession — while they slept. With them out of the way, he’s ready to wake up his allies by having Rose woken by “true love’s kiss.” Turns out that’s easier said than done. There aren’t a lot of princes around, and still fewer that have any interest in being in love with Rose. The General puts into motion a disturbing plan to make a large number of men in the area kings, thus making their sons princes, in the hopes that having the lot of them kiss the princess will be good enough odds that one of them will be able to wake her. It’s a concept played mostly for laughs, which works if you don’t think about it too hard. If you do think about it too hard, it’ll creep you out pretty badly, or it should.
Of course this plan doesn’t work and General Mirant’s second in command expands on the plan by working the new princes and beating them down and sequestering them from all women, thus working their lust up into a fever so that they’ll be aching for her. It sounds very dangerous and more than a little rape-y, although if you know the original Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, it’s not so far off. Fortunately, before this horrible new plan can be put into motion, the princess and another lovely sleeping woman are stolen away by a gang of I’m not quite sure what, but the character designs are great.
I’m not opposed to the darkness of the story. Fairy Tales in and of themselves are dark as a rule and Willingham hasn’t shied away from telling dark stories in general, but with Rose asleep for the bulk of this story, her lack of agency in the tale is a bit frustrating, and it skates close to being a problem a few times. Willingham also swings close to some very interesting commentary that could have made this story much more powerful and even controversial. Instead he goes mostly for lightness. Terry Moore’s art is a great fit for that decision, but the story does end up feeling a bit like a missed opportunity because of it.
Moore is an artist that I generally only see drawing his own work, which is wonderful, but it’s a treat to see him slip into someone else’s world so easily. His pages are lovely and fluid, crisp and supremely fun, equal parts whimsical and carefully detailed. The colors by Lee Loughridge are a great fit for Moore’s clean lines and the whole thing comes together with a sense of whimsy that keeps the story from plunging too deeply into the disturbing.
This particular storyline will continue in the recently announced “Fairest” mini-series from Willingham and Phil Jimenez, which sounds promising, but this issue on its own is a bit frustrating of a read. Hopefully when Rose’s tale begins in “Fairest” she’ll be able to claim some agency in her own story, despite her definitively inactive “power.”