One of the nice things about “Fables” is that every time you think you know what’s coming next, creator Bill Willingham will throw a strange side story into the mix. That’s more or less what we get with “Fables” #113, except in this case it’s a series of short stories. And the connection between them? Well… there is one and there isn’t.
The bulk of the issue is “A Magic Life,” with art by Zander Cannon and Jim Fern. All of the stories take place in the past, but this one is understandably the most important in terms of the greater “Fables” world-building structure. Willingham takes this time to explain in part how Fabletown was founded without getting instantly squashed by the Adversary, and in the process gives background on Mr. Kadabra, a character that up until now only appeared briefly as a corpse in “Cinderella: Fables Are Forever” #1. It’s a fun look at how the Empire was created, and does some clever things with the way that magic spells work in the “Fables” world.
For the most part, I like Cannon and Fern’s art. Most of the characters are drawn in a neat, crisp style, and the war between the Emperor and Kadabra looks outstanding. Occasionally the poses seem strangely stiff though (the final page has a great drawing of the Beast, but Cinderella looks more like a mannequin based on her stance), and it’s a bit distracting when it crops up.
Tied more closely together are “A Delicate Balance” and “The Way of the Woods.” The former, drawn by P. Craig Russell, is a short and sweet story about Fable-style justice. The story itself is sharp and to the point, although the lack of a real ending is bound to frustrate some readers. On the other hand, Russell’s delicate and gorgeous art will probably assuage some of those hurt feelings. “The Way of the Woods” really doesn’t have a plot at all, although it does tie into “A Delicate Balance” and its aftermath. It’s not bad (and it helps that Ramon Bachs pencils it), but it feels a little pointless because of its lack of drive or direction.
Adam Hughes draws “Porky Pining” and it’s no surprise that Hughes’ art is amazing. Those three pages have their own special look and feel: soft and delicate characters, beautiful page layouts, and a coloring scheme that reminds me of ancient book plates. The story itself is a bit of a trifle and a laugh, but it’s fun. It is an odd end to the comic, though; you find yourself turning the page and the book is over.
In many ways, that’s the one problem you’ll find with “Fables” #113. All the individual stories have their strengths, but aside from “stories set in the past” there’s no connection between them, and the comic itself ends with no warning. I’m not saying a collection of shorts needs to be unified, but considering that the book starts with what appears to be a framing device drawn by Rick Leonardi and Ron Randall, the lack of a closing page at the other end is a bit odd.
Still, the stories are all entertaining in their own way, and the art teams are rather great if I do say so myself. Long time “Fables” fans will probably appreciate “A Magic Life” the most, and if you focus the most on it, the rest feel more like bonus features. Approached from that angle, “Fables” #113 is most definitely a success.