Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha have a lot to juggle in “Fables” #131. Between the recent deaths of Bigby Wolf and Prince Brandish, plus the return of Bigby and Snow’s missing daughter Therese, it’s easy to see how there’s a lot of material to cover. Unfortunately, with all of this plus a new storyline kicking off as Rose Red decides to found a new Camelot, “Fables” #131 feels a little terse in its storytelling.
Most of the plot developments here are fine. The basic story structure isn’t the problem. The problem is that everyone sounds like they’re talking at the reader rather than to another character; things are stated in a perfunctory manner, and few of the conversations (especially the one between Dr. Swineheart and Leigh) sound natural. Dr. Swineheart has always been a bit of a clipped personality, but here things happen in such a flat manner that all the surprises feel somewhat sapped of their strength.
It’s a frustrating shift because one of the big strengths of “Fables” in years past has been the amount of fun Willingham brings to the characters. It’s great having all of these different story tale beings walking around, but what’s kept the book going for over ten years now is the personalities that Willingham’s imbued them with. That feels remarkably absent here; even a character like Rose Red, who’s been around since the first issue, feels a little flatter and missing that spring in her step.
The one thing that remains rock-solid is the art, but that’s not a surprise. Buckingham and Leialoha continue to draw beautifully rounded faces, energetic bodies and the beautiful page borders for each character as they take the lead. Rose Red’s sudden joyous face when she thinks of Camelot is a great example; readers can practically see her whirl around and snap her fingers because of how Buckingham lays out the panels and their progression of visuals from one to the next. Add that grin on her face and the spark in her eyes and suddenly everything’s burst to life perfectly.
“Fables” #131 feels a little rough around the edges, but by this point it’s become increasingly clear that every time “Fables” hits one of these rocky patches, things right themselves shortly. This isn’t one of the better issues of “Fables,” but if it leads to something better then this bump in the road shouldn’t be too bad in the long run.