It’s rather apt for a book like “Fables” that it always brings to mind the nursery rhyme about the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. If you’ve never encountered it, here’s the important thing: when she’s good, she’s very, very good, but when she’s bad she’s horrid. And while horrid is too strong a word for a bad issue of “Fables,” the basic sentiment about the wide gulf between the good and the bad is definitely true, here.
“Fables” #143 continues the final storyline (“Happily Ever After”) for the title, set to wrap up with issue #150. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like this is an endpoint that the book is arriving at naturally. As a result, we’re seeing Bill Willingham whip through plot twists and turns at a breakneck speed. You can almost see the imaginary checklist of things that need to happen, getting marked off one by one.
The problem is that while the outline for “Happily Ever After” sounds exciting and fun, the reality is that it comes across disjointed and lacking any sort of finesse. People cared about “Fables” in no small part because of the great characters, not just the big plot strokes, but it’s characterization that’s been tossed to one side in favor of ramming in the plot points at a rapid fire pace. And that’s a real shame, because the basic plot ideas here aren’t bad. Rose Red and Snow White’s positioning at opposite sides, the dangerous return of Bigby, the plans of Mrs. Spratt finally getting triggered… all of this should be fun and attention-grabbing. But without any sort of strong characterization to go with it, you might as well read a Wikipedia article about what happens.
Mark Buckingham’s art is perfectly fine, although it does feel like he’s cutting corners a bit. There are definitely some panels getting reused here, like the five-panel reaction from the police officers, where panels 1, 3 and 5 appear to be a single drawing that’s been duplicated. On the other hand, when Buckingham ditches the framing panels on either side for the first and last pages of the comic, the extra space being used there is not only quite welcome, it makes those moments stand out. Buckingham is reliable on “Fables” and this issue is no exception.
There’s a two-page Babe the Miniature Blue Ox story finishing up the issue by Matthew Sturges and Tony Akins, and for those who loved “Jack of Fables” and in particular the non-sequitur Babe pages, they’ll like this too. If you’re someone who found those bits to be annoying, though, this won’t change your opinion at all. (There were things I liked about “Jack of Fables,” but I fell into the latter camp, myself.)
“Fables” #143 has me genuinely worried, but not in the way that Willingham and Buckingham probably intended. I should be fretting about the fates of the beloved characters that I’ve been reading about since the very first issue was released. Instead, I’m worried that this final storyline is going to undo a lot of good will that the series has built up over the years. There’s time for the book to pull out of the tailspin that it’s in right now. But for the moment, the final memory of the title for those who stick around to the conclusion might be of a bad taste in one’s mouth. That’s no good.