Written by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Lee Loughridge, Dan Green, Joao Ruas, Chrissie Zullo, Kate McElroy, Dave Johnson, Adam Hughes, J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
Review by David Pepose
In an era where milestone issues have veered towards more accessible, almost anthology-style formats rather than explosive payoffs, Fables #100 bucks the trend and delivers what can only be described as an epic read. With a magical battle royale between Fabletown's master sorceress Frau Totenkinder versus the malevolent Mister Dark, Bill Willingham manages to have his cake and eat it too, bringing both some closure to the overarching Fables story while also illustrating that there's still a ways for our characters to go.
At its heart, this comic is primarily a fight book — but what a fight it is. Willingham, along with artist Mark Buckingham, bring some real spectacle and imagination to what is essentially a battle of wits, as Totenkinder and Mister Dark transform and dig into each other tooth and nail. Even if you haven't read Fables in awhile, the learning curve is surprisingly shallow — it doesn't matter why Totenkinder has de-aged from her earlier appearances and is now calling herself Bellflower, she's way too busy kicking some serious ass.
One of the reasons why this fight sequence works as well as it does is because Willingham brings some structure to the magic, establishing set goals for each character and more tactile uses of their various powers. And that's just the first half of the first story — without giving too much away, you really lose count of how many pages Willingham is using, you're so engrossed in the battle, but the writer definitely uses his expanded space to his advantage with some twists that give some very real threats to the Fable nation.
Regarding the artwork — Mark Buckingham absolutely kills it this issue. The thing that really stands out to me is Buckingham's sense of composition, letting the placement of characters really affect the action and design. There's an image of Tottenkinder shapeshifting as she lands to the ground, and seeing dragon wings and steel talons folding into her cloak is really evocative. Indeed, there are some points in the book, particularly with Mister Dark's transformations, that are almost Kirby-esque. Lee Loughridge's colors do get a little muddier on the paper stock Vertigo uses on this book — when it goes digital, it's going to look stunning — but I really like the choices he makes, particularly clashing the two shape-changing combatants.
The extras in this book are more of an acquired taste. Buckingham's prose story about Pinocchio's Army certainly gets some sinister weight to it, added by drawings from Willingham. Yet other extras, like Fables finger puppets or a Fables board game, feels a little cheap. The thing that surprised me the most were the celebrity questions brought in by TV actors and actresses. While there have certainly been celebrity endorsements from the literary crowd, it's kind of surprising to see a short story written around a question by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders. It's a pretty original idea, and it got a surprising amount of mileage out of me.
That being said, there are a couple of bumps in the road for this anniversary issue. The first one, admittedly, is a bit of a stretch — if you've never read an issue of Fables in your life, well, starting at #100 probably isn't the smartest thing to do, anyway. This issue requires at least knowledge of the first trade, if not more, but that's really to appreciate the side stories more than the easily understood main throughline. The bigger problem is price — with more than 100 pages in total, this book costs $10, which is a bit of an eye-popping total for a monthly book, no matter how good it is. But if you're a Fables fan with the appetite for a whopping single story that contains just as many pages as certain trade paperbacks, this is a well-constructed battle royale that doesn't let up.Looking forward to FABLES #100?