Silver Phoenix spent three days writing the most exhaustive review this site has ever seen!
Credits & Solicit Info:
Written by BILL WILLINGHAM and MARK BUCKINGHAM; Art by MARK BUCKINGHAM, BILL WILLINGHAM, CHRISSIE ZULLO, JOAO RUAS and STEVE LEIALOHA; Cover by JOAO RUAS
In this fantastic 100-page issue, it's time to put an end to Mister Dark once and for all, and time for the Fables to return home to Fabletown. For that to happen, one of the Fables agrees to take on the Dark Man in single combat! It's big, it's epic, and if you live in New York City, you may want to take a quick vacation when this issue comes out, because things are going to get wrecked!
In addition to the larger-than-life main story, we have a FABLES prose story written by Mark Buckingham and illustrated by Bill Willingham! We have an All-Star Burning Questions section that will knock your socks off (seriously, innocent people are going to lose some socks here). We have a puppet theatre created by the unstoppably creative Mark Buckingham, a FABLES board game, sequential stories painted by Chrissie Zullo and Joao Ruas, and even more surprises in this square-bound behemoth celebrating this award-winning Vertigo series!
The Ultimate Fables #100
While Bellflower Vs. Mr. Dark is the main event to this centennial celebration, they're just the icing on a cake that's layered by an All-Star Creative Team, entertaining side stories and extremely fun extras that equals a package that transcends the small flaws within it.
One of the best things about our planet is the diversity that's included within it. With a myriad of people, cultures, lifestyles and traditions, one can spend multiple lifetimes learning about everything humanity has to offer. Despite our differences, however, there are still quite a few things that unite us as a species, as we go through the maze we have given the name Life. Besides desiring the ability to live our lives as we choose, the second thing that we all share is the significance of the number 100 in many aspects of our daily lives.
What is so significant about the number 100, you might ask? Well besides sharing an important aspect with this book, this number is a landmark in many different ways. For starters, it's always a special occasion when a person lives to be a Century Old, especially when one thinks about all they have seen, and the wisdom they usually have to share from the experiences of living such a long life. Even more weight is added to this milestone when you look at where worldwide society was at the start of a person's life, and where it ends up at as that person celebrates their centennial. Ever since the beginning of the Modern Age in the 17th Century, each Century has exponentially progressed mankind's understandings of both the Universe Around him, and of himself, something that should also be celebrated. Research of the Bible shows that the book also weighs in on the significant of 100, as the number represents both the individual effort towards the goal and the experience, wisdom and reason one has gained in pursuit towards that goal. Touching upon a blander, but still important way the number contributes, 100 Degrees Centigrade (Celsius) is the boiling point for water, something that usually gets forgotten when you drink that morning cup of Coffee. Finally, and most importantly for our purposes, the number 100 is the point where a title secures a special place of comic book history. Regardless of how history judges its quality, each book that reaches 100 Issues deserves some recognition, especially when you combine both the economic realities and the usual shelf life of Non-Superhero Comics. Just those reasons alone make Fables' crossing of this threshold a momentous occasion worth celebrating in every manner possible.
As for the book itself, no detailed analysis of said book would be complete without making note as to the sheer volume of the book, content and talent wise. The most immediate thing you'll notice is that book Is not Staple Bound like most Serial Comics, but Square Bound like most Graphic Novels, giving it a completely different aura and feel. From there, the next thing that will be noticed is the staggering page count (especially for a serial) of the book, which clocks in at 104 Pages from cover to cover. Now by itself, the overall page count doesn't make the book stand out, as DC and Marvel have recently released books of similar or equal size. It begins to make that distinction when one realizes that those 104 Pages contain 100% Story Related content, with no advertisements to speak of. Once you add that to the fact that this book doesn't have a single trace of reprint or Handbook Material, it only adds the magnitude of accomplishment that this book must give those who will be forever connected to this issue. Speaking of that very subject, we have now come to the part of the book that will definitely jump out even the curious, which are the creative powers that have come together to make this book possible. Not content with the usual creative team (Willingham (Writer), Buckingham (Penciler), Leialoha (Inker), Ruas (Covers), Todd Klein (Lettering and Design), and Loughridge(Colors)), Fables #100 has tapped such talents as Dan Green (Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants), Chrissie Zullo (Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love, Madame Xanadu), Kate McElroy (her first professionally credited work), Dave Johnson (100 Bullets, Unknown Soldier (R.I.P.) ), Adam Hughes (Wonder Woman, Tomb Raider) and even J.H. Williams III (Batwoman, Promethea). With those names added to the mix, the collection of talent ranges from the Veterans, to the Recently Discovered, from Eisner Winners, to potential recipients, and from the Hottest Artists, to the Potential "Next Big Things". It is hard to imagine a scenario where this book doesn't live up to the heavy expectations that have been thrust upon it, and true to form it most certainly does. However, this doesn't mean things went as expected in this reviewer's eyes something that'll be noted during the review. Will it affect my final judgment? Read along and find out.
Forgive a Return to Comfortable Old Themes. But it's so long since I've worked with sweets, I've grown Nostalgic. – Bellflower/Frau Totenkinder
Story: Without a doubt, Single Combat is the main event of this issue, and its importance is emphasized by the cover, intro page and size (60 Pages out of the 104) dedicated to this story. More than 2 years of Post-Adversarial Empire Storylines, and more than 1 year of build-up all converges into the One-On-One duel between Bellflower/Frau Totenkinder and Mr. Dark/Duladan , the event that'll decide the immediate future of all Fables Great and Small. The story begins no more than 2 days after the original set-up of the Duel in Fables #99, as the two exchange no pleasantries and get right down to business. What unfolds in the next 38 Pages is one of, if not the best fight(s) that will ever grace this medium. Bellflower and Mr. Dark engage in a battle that not only involves an amazing use of power, but an original and refreshing way of combat that puts in a class all by itself. Everything Bellflower does leads into something else, as she executes a combat plan that would make Steve Rogers proud of her, and by the time the fight is over (which ends in such a brilliantly genius way, mind you) the only appropriate action is to be in awe of not just her power, but the plan she brings to bear. A fight that goes way beyond the typical Punch, Punch, Kick, Slap, Energy Blast, Knockout blow that you see in 95% of comic books, and one that's only enhanced by everything else going on around it.
Speaking of other things going on around Single Combat, Ozma also adds her commentary to what's happening during this epic duel, as she not only helps to fill in the blanks for the curious who haven't been following this storyline for the past 2 years, but helps to give added weight as to how powerful and cunning Bellflower really is. Along with the commentary, we not only get to see the Beauty's Pregnancy bought to its dramatic conclusion, but another side character beginning to become much more important to the preceding, as she's given a very heavy dose of reality due to her increasingly worse behavior. It's all interwoven very well, as it adds a nice touch of human drama to the raging duel that makes up the bulk of the story, and helps to make the aftermath of the duel that much more tragic. By the time the story is over, things are put in such a place that the future is open to any number of possibilities, with the only certainty that things will get worse before they get better. Even though things end on a bit of a downer, the journey to that downer was so masterful, that it makes the wait for the issues afterwards exponentially more unbearable than they would've been.
Art: Without a shadow of a doubt, I can safely say that Fables is Fables due to the amazing art of Mark Buckingham. Ever since Issue 6 (the beginning of the Animal Farm Saga), Buckingham's drawings have not only given the characters the visual style we know them best for, but have given Fables the iconic look that's associated with it. In fact, his look has become so much a part of Fables that even great artists are unfairly judged harshly against it, and Fables #100 gives yet another reason why his shoes seem so hard to fill. Not only Is the classic Buckingham effort in full force, but it seems like he works overtime to exceed his usual effort. Throughout the 60 Page story, there are no more than 10 Panels (at most) that don't have their own story to tell, and that's only because they tell the story of other more important panels. The drawings also do an amazing job in not just conveying character emotion, but setting the mood perfectly. The amazing details displayed will also keep the reader coming back to explore the main story, again and again, as you marvel at the amazing use of borders that Buckingham is famous for. It's now completely understandable why Fables suffered a couple of delays in 2010, as he worked towards completing this masterpiece. It all adds to yet another deserved triumph (and possible Eisner nomination) for Buckingham.
"Okay. You're right. I'll go talk to Pops", said Pinocchio. "But you guys so owe me!"
Willingham and Buckingham are two names that may not mean much in general pop culture as of yet, but in Graphic Novel Circles the weight these two carry together is massive. With the former writing, and the Latter Drawing, the two of them have spearheaded Fables to the amazing heights it already knows. With their roles being as defined as they are, it has naturally led some fans into asking "What would happen if those roles were reversed? This story gives us a glimpse into that answer.
Story: Pinocchio's Army is a 10 Page Prose Work that focuses on how Pinocchio handles life as a Refugee on the Farm. What starts out as another day of Pinocchio being his perverted, rambunctious self, turns into something that ends up showing us his life since the end of the Empire. These not only gives us a look into Pinocchio's current family dynamics, but how he adjusts to the life changes Ambrose (Flycatcher), Boy Blue, and himself have experienced since their first separation, as well. Mark Buckingham emphatically shows us that he's got the writing chops, as we get a very interesting study of not just Pinocchio's current situation, but of Geppetto's own adjustments to his life and new role. Finally, it also adds a new dimension to the main story itself, as you'll see that Geppetto has regained a valuable asset that'll play into future storylines.
The Perils of Thumbelina & A Thing with those Mice
Well...This is Certainly turning out to be a Lovely Day. –Thumbelina
Story: Not to be content with just plopping Fables with a new Status Quo, this issue also deals with the immediate aftermath of this Story shift, with a pair of 3 Page Stories that feature characters that are usually seen in the background. These stories do their job very well, as they both entertain and give us a well written insight into the characters that star along with them. The Three Blind Mice make you smile in their delusions of grandeur, while you can tell that Elam and Thumbelina would make an amazing couple, once she starts to notice him and once he stops trying too hard, and it all equals to a solidly well-written entertaining experience.
Art: The newest members of the Fables Creative Team (Zullo and Ruas) get to strut their stuff as they make the most of their bestowed art duties. Joao Ruas (who was responsible for the amazing cover that graces this book) gives an amazing air of mystery and misdirection, as he masterfully draws the world as the 3 Blind Mice would see it, which is only enhanced by the slightly blurry environment that is drawn around them. Not to be overshadowed by Joao, Chrissie Zullo (Coverwoman for Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love) also does an excellent job giving Haven's equivalent of Smalltown its own unique life, as the backgrounds and colors have a feel of melancholy wonder to them. With so many positives, the biggest positive among them is that it's safe to say that the drawing style that's employed by both artists doesn't feel out of place, something that artists with bigger names have not succeeded at. Zullo, in particular, draws the "Smalltown" residents in such a way, that those drawings have a chance of becoming the iconic ones for both the environment, and the characters in said environment. A major accomplishment all done in the shadow of Buckingham (who is probably as proud as I am), which only adds to the promise of the bright future that both of them have.
Celebrity Burning Questions
Yuck! That's Disgusting! How dare you even hint at—I am so not into Bestiality, Mister – Lily Martagon
Story: After Forty-One Issues of anticipation, Burning Questions finally makes its Triumphant Return to the pages of Fables, and just to keep things interesting, the Fables Crew has tapped their celebrity fans to provide the questions. From the 4 questions presented, we learn exactly where Pinocchio came from, how Buffkin handles life after becoming a great hero, how (and why) the Fabletown Comic Books are made, and what could happen if you ask for Snow White's Phone Number. Compared to the first set of questions, these 4 are answered in such a manner where the laughs are just as important as the information, but like their older brothers, they're a nice trip into the more silly side of Fables that's a welcomed change of pace from the drama that this issue bought to the table.
Art: The rest of the All-Star Creative Cast shows off their stuff here, as they each take a stab at the burning questions. J.H. Williams III shows us why he won an Eisner for Batwoman in 2009, while Adam gives Snow White a taste of his "pin-up" treatment that has sold many posters (Yes, I do want a Women of Fables Poster). While some might call Dave Johnson's work the weakest of the bunch, his art harkens back to the glory days X-Men in the 80's, which gives it an undeniable charm. Last, but certainly not least, Kate McElory makes her professional debut with the Buffkin burning question , quite an intimidating occasion to make your professional debut, to say the least. How does she hold up in her first outing? Rather well in this reviewers opinion. Willingham meant the answer to this question to be as wacky as possible, and she responds in a very enthusiastic manner. The drawings are exaggerated in such a way that every movement is made for you to burst out in laughter. The Interaction between Lily Martagon and Buffkin has to be seen to be believed, and you'll most likely fall in love with the art style. Overall, each of these 4 artists did a great job in bringing these questions to life.
Small Frustrations and Miscellaneous Praise.
Like the rest of us, She'll Have to Learn to Live with a Few Frustrations in Life. Nap Time is Nap Time. – Beauty
In a perfect world, this section would be replaced with my conclusion, and this review would be over. However, as amazing as Fables #100 is, it just falls short of perfection as there are a few things that this reviewer thought stood out as noticeable imperfections. While most of these "flaws" can possibly be summed up to a point of view, the sake of honesty compels that they should get some print time. So here is the section I like to call "Small Frustrations"
1) The first and certainly the most nitpicky of these frustrations have to be with Mike Buckingham's art. While 98% of the art is mastery in motion, 2% of it feels like noticeable shortcuts were taken. Now I completely understand that with 60 Pages of Graphical Art along with 10 Pages of Prose Writing is a lot to undertake for any project, it just stands out as Buckingham is just usually as close to perfect as you can get. Chalk this one up to being spoiled.
2) The Thumbelina Story could've used a bit more length in my eyes. This isn't to say that what we got wasn't good stuff, it just feels like it ended abruptly. I would've loved to have seen more interaction between Thumbelina and Elam, as you can feel the energy between them, At the same time this frustration could be assuaged in the future with a story following these characters, or even a limited series. When you look at it that you can say that this frustration is a good one, as it got this reviewer to want more.
3) While I said that Adam Hughes gave Snow his usual "pin-up" treatment, it doesn't mean that everything went smoothly. In trying to show a sexier side to Snow, the drawing falls far too typical into generic "Bar-Maid" territory. While the reviewer could be just showing off his bias, he does think that Snow would have an air of grace even when she's" vamped-up." Still I would love to see what he brings to the table if he's ever commissioned to do a poster of her and the other Fables women.
4) The Final most pervasive of these has to do with the main story. Without spoiling too much, Snow White gave another character a jarring dose of reality that first reduced her to tears, with a side of pure liquid hate, afterwards. While there is truth in what she said, it doesn't mean that it came across the best way. In fact, It came across as overly bitchy (which has been established as a flaw in Snow White's character), especially if you look at it from certain perspectives. Out of all of this, the one thing that could be the greatest disappointment is the fact that we could have her first true one-note, mustache twirling villain in Fables, which is ironic because Fables made me hate those villains for the rest of my life. Still, the future isn't written in this regard, and like this issue showed me, I could be totally off the mark of my personal predictions.
Now that we have those out of the way, I can end the body of this review with one last positive to go along with the myriad of others I've discussed, and that is the accessibility that this book has. While Fables #100 does have its barriers of entry, they were not as high as I originally thought they would end up being. In fact, this book gives enough information that curious fans of the series that haven't caught up to Issue 100 can enjoy it with just a little bit of background knowledge. In fact, newcomers who are looking for a very non-typical, but intelligent fight comic will enjoy the main story. In the end, while this comic will tragically go over the head of a number of curious on-lookers, there will still be many people who will find something to enjoy about this book, a great accomplishment with the anniversary mark to such a front loaded story.
Simply put, Fables 100 is an utter and complete masterpiece. Vertigo is to be commended in understanding how momentous this occasion truly is, and producing a book to match. With over 100 Pages of new material and Series-Related Extras, most people will come home thinking that the 10 dollars this book cost was well worth it. Despite its small missteps, this is a book that truly transcends what you usually see on your Comic Book Shelves, and It leaves an impression as to how awesome comic books can truly be. It's not every day that we get to see a book that's not only going to become an instant classic, but become a stand by while milestone issues are judged, and Fables #100 provides that in spades. To everyone who worked on this book in any capacity, this reviewer gives you his sincerest congratulations.
The Verdict (All Books are judged on a 5 Star Scale with fractional stars by the quarter also available to make up a score. 5 Stars does not equal perfect, but transcendent. Meaning that the book not only is above and beyond most comics on the shelves, but also renders its flaws virtually irrelevant, in how the book will be judged.)
Story (Which makes up 50% of the final score) *****: Willingham and Buckingham deliver a book that can make you laugh, cry, cheer, boo, gasp in awe, shudder in horror, and tap even more emotions than those. It all equals to an overall package that does not fail to disappoint in almost any way.
Art (Which makes up 40% of the score) *****: This Book has far too many amazing pieces of art to count, as many different artists show us some an amazing variety of work, giving a package that almost anyone can enjoy. Those masterpieces will long be remember past any imperfections that the art may have.
Accessibility (Can make up to 10% of the final score, but room is allowed for intangibles to come into play)****: Those who have read this book faithfully will be rewarded beyond measure, and even fans who have yet to catch up will find plenty to enjoy. Still, the barrier of entry might be too high for everyone to fully appreciate this masterpiece, to which there is no shame, but has to be noted all the same.
Final Judgment (Combination of the Three Categories plus Intangibles): ***** (Transcendent)
Review by: Silver Phoenix