Well, here we are with the next-to-last volume of this series. Bill Willingham’s “fairytale characters in the modern world” title has proven to be a remarkably durable and consistently entertaining one over the past decade. Now all he, regular artist Mark Buckingham, and artistic collaborators like Russ Braun, Barry Kitson, and Steve Leialoha is stick the landing in the end. Given how things for “Fables” have gone so far, I’m not as concerned about that as I would be for other creator-owned titles. Remember: consistency. The only concern I have with this volume is that Willingham and co. may be piling too much onto their plates here to satisfactorily resolve in the final ten issues of this title.
This volume draws its title from Rose Red’s desire to recreate the legendary court of King Arthur and inspire hope as well as provide second chances and redemption to those who are worthy of them. Empowered as the Paladin of Hope, Rose sends out the call throughout the Fablelands for potential knights worthy of such a cause. Among the Fables looking to make the cut are Brump the goblin, Bo Peep, Reynard the fox, and a mysterious unshaven man known only as the Vagabond Knight (at first, anyways). Though it’s a noble endeavor, Rose’s plan threatens to drive a wedge between her and Snow White. That because Rose has also decided to include the villainous Prince Brandish in her endeavor with the hope that in redeeming him she’ll be able to justify this whole endeavor.
So far, this is all well and good. There is a certain amount of drama to be mined from the uncertainty regarding whether or not Brandish can actually be redeemed. Not much headway is made here as he winds up being either at the mercy of Rose and Snow, or ground underfoot by performing menial tasks. Still, Snow has very good reasons to be wary of her sister’s approach given the danger he represents to her, along with what he did to Bigby. Rose is also briefed on the danger of what happened the first time with Camelot happening again here. Though she may try to have this iteration be a “good parts” version of the original, the fates seem to be conspiring to have things play out the same way as before with brand new characters, and old ones in new roles. The revelation of who winds up in the Guinevere role is particularly clever.
Though it takes up the bulk of this volume, the story of Rose’s Camelot isn’t the only one being told here. We get a one-off about the daughter of former wooden soldiers Rodney and June and her encounter with some heretofore unknown dangers of Fabletown castle. The efforts to restore Bigby are an ongoing subplot here, as are the efforts of Leigh Duglass to manipulate them to her own ends. Bigby even gets an issue to himself as he has an encounter in the afterlife with Boy Blue and the two discuss what it means in great detail while the wolf gets a final moment with someone very close to him. There’s also Gepetto and his ongoing efforts to regain his old power, and the volume finishes off with a two-parter that foreshadows the eventual destruction of Fabletown.
Most of this is actually quite good. Even though the bit with Rodney and June’s kid seems like it’s going to play out in a very familiar way, the final panel throws a wrench into that kind of thinking. Bigby and Boy Blue’s issue is one made up almost entirely of talking heads, but what they have to say about life, the universe, and everything is actually quite interesting and is certainly meant to foreshadow events for the title’s finale. There’s also no denying that Bigby’s encounter at the end of the story is genuinely touching with the reality of what it entails purging it of unneeded sentimentality. Gepetto’s schemes are also interesting to watch unfold and we see again that he didn’t become the ruler of hundreds of worlds by not being one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Only the final story, “The Boys in the Band,” strikes a bad note as it winds up being two issues of fighting between Fables and fantasy creatures. The combat drones on for far longer than it should have, and while the point the story makes at the end is a good one, it’s not strong enough to make up for what the reader has to go through to get to there.
I’m probably forgetting a couple things here, but my point is that “Fables” has a whole lot to address as it moves into the home stretch. You certainly can’t accuse Willingham of resting on his laurels after all the time he’s put into the series so far and it’s clear that he wants to send everyone off on a high note with everything he’s building up here. It’s just that theres a huge amount of plot to address here and a relatively small amount of space for it to be addressed in. As promising as some of these threads may be, I’m left feeling that not all of them will be satisfactorily resolved by the time “Fables” reaches its finale in issue #150. Then again, Willingham has always shown himself to be a man with a plan in this series so there’s the equally distinct possibility that I may be forced to eat my words when the final volume comes out.
“Camelot” also features typically strong art from series mainstay Mark Buckingham. However, it would appear that his commitments to “The Dead Boy Detectives” required that he share some of his duties with another artist for this volume. That artist happens to be Russ Braun, best known around here for his work on the latter half of “The Boys,” and he proves to be a more than capable partner for Buckingham here. Though Buckingham’s style is the definitive one for this title, Braun’s is a bit more expressive with regards to the characters. Particularly in their eyes as they provide direct insight into a character’s mindset in the way the artist draws them. Barry Kitson also provides lively art for the opening story while Steve Leialoha does the “Boys in the Band.” Regrettably, Leialoha’s art comes off as too loose to elevate it beyond mediocrity.
It should go without saying -- but here I go anyway -- that I did enjoy this volume and the build-up it provides to the upcoming series finale. Regardless of any fears I may have about whether or not all of the plot threads set up here will be resolved in a satisfying manner, they still provide some entertaining drama in the here and now. “Fables” has been consistently good for a very long time now, and “Camelot” ably continues that particular streak. Now all that’s left is to see if it can be continued through the very end.