This article was originally published at DC Infinite on May 15, 2014.
Fables often features small detours, one or two issue stories that explore lesser known characters and play back into the larger story in some meaningful way. The success of these detours has varied in the past, offering some excellent comics like “Out to the Ball Game” and some not-so excellent ones, as well. “The Boys in the Band” is an example of the latter.
The biggest problem that the story faces is a lack of stakes. All of the featured characters are unknowns with minimal ties to established characters (except for those familiar with the novel Peter & Max) and no obvious reasons for readers to care about their survival. The land they aim to rescue has never been mentioned before, will probably never arise again, and is altogether devoid of any importance. The truth is that the entire band could die and not only would there be no affect on Fables, but there is no reason for the reader to care.
This robs much of the story of any sense of tension or thrill. Several protagonists die or appear to die, but the moments are without impact. The limited length of the story means that there is limited space to invest readers in this band of heroes. However, some dramatic shorthand like the discussion of loved ones or long-term goals could have gone a long way in making these characters matter to readers.
The indistinct nature of people drawn by Steve Leialoha does not help much either. The only two protagonists easily distinguished and remembered are Briar Rose and Puss in Boots. Everyone else is a grown man and, unless featured in the foreground of a panel, tend to be indistinguishable from one another. Leialoha does a fine job investing the action scenes with energy, but his figures quickly lose focus and shape.
That is not to say the issue is without value. The basic plot of heroes rescuing a kingdom is still well executed with some fun twists and plenty of humor. Briar Rose plays out one scene that is telegraphed by Willingham, but plays on its obviousness to great effect. It takes jabs at television writer (perhaps Willingham does feel slighted that ABC chose to produce the terrible Once Upon a Time instead of the originally planned adaptation of his own work) and stereotypes. It’s a very funny scene that is the high point of Fables #140. The continued survival of one character is amusing as well, especially given its roguish place in folklore.
The issue also functions to relate a point about the series as a whole. For 65 issues, the Homelands have been freed of Geppetto’s rule. The driving force behind Fabletown’s existence has been gone for almost half of the series. Considering the first storyline ended with a celebration of the dream of returning home, it only makes sense that the Fables would begin to do so. Yet that idea has remained absent from the book because if it were followed to its natural conclusion, it would mean the end of Fables. It is an entirely natural, yet surprising turn that gives this issue purpose.
Leialoha also makes the back half of the book a treat with images of towers and monsters that are distinct and recall the imagery of early European fairytales. Fables #140 is about the idea of returning home and this connection to the origins of much of Western folklore serves that theme well.
Fables #140 features a few highlights in a generally lackluster issue. Its purpose in foreshadowing the natural conclusion of the series is well served, but the story itself does little to add to the overall richness of its fictional universe. With little characterization or stakes, this is issue is at best a necessary stepping stone to the epic conclusion which begins next month.