Fables Vol. 22: Farewell
Bill Willingham, writer; Mark Buckingham, Steve Leiloha, artists (& many others)
Once Bill Willingham and the Fables creative team decided it was time for the series to end they took their time with it, befitting such a long-running series. The last regular monthly issue (#149) came out in February, 2015 (with an April cover date). Readers had to wait until July for the final issue (#150), but it’s a doozy: a 176-page trade paperback that is simultaneously the last monthly issue and the last trade paperback collection (making the total 22 volumes in all).
These final collections read almost like a single volume. The main story involves a battle between Snow White and Rose Red, which is supposed to be the result of a family curse. It has somehow remained a secret until the very end of the series: how convenient! In that sense it feels a bit like a deus ex machina in reverse. The conflict with The Adversary–to name one of the big previous plot lines–was very well prepared. There were plenty of surprises (the identity of The Adversary not the least of them), but both the buildup to the battle and the battle itself were played fairly.
If you don’t stop to think about that, it’s a very exciting story, as usual. The conflict between the sisters is at the center of it, but there’s also the return of Bigby. That return is greatly complicated by the machinations of Leigh Duglas (Jack Spratt’s widow, slimmed down by the late Mister Dark). By withholding a piece of the shattered glass wolf she is able to control him, and it’s not pretty. In addition to revealing a lot of new family history about Snow White and Rose Red, we also find that Winter Wolf (one of Snow and Bigby’s children) has taken on the role of the North Wind. In that role she secretly builds a powerful army for her mother, while Rose has been doing the same. And Snow sends Cinderella on a difficult assassination assignment.
Willingham tried hard to reveal the final fates of most of the Fables characters. Both volumes include a number of short stories, all the “Last Story” of a Fable–a number of fairly minor ones at first, like Sinbad, the Three Blind Mice, and Babe the Miniature Blue Ox–then on to bigger characters like Cinderella, Prince Charming, and Geppetto. They have a lot of fun with these. I also really enjoyed the credits to Chapter Six of Happily Ever After, “The Thomas Wolfe Syndrome,” in which all of the creators get to join Willingham and Buckingham in one big family: Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialohingham, Andrew Pepoyingham, Lee Loughridginham, Todd Kleiningham, Nimit Malayangham, Rowena Yowingham, and Shelly Bondingham.
The big battle is resolved halfway through Farewell, and then the stories tell about things like what becomes of Fabletown; a Mundy world full of magic; and a distant meeting between the two sisters. There’s also a series of stories outlining the final answers to the “Summer Prophesy” about the fates of Snow and Bigby’s cubs. It’s notable that the final volume is the only one I can think of that does not include a “Who’s Who in Fabletown” gallery or a “The Story So Far” plot summary. Could be because it’s also the final single issue…or just that it’s clearly unnecessary for any readers who have stuck it out that long.
The covers of both collections list the main creators. But like any good farewell party, just about all of the writers and artists ever associated with the series (as well as spin-offs like Jack of Fables, the Cinderella miniseries, and Fairest) were invited–similar to the celebratory 100th issue. Seeing those varied contributions is a guaranteed feast for long time fans. As for the “happily ever after” question, it depends on how you define it. Some long-dead characters stay dead: they are depicted in their afterlives, so Willingham resisted the impulse to give everyone a traditional happy ending. And there’s no resolution for the ones who die in the run-up to the final almost-battle. Certainly some of them (like the Beast of Beauty and the Beast) might have been considered unkillable in the old Mundy days, because their story would have brought them back. But with the Fables dispersed and the Mundy aware of magic, it’s an unanswered question. There aren’t many of those, though. Rarely has a long-running series made such a concerted effort to tie up loose ends. On balance I’d have to call it a satisfying ending.
Goodbye, Fables. I’m looking forward to a lengthy re-reading project sometime in the future.