When you create 130 issues of a comic book, writing dozens of characters, juggling scores of story arcs large and small, you’re going to have some filler issues. And while filler usually feels like a waste of time and four hard-earned dollars, writer Bill Willingham has a penchant for making small, self-enclosed stories that brilliantly illuminate the world he created, often giving small side-characters their own adventures. Usually, these are delicious literary morsels that round out an already highly developed cast.
The latest side story features Splinter, the daughter of Rodney and June. The Ballad of Rodney and June was a truly innovative and remarkably evocative two-issue story about two of Gepetto’s wooden children. Rodney, a lieutenant in the Emperor’s army, does the unthinkable by falling in requited love with June, a wooden field nurse. To the disgust of their peers, who despise the biological implications of romance, the wooden couple petition Gepetto to become flesh and blood. The kindly (and genocidal) old woodcarver agrees, but imposes a price on their transformation. In return for becoming human, Rodney and June must travel to the “Mundy” world, take up residence in New York, and spy on Fabletown’s residents.
It was a wonderful story, wonderfully told. Now, after being rehabilitated, Rodney, June and Splinter move into their new quarters in Castle Dark—the new Fabletown. Splinter, a precocious little kid, goes off to explore the castle. Her adventure turns perilous, however, when she runs awry of some giant, talking, comically dumb rats. After a few short minutes with the rat people, Splinter returns to her room and is put to bed.
There’s no more to it.
The artwork in this issue was created by guest artist and DC veteran Barry Kitson. His work detailing the interiors of Castle Dark were quite good, and his talking rat people were fun to see.
While some of Kitson’s art was gratifying, his characterization of the little girl, Splinter, was simply terrible. Small children are notoriously difficult to draw in comic books. They are usually either awkwardly proportioned, or creepy. In this case, Splinter is awkwardly proportioned and creepy. This is somewhat ironic, as Fables’ principal artist Mark Buckingham does an incredible job penciling The Cubs, appropriately aging them as the years pass.
The writing in this issue is lazy on every level. The story is short, simplistic and thoroughly uninteresting. The dialog is the standard kid-talk, i.e. the way writers erroneously think children speak. And, insultingly, #130 comes in at a lousy 20 pages.
This is a profoundly disappointing follow-up to The Ballad of Rodney and June, and yet another spin-off issue that leads nowhere. If Fables is a meal, lately it feels as though these side adventures are the main course, with the main storylines providing the seasoning. After being treated to multi-issue runs chronicling the adventures of The Cubs in (Broken) Toyland, Bufkin the Flying Monkey and Bigby’s past, there is only so much diversion from the main story that readers can take.