Fables: The Last Castle

Written by Bill Willingham
Penciled by Craig Hamilton
Layouts and Inked by P. Craig Russell
48 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Ever since Fables began a year and a half ago, one of the most-demanded questions from readers has been, “What happened when the Adversary took over the Fables’s Homelands?” Creator Bill Willingham’s been keeping the answer to that question to himself… until now. Fables: The Last Castle reveals part of that answer, but in true Willingham form, asks more questions.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon is the last Castle, a final fortress held by the Fables as the Homelands are overrun by the forces of the Adversary. As a single boat ferries refugees from the Homelands to Earth, its forces continue to dwindle as they try to hold their ground. When an escapee by the name of Little Red Riding Hood makes it to the stronghold, she does not realize that she will be the final refugee to arrive, or that at the end of her world, she will meet something worth living for even as all remaining life threatens to end.

Willingham’s story of of The Last Castle gives us our first real look at the Homelands, and it’s a pretty grim situation. Willingham is careful to mix both the wonder of the Fables that still live in the Homelands with the horror of what the Adversary’s forces have done; for every introduction of a character that brings a smile to your face, there’s another piece of knowledge of what’s happened to bring you back down. Added to the mix is Willingham’s take on siege movies, where a doomed group of heroes have to protect a final fortress. It works really well here, with the final attacks on the fortress managing to be both depressing and inspiring as our heroes desperately try to buy those on the final boat to freedom the time they need to leave. Most touching of all, though, is Little Boy Blue and Little Red Riding Hood’s romance even as their world crumbles around them. It’s handled both sweetly and distressingly, because Willingham hints that no good will come of it even as you hope that Willingham is leading you towards the ultimate fake-out… something Willingham’s been proven to be very good at.

Fables: The Last Castle has an artistic dream team on board for this one-shot; P. Craig Russell providing the layouts and inks (plus pencils for the framing sequence in the present day), and Craig Hamilton on pencils. The “two Craigs” have really pulled out all the stops here, working together so nicely that it makes you wonder why we don’t see it more often. Hamilton and Russell bring an ornate, mythic look to the characters of The Last Castle, with classic curls in people’s hair and intricate outfits. Don’t mistake this for not being able to handle the violent scenes of The Last Castle though, because they do so with a vengeance. The battle is never glamorized or made to look pretty… it’s a brutal massacre that really brings home Willingham’s script, and shows once and for all what a very deadly threat the Adversary and its forces truly are.

Fables: The Last Castle is a great addition to the Fables saga, expanding on some of the existing characters as well as introducing a handful of new ones. At the same time, Willingham, Hamilton, and Russell have created a book that serves as a low-cost introduction to the series; this is a great way for a new reader to see what all the fuss is about. Willingham may be drawing on childhood favorites for this series, but here he proves once again that this is a series that adults will enjoy a great deal. Fables: The Last Castle is on sale now at better comic book stores everywhere.

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