This volume, FABLES Vol. 16: SUPER TEAM, collects issues #101-107 and is bookended by two self-contained stories. "The Ascent" kicks things off and offers a catch-up peek into doings in the Fables' lost business office. In this one-off, the blue winged monkey, Bufkin, hero of the realm of the lost business office, scales an ancient giant tree and somehow ends up back in his homeworld of Oz. Thereabouts he begins to foment a revolution, of which we can be sure to hear more in due time. Just not now. "Waking Beauty" closes out the volume and catches us up with - as Bill Willingham puts it - "the life and restful times of one of our long overlooked friends, as she continues sleeping on the job." Just goes to show, nature abhors a vacuum. In the Homelands, in the ashes of the Old Empire, assorted warlords vie to become the new head cheese. One such has figured out that one way to power is to lift the enchantment from the sleeping Briar Rose. But he's not the only one to have worked this out.
Getting to the meat of the matter: As things stand, Mr. Dark had sown waste to Fabletown and had driven the Fables out of Manhattan. Recently, Frau Totenkinder had failed to properly contain Mr. Dark, who escaped his confines, forcing the Fables to flee the Farm in upstate New York and seek refuge in the kingdom of Haven. There's nowhere else to go after this, should Haven fall. And here's Mr. Dark now, very close to ripping thru the mystic barrier that keeps him from stepping over into Haven. Day by day Flycatcher's magic is failing him.
With Frau Totenkinder officially retired (fully deserving of her happy ending), Ozma has assumed leadership of the spooky witches what used to dwell on the 13th floor of Fabletown's Woodlands Hotel. Ozma means to assemble a strike force - composed of the fiercest and most fearless in the Fables community - to take on the malevolent Mr. Dark, except that Pinnochio suggests a loopy embellishment: Why not form a superhero team?
Pinnochio, an avid comic book fan, persuades Ozma that - in the interest of "every little bit helps" - it may be worth harnessing the faith and belief generated by a population of Mundy comic book fans. And as you know, belief is what sustains the Fables, the Mundy's belief in fairy tales and folk stories and nursery rhymes and such. Pinnochio himself has fully committed to his cape & cowl persona, having parked his butt in a wheelchair, noting that a lot of super team chiefs seem to be handicapped so. I was halfway expecting him to cry, "To me, my Fables." It's an indication of how desperate Ozma must've truly felt, that she'd go along with this whiff of silly.
Willingham also introduces a side plot with truly disastrous potential. Bigby Wolf learns that his implacable elemental father, the North Wind, means to kill Ghost, Bigby's invisible zephyr cub and the North Wind's grandson. This all has to do with a proclamation the North Wind had issued ages ago, about not suffering freak monstrosities to live.
After the debacle called The Great Fables Crossover, here's Bill Willingham again experimenting with meta-storytelling, except that, this time, he's doing it proper. It's a lot of fun watching Pinnochio do his damndest to ensure that the Fables conform to all manner of superhero tropes, working feverishly to get the costumes and the code names just right. I grinned big when I saw the superhero roll call which opens issue #104. There's something pretty priceless in seeing the likes of Bigby (a.k.a. "The Werewolf Man"), Ozma ("Super Witch"), and Thumbelina ("Tiny Titan") outfitted in garish crimefighting threads. And don't tell me that Brock Blueheart isn't playing the Green Lantern analog. The F-Men, indeed. F-Men assemble!! Heh.
Since this is FABLES, the story arc doesn't take you where you anticipate. Bill Willingham has something else in mind. Frankly, how he goes about resolving the problem of Mr. Dark is more satisfying to me, although I can see how other readers may disagree, seeing as how Willingham had seemingly set the stage so carefully for a dramatic and epic conflict, but then - bam! - here, eat some anticlimactic pie. But I like the unpredictability of this series, and I'm glad things didn't degenerate into a big stale superhero fighty fight, even if it does leave the "F-Men" sort of just milling around and Brock Blueheart entertaining some pretty lame aftermath conclusions regarding his deity Boy Blue. As an added treat, we finally get a glimpse of the person who had roused Rose Red from her horrid apathy at the Farm. Except that geting a glimpse doesn't translate to knowing just who in heck this person is. Willingham also introduces some food for thought, future plot points concerning a prophecy for Rose Red and the identity of the North Wind's successor.
As ever, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha's now iconic artwork is invaluable. These guys are the perfect artists for FABLES. They draw Bigby Wolf, my favorite character here, the only way he should be drawn. I'm glad he didn't get stuck in "superhero" mode for too long. Wolverine and Timber Wolf don't need that kind of competition.