When it started back in 2002, the premise of Bill Willingham's Vertigo series Fables seemed to be pretty simple: characters from fairy tales inhabiting a modern world. Nearly 12 years and 140 issues later, it's clear that isn't 100 percent accurate. The series has evolved to be as much about creating new fairy tales as it is about the modern-day area of New York City known as Fabletown, and it became as much about the characters' pasts as it was about their presents.

That's more than evident in the opening pages of Fables #141, the issue that kicks off the 10-part, series-ending "Happily Ever After," by Willingham, Mark Buckingham (the artist who drew the bulk of the series), Andrew Pepoy, Steve Leialoha and Lee Loughridge. A new piece of lore sets up the inevitable conflict that will see the series through to its conclusion. It's an elegant piece of storytelling, and the rest of the issue is similarly understated in a way that builds toward a climax, but doesn't reveal too much. It's all table setting, but it's one very nicely set table.

One of the reasons Fables works is that the art team is so good at straddling the line between classic mythmaking and modern-day, urban fantasy stories. This issue starts with wizards fighting monsters and ends with a grotesque creature crouching in trash in an alleyway while police officers look at him in horror. Somehow, the artists make that wide gulf in setting and style all feel like part of the same thing. It's nothing short of astonishing.



Fables is set to end with issue #150 -- Willingham announced his retirement last November -- which will make it the second-longest running Vertigo title ever (after Hellblazer, which went 300 issues). What's particularly notable about that, besides the simple longevity factor, is that Fables has mostly told one, big story. Sure, there have been lots of diversions here and there, and the end of the "War and Pieces" storyline felt like a natural endpoint (I stopped reading monthly not long after that myself), but Fables has been chugging along, building on itself steadily for more than a decade.

It's clear that this issue is meant to be one that brings back readers who've strayed from the series over the years, perhaps specifically those like me who fell off after the defeat of The Adversary back in issue #75. Willingham, Buckingham and Pepoy make a special effort to check in with just about everybody and explain what their current deal is: the council that governs Fabletown, Cinderella, Snow White, Rose Red, and Bigby Wolf (who is dealing with some real problems), to name some. There are even a few lines of dialogue letting readers know who died recently.

Snow White, in particular, gets something akin to a series recap, just to remind readers who have may have forgotten what she's accomplished over the course of the decade-long narrative. But it's more than just a recap; it's a sort of mission statement. Willingham and Buckingham are saying that everything that has happened up to now has happened for a reason, and here's where it all comes to a head; this is what it's all been building to. For a series that has already done a story that seemed to be everything the previous issues had built to, it's pulled off really well. It feels like all the threads are coming together.


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That said, not a whole lot happens this issue's plot beyond some political machinations being put in order. Cinderella's story is literally nothing but two pages of her talking to a bird (spoiler alert). Now that everyone's status is clear, though, and the pieces are in place, I expect pawns to start falling next issue.

And to add to the idea of finality, a one-issue backup story here tells the very last tale the creative team ever plans to tell (or at least that's what they say) of one of my very favorite characters in the series, Flycatcher. The way it's presented is almost a joke; how can immortals have final stories, after all? Still, there's a very real sense that this series is making its last statement about every character and every facet it has established. It's impossible to predict these sorts of things with nine issues left to go, but if I had to guess now, I'd say Fables is well on its way to keeping Vertigo's track record of great series endings well intact.


Fables #141 is on sale now in finer comics shops and digitally from Vertigo.