"Fables" is a book that is shockingly consistent from one issue to the next in terms of quality. (Also, from what I gather, in terms of sales.) More often than not, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha turn out another solid, enjoyable issue, and that's exactly what we have here.
What impresses me is that Willingham has established his stories, situations, and characters well enough by now that he can spend several issues flashing back to the childhoods of some of the characters and no one bats an eye. Sixty issues ago, I suppose there might have been some outcry if Willingham announced that he was going to explore the lives of Rose Red and Snow White as children, but now he's bought more than enough faith from the readership. We know it's going to tie into the current story somehow, even if it's just as a character moment than something more overt.
Of course, it does help that the story itself is good. An interlude involving a bear and a dwarf sounds like the setup to a bad joke, but in this case it's a fun story that fits in perfectly with the idea of the Fable Homelands, a mixture of whimsy and danger. There's some nasty foreshadowing given to the reader about Snow White's eventual encounter with the seven dwarves (which long time readers will know ended extremely badly), but this story of good deeds and stolen treasure quietly pulls you into its heart without you even realizing it. There's even a surprise ending, and that's always a nice addition to a flashback.
It's hard to believe that Buckingham wasn't the original penciller for "Fables" (whatever happened to Lan Medina, anyway?) because his art has defined the series over the years that has made him a permanent fixture on the title. From his ornate frames on the pages, to the full-figured characters (human and otherwise), there's a richness to his pencils that always works. Even something as simple as a bear peering in through the front door has a punch, with its hulking body and tiny glowing eyes appearing out of nowhere.
With 95 issues (plus a graphic novel and a prose book) under its belt, "Fables" doesn't get the level of press and attention that some of its neighbors in the Vertigo line do. But even as it plugs away with strong and solid sales, it does so by regularly putting out good, enjoyable stories. I'm down with that.