With "Fables" #138, the title is now ready to kick off its final year as it zooms towards its conclusion with #150. Bill Willingham and Russ Braun take advantage of that brief pause to check in on Geppetto, the former dictator and conqueror of most of the Fable Homelands. And trust me, if you think he's been taking his parole well, you're quite mistaken.
Unlike most issues of "Fables," this installment doesn't deviate or zoom off onto other subplots. It's very straightforward, which works well for a character whose presence as the Adversary dominated the first 75 issues of the series. The story is in many ways a typical one from Willingham, as what looks to be a plan that's crashing down into defeat in fact has an extra layer or two, allowing a final twist to contort the existing plot. In this case, it's about Geppetto's attempt to retake the Sacred Grove, the group of trees whose powers allowed him to enslave much of the Fable Homelands.
Normally, the 11th hour "twist" could come across a bit tired and predictable. But here, it works. I think the tight singular focus of this issue makes a big difference; you become more invested in this story with the lack of sidesteps and "meanwhiles" throughout the comic. It also helps that Geppetto's still a very compelling villain well after his defeat; his outward meek appearance is balanced by his diabolical inner nature and his forever scheming. Geppetto was easily the best of all of the major "Fables" villains over the run of the series, and it's nice to see him hatching a new long-term plan once more.
Braun's been working off of layouts from Mark Buckingham for the past few issues, but this issue is entirely his work. He's a good person to choose to step in; he draws in that clean style that long-time contributors like Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and even original artist Lan Medina all brought to "Fables." One of the best things about this issue is the way he draws Geppetto's eyes; they're almost little slits, hidden among the wrinkles on his face, but at the same time there's a blistering hatred and evil just burning in them. It's what keeps you from ever entirely writing off Geppetto as being harmless now; he just screams untrustworthiness, and that's in thanks to Braun's art.
It'll be sad to see "Fables" wrap up this time next year, but Willingham is clearly lining up all of his proverbial ducks to prepare for a big blow-out conclusion. If this issue is any indication, I'd say "so far, so good."