The second half of Fables volume 15, Rose Red, starts with “Dark City” and runs through two other story arcs, “Single Combat” and “After the Duel.” There are also several shorts at the end of the volume—the “Celebrity Burning Questions” and the “Pinocchio’s Army” bits, followed by sketches and extras that were part of the special issue #100. In the final half of the story, Bellflower/Totenkinder goes one on one with Mister Dark in an attempt to save Fabletown and kill his current form, or at least trap it.
Credits are included with part one.
“Dark City” opens with Mister Dark building his castle in New York on the grounds of the old Fabletown, through the eyes of the cat observing him for Ozma. He’s torturing his witherlings as they build him the most modern castle possible, and having a good time at it, when the North Wind shows up. He issues Totenkinder’s challenge to Mister Dark, who’s thrilled at the thought of single combat. North advises him to quit acting like such a lunatic and throwing the world out of balance, but he refuses. Meanwhile, the cat is realizing that all of the witherlings Mister Dark has created had at some point come into contact with the Fables. At the same time, the cubs are in the North Wind’s castle, learning how to be wind. In return for him having issued her challenge for her, Totenkinder tells Mister North about Ghost, the zephyr child. He’s determined to destroy it.
The next part of the story is Totenkinder’s duel with Mister Dark; she’s got a ton of spells and plans set up to destroy him. She weakens him slowly, bit by bit, and finally calls all of the magicked gold from his old crypt up to him, where Clara melts it into a casing around his body, trapping him again. (In the meantime, Beauty is going into early labor and bleeding. Nurse Pratt turns them away, refuses to tell the Doctor, and says that he’s such a good doctor nothing ever goes wrong. Beast threatens her life if she doesn’t shut the hell up and find the doctor, so she does. Swineheart says it’ll be fine, though Beast reminds him he said that about Blue, too. Snow takes Pratt outside and informs her that she can’t keep being such a nasty, evil person, or it’s going to catch up with her—and as she walks away, Pratt reveals that she hates all of them and was glad to have Blue “under her care” while he was wasting away. (Snow is pretty alarmed by that.)
After the defeat of Mister Dark, there’s a party, and Totenkinder/Bellflower says she’s leaving to be with Dunster Happ. Beauty and Beast’s baby is born and she’s a perfectly normal looking little girl. There’s to be a feast in the new castle, and as they’re partying, the statue/encased Mister Dark begins to crack. He bursts free, fights hand to hand with Totenkinder and kills her. The Fables run as he tells them he knows where they’ve been living. At the Farm, escape procedures are initiated. They’re going to Haven, trying to leave no clues behind. King Cole advises Bigby to stay in the mundy world, because he thinks there’s something innately magical and important about it, the world full of creators and writers. Later that night, in the woods, Totenkinder comes back to life. She says she’s still leaving, though; it’s her turn to disappear. She wants to be happy with Dunster. It’s Ozma’s turn, now.
Mister Dark turns up at the Farm and finds one Fable left: Pratt. He buys her complicity with promises of beauty and love, and she agrees to lead him to the Fables. In Haven, Beauty and Beast are putting their daughter to bed and in the process they take her teddy bear away—which, in the dark a bit later, aggravated, leads the baby to shift forms into a multi-armed little version of Beast in his monster form. The next short, “The Perils of Thumbelina,” is about the small people moving to Haven and the dangers of getting snatched by birds. “A Thing with Those Mice” is about the three blind mice wandering around trying to be knighted, this time. “Pinocchio’s Army” is about Pinocchio trying to cheer up Geppetto by giving him those tiny wooden soldiers he’s been carrying for so long—but it turns out those really are tiny wooden soldiers, and now Geppetto has them again.
The second half of Rose Red is pretty bad-ass. Seeing Totenkinder/Bellflower in action, and discussing her own strengths, is something I’ve been waiting on since the beginning of Fables. She’s one of the most interesting characters in the series, to me, because of how enigmatic she has remained—and, really, still remains, even after her departure. We still don’t know the half of how her magic works, how powerful she really is, or her goals. I love her exchange with Mister North: “Astonishing. You’re among the most magical creatures in existence and yet you don’t understand the fundamental nature of its power at all, do you? Not important, I suppose. The finest marksman hardly needs to know how to construct a rifle, or understand the chemistry of gunpowder.” She does get it, though—she knows magic.
Right after that comes the next big problem: Totenkinder reveals to him that Snow and Bigby birthed a zephyr and have been raising it as their child. He sees it only as an abomination. He’s going to kill Ghost, if he can, and put his whole kingdom behind the doing of it, even though it’s his grandchild—which makes me wonder. Is it just his prejudice, to say that the zephyrs are abominations, as it seems to us as a reader now, or is there something actually, terribly dangerous about them that Snow and Bigby don’t know? I’ll be interested to see how this turns out. I wonder what will come of it in their family dynamics, also—the cubs love both their grandfather and their brother; and how will Snow react, if she finds out? Drama on the horizon!
The battle itself is eye-catching and full of strange magic, transformation, and all those sorts of things. It was a pleasure to read, since we’ve been building to a confrontation with Mister Dark for some while now, and this is the first meeting on the field of battle. That Totenkinder ends up losing in the end—that was a twist I didn’t see coming, until it happened. I don’t think it was that she wasn’t powerful enough to kill him. I think it’s that she’s following the “rules” we’ve seen a little of, from the witches: she’s made her try, and this isn’t her fight, now. It’s Ozma’s. She repaid her debt to Snow and Rose by defeating Geppetto in the massive game of chess spanning empires—now she’s ready to settle down in a quiet cottage somewhere with the battle-scarred Mr. Happ and live out who knows how many lifetimes of well-earned vacation. I hate to see her go, because she’s such a great character, but. Well. I can believe it. She’s not human, and not even normal to the standards of the other Fables—her leaving now, at the height of the danger, makes sense to me, where another Fable might have stayed to fight more. She’s done her job and she’s out. I’m still going to miss her, though.
Otherwise, my suspicions about Nurse Pratt are confirmed—she’s a nasty piece of work, and she enjoyed watching Blue die, possibly even contributed to his death by refusing to get the Doctor for him, as she would have done to Beauty also. She uses “he’s the best Doctor and he’s never wrong” as her cover to refuse people care and service when the need it, just to watch them suffer, because she really, truly hates them. She hates them for their perceived loveliness in comparison to what she sees as her own ugliness—and, to me, this seems like the kind of trigger that your average serial killer might have. It’s not a “real” reason in that it’s so minor that it doesn’t seem like a motivation to murder, but for Pratt, it’s all she needs to excuse her own behavior to herself. Giving them over to Mister Dark to be slaughtered? She likes it. It makes her happy.
So, yeah. It’s not about beauty and ugliness, not really—it’s about something fundamentally broken in her, something very dangerous that she’s barely kept in check all this time. Though, I do wonder how they hell they missed her, especially knowing how bad she might be, when they left. One would think Snow at the very least would have a weather eye out for Pratt after that revelation about Boy Blue. So, I perhaps don’t quite believe the whole “she stayed behind to sell them out” thing, totally, because it seems so unlikely. Oh, well. It’s a plot point. I can handle it.
I love, love, love the first pages of “Dark City.” The castle under construction is a hulking monstrosity of darkness in a grim, grey sky. Mister Dark continues to be an interesting creature to see illustrated; his looks change from panel to panel as he shifts his appearance—he’s creepy all the time, but in different ways. The production sketches at the end of the special issue, as well as the paper-dolls and the board for a dice game, are pretty nifty also. (Since most of the second half is issue #100, there were only two covers in this half, and the “Dark City” one is the coolest by far.)
The second half of Rose Red is rather action-packed, laced with failure and danger, and it also entails the potentially final appearance of Totenkinder. There’s quite a bit to take in, and it’s all leading to greater danger down the road.
That’s it for Fables for the time being, friends. The sixteenth volume, “Super Group,” is due out in December of this year.
Next week: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, the prose-comic collection of outtake stories.