Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
40 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics
It’s safe to say that Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s collaboration on Lucifer was a success. The book lasted for 75 issues, with Gross coming on board with #5 to draw the vast majority of the series. The two of them returning to a new ongoing series, then, sounds like a surefire hit. But with Carey’s last ongoing series for Vertigo quietly and unjustly slipping away in under two years, nothing is certain. Fortunately, the launch of The Unwritten feels like Carey and Gross are doing everything they can to make this launch stick.
Tom Taylor is the son of Wilson Taylor, a children’s fantasy author whose thirteen Tommy Taylor novels are a mega success, spawning films, merchandise, conventions, and everything else imaginable under the sun. Then Wilson Taylor vanished, and Tom Taylor ended up with nothing more but the legacy of being the famous child who shares the same name as his father’s literary creation. Stumbling through life, reduced to making appearances at Tommy Taylor conventions, Tom seems to be going nowhere slowly until one woman appears with evidence that Tom may not really be the son of Wilson Taylor. And that, as the saying goes, is when things begin to really get strange.
It’s funny, because I think we’ve all seen or read stories with fictional characters entering the real world before, but somehow Carey’s script for The Unwritten #1 makes it feel fresh and new. I think it helps in part because Carey’s taking two real-world phenomenons and attaching that story to the pair of them. It’s hard to not see the resemblance to the mania surrounding both the Tommy Taylor and Harry Potter books; being at the center of a mega-empire, this isn’t just a beloved childhood friend suddenly becoming real, it’s a story about so much more. I love that when the fans discover that Tom Taylor might not really be the son of Wilson Taylor, how things spiral out of control in terms of the ugly reaction. Anyone who’s ever seen a story spread like wildfire across the internet knows just how quickly fan outrage can spin and multiply; Carey nails this phenomenon perfectly, and in doing so really sells the Tommy Taylor franchise as the blockbuster that it’s supposed to be. And, having read about how the real Christopher Robin’s life was a living hell thanks to the Winnie the Pooh novels, Carey has that extra hook of interest for the reader as Tom Taylor’s life has clearly become less than ideal over the years, forever posing for photographs and having to make ends meet by signing his father’s books for ardent fans. Even little moments like Tom Taylor dealing with the other guests at the convention really worked for me, because Carey’s captured not only the upper levels of convention guests, but the B- and C-grade tiers that are quietly ignored when depicting a convention in popular fiction.
Unsurprisingly, Peter Gross’s art is handsome as ever. For me, the really defining moment in The Unwritten #1 is the slow evolution of Tom Taylor’s visual appearance; he starts out looking polished and confident, but as the issue progresses he looks more haggard by the day. From hairs out of place while being confronted in his hotel room, to his tired eyes as he takes off his disguise, and his through-the-wringer state by the end of the issue having survived the horrible moments in the Globe. The entire book takes that care, with both large and small details attended to. The intricate runes carved on the stones around the dying Tommy Taylor’s body at the start of the issue (and being the end of the final novel), the similar-yet-different young Tommy’s resemblance to Tom, even the off-kilter panels as people strike against each other, feeling almost like their blows are knocking the surroundings out of alignment. Todd Klein’s letters get into the action here as well, giving specific moments and quotations their own special look that make them both be noticeable and unobtrusive (if you know what I mean) in a way that is a good reminder why Klein’s one of the top letterers and designers in the field.
There’s more to The Unwritten than just the possibility of a character from a book ending up in the real world. Tom Taylor’s love of literary geography is fun to read, but it also feels like it’s more than just a strange bit of characterization. Carey’s exploring the nature of books and stories in The Unwritten, and I can’t help but feel that we’re only beginning to see the big picture here. Tom’s stumbling through an honest answer to the question on how it feels to "have everyone in the world know you so well" is revealing as well, and I look forward to seeing more of Carey’s and Gross’s explorations on the connections between readers and characters in books. With 40 pages for just $1, how can you not want to take a look, too? This is great fun, through and through. Highly recommended.