Unwritten #24

Written by Mike Carey
Layouts by Peter Gross
Finishes by Al Davison
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Where do story characters go when their series are over? Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s series The Unwritten has over the past two years explored the between-the-pages lives of fictional characters, secret societies that manipulate the written world, and the strange relationship between a story and the real world. One of the most memorable issues of the series, though, was The Unwritten #12 where Carey and Gross introduced us to Pauly, a human transformed into a rabbit and trapped inside a thin analogue of the Winnie the Pooh universe. Now he’s back, and this time he’s going to drag all the other characters into hell with him.

Set on a possibly-infinite staircase that winds up and down between worlds (slightly similar to the Dark Tower, also drawn by Gross, in The Books of Magic), Carey’s setting is one of hope amidst despair. It’s interesting to look at the way that the characters trapped and looking for an exit to the real world interact with one another, versus with the real-world refugee of Pauly. Without the intruder, the characters are locked into the core of their initial creation; Quark Maiden (who bears more than a little similarity to the Snorkmaiden from Moomins) is hopeful and full of dreams, Badger is slightly gruff but an impeccable leader, and so on. Their never-ending quest is to the outside observer just that, but they push on with enthusiasm and determination.

Then Pauly appears, and once again he’s the bad apple that ruins everything. Conflicts and death, abandonments and abuses, it’s nothing good when it’s attached to Pauly. He’s in many ways the anti-Mary Sue; inserted unwillingly into a fiction, he’s everything negative and disastrous to the characters around him. With his destruction of the staircase behind them, he’s both figuratively and literally keeping the characters from retreating to their own worlds, to revert to what they were. And so, as the climb continues, the party shifts and changes. It’s a sad, slightly grim story, even as it’s intriguing in terms of the greater cosmology of The Unwritten. Carey’s proven (both here and in other stories) that there are no throw-away moments or characters, and sooner or later I wouldn’t be surprised to see follow-up. Perhaps in The Unwritten #36?

Gross is aided this month with finishes from Al Davison. While they’re both excellent artists in their own right, this mixture of their styles is a case of the sum being greater than the total of its parts. Gross gives us the feel of the dizzying staircase, branching and twisting from level to level and the hordes of sentient animals marching through its confines. With Davison, though, there’s a softer edge to the art than we normally have from Gross. It helps disarm you as a reader, seeing the cuteness of the creatures and making some of the scenes that much more jarring. Davison helps make sure that Pauly looks especially creepy here, with his red eyes, snarling expressions, and a generally ragged appearance. He might be a rabbit, but he always feels slightly out of place with the rest of the storybook characters, as he should.

The Unwritten #24 takes a snippet of what could be an infinite journey for characters, and makes it simultaneously satisfying and ominous. Carey, Gross, and Davison end the comics (and presumably the upcoming Volume 4 collection) on an uneasy note, a statement of hope being laid next to an image of impossibility. The story might be a one-off moment, but it’s a chapter of The Unwritten that regular readers of the series—myself included—will remember for quite some time.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 3): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 4): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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