The Unwritten – it’s all about the story, all about the fictions
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Vertigo / Titan Books
This reads very much like Vertigo books of old, with all the high fantasy elements you used to get with Gaiman’s Sandman. And so it should, since it reunites Carey and Gross, who previously shared 70 odd issues of the Lucifer series that I remember fondly from years ago.
With The Unwritten. I think I’ve finally found a Vertigo title I want to follow (I have a feeling Fables is another, but I missed out on that and I’m too, too far behind to catch up now). I’m hoping that Carey has a definite idea of where he’s taking this, building up his literary conspiracy theory into something huge. Because based on the first volume this is definitely something I’ll be picking up with each subsequent volume. It’s old school Vertigo, but that’s no bad thing, because it’s intriguing, packed with potential and very, very satisfying.
The story centres around Tom Taylor; famous for being his father’s greatest creation, immortalised in the hugely popular 13 book Tommy Taylor series, featuring the adventures of a boy wizard and his friends – yes, Harry Potter makes it to comics, just via a different name.
Tom’s is someone else’s life, and almost inevitably, he scrapes a a living on the minor celeb tour circuit, hawking signed photos, making appearances at the cons, with crowds all full of questions about his father, Wilson Taylor, who famously disappeared before writing the final volume in the Tommy Taylor series.
(That’s the moment it all goes badly wrong for Tom Taylor. Just one question. But it’s going to change his life. From The Unwritten Volume 1 by Carey and Gross, published DC Comics/Vertigo)
But Tom Taylor is in for the surprise of his young life when he finds out that his entire world may have been based on, if not a lie, then certainly a fiction, or maybe a series of fictions, maybe a whole library of the things.
In the middle of a con a young woman, with a name from Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend” plants the seeds of doubt in his mind. Worse still, when the story breaks that Tom Taylor might not be Wilson Taylor’s son at all, the fans turn on him, some with anger and recrimination and others who make the claim that this merely feeds into their theory that
“Tom Taylor has no past because Tom Taylor wasn’t born in this world…. Tom Taylor is Tommy Taylor .. He’s the messiah, the word made flesh.“
And you know, there may be more than a conspiracy theory in that idea, because all through The Unwritten there’s an awful lot of words made flesh, fictions coming to life, and the idea of writers influencing reality. It’s all about the power of the written word to shape the world, the power of words, the power of the writer. So Tom Taylor finds his life falling apart, and it looks like he may really be the boy his father wrote about, made real from the pages of the books.
(From the pages of the Tommy Taylor books, villains loom large. But the real villains of The Unwritten are perhaps the men controlling the stories or maybe those contolling the writers? From The Unwritten by Carey and Gross, published DC/Vertigo)
What’s worse is that, as Tom discovers that his life may be far more complicated than simply being a washed up D list celeb, he may be the next target for a very dangerous, very powerful group of men, men who’ve had a hand in influencing the shape of the world through the words of writers they’ve manipulated and controlled through the ages, men who influenced countries, wars, society. And it’s these men and their influence on one Rudyard Kipling that ends the book, with it’s final story shifting from Tom Taylor and journeying back to turn of the century, with Kipling, Twain, and the reappearance of these mysterious, powerful men who use fictions to create fact, stories to create history.
(Back to the real world – whatever that really is. Tom Taylor finds himself at the mercy of a deranged fan. But that makeup’s far too real for a fan, and it looks like fiction and Tom Taylor’s reality are about to come crashing together. From The Unwritten by Carey and Gross, published DC/Vertigo)
The future of The Unwritten appears to be focused on Tom Taylor’s flight from these powerful men and his journey to uncover exactly who, or what he is that will take him around the world, following his fathers map of stories, stories that are such powerful things that they have manipulated reality and history in their telling.
I’ve been relatively disappointed with quite a lot of recent Vertigo comics, but The Unwritten got me from very early on. Carey carefully lays his story before us, with shifts from Tom’s life going badly wrong, extracts from WilsonTaylor’s books, cutaways to the mysterious men who may be the controllers of this real/fictional world we find ourselves in.
And all along the artwork by Peter Gross is brilliantly competant. There’s no insult in that, I merely mean that to me this is Carey’s book, a writer’s book about words. Gross’ job is to translate those words, those ideas onto the page – which he does quite wonderfully well.
I have to say I really, really enjoyed The Unwritten. Now maybe this is because it reminds me of the very first set of Vertigo titles, or maybe it’s simply because it takes an old favourite of fantasy writing – the very concept of a metafiction and reality bending to accomodate fictional characters, or maybe it’s just because it’s a really solidly written, solidly drawn piece of enjoyable comics. Any one of those works for me.
As always, the best recommendation I can give to The Unwritten is that I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on Volume 2.