by Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (pencils and inks), Chris Chuckry (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)
The Story: Tom Taylor lives a life of semi-celebrity as the inspiration for Tommy Taylor, the star of a Harry Potter-esque series of books penned by his vanished father. As his identity becomes questioned, his life begins to fall apart; as does the line between the fictional and “real” worlds.
The Good: This comic has a premise like no other and this issue dives headlong into its winning concept, while nonetheless leaving us knowing full well that there is a LOT more to be revealed. In that sense, this is a great first issue; it uses its premise to its fullest potential, while also hinting at limitless potential. This comic is a literary affair, calling into question the juxtaposition of reality and fiction, as well as issues of authenticity and historicism; it’s complex stuff, yet very accessible. In this respect, I feel that the Unwritten fills a certain void in Vertigo’s line-up that was once filled by books like Sandman, Books of Magic, Swamp Thing, or even Carey’s last series, Lucifer. These series were all of a more academic nature, the sort that you might find alongside Watchmen on a liberal-minded English professor’s course syllabus. The Unwritten clearly falls into this position and looks to continue its honored thematic lineage. This is an incredibly smart comic that academics, students, and general literature buffs should not pass on, as it’s a concept that lends itself well to deconstructive or post-modern theory and a wide array of critical readings in general.
But of course, that wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t well written. Thankfully, Carey returns in prime shape. The writing is incredibly diverse in style and succeeds in everything it applies itself to. The dialogue feels fluid, dynamic, and alive. Nothing feels at all wooden, and where Carey applies his wit, the dialogue only becomes more enjoyable. All the characters come across as being unique and engaging. Moreover their conversations feel both real and distinct.
However, on a formal and technical level, where Carey’s writing is most awe-inspiring is where he’s able to seemingly leap between prose forms. He balances comic-book word bubbles with television news reports, a full page internet news blog, paragraph excerpts from a Tommy Taylor novel, and at one point, an original poem. This is just such an astonishing technical feat that I can only marvel at. How one man can balance so many voices and so many mediums in the space of one comic book issue, I cannot begin to guess.
Of course, this diversity is only made possible through the art of Peter Gross. The first thing that strikes me is just how varied and creative Gross’s panel layouts are here. Never static, never repetitive, Gross never once follows a set formula to establish itself. The paneling is abstract and alive, and when Carey decides to write a news blog or read from a Taylor novel, Gross follows suit, adjusting his layouts dramatically.
His actual art is solid stuff and does well to make itself just distinct enough to avoid “the typical Vertigo comic” look. What I especially enjoyed was how Gross completely changed his style whenever depicting a scene from a Tommy Taylor novel. Suddenly, the art becomes less realistic and more whimsical, with more abstract paneling. It’s as though a different artist stepped in.
The Not So Good: This is an amazing book and there’s really nothing lackluster here at all. If I really, really tried to find something to whine about, I suppose three or four of the smaller panels looked a little rushed.
Conclusion: A concept like no other, solid artwork, and writing that is intelligent idea-wise and impressive in technical execution, this is a comic not to be missed and this is a perfect first issue. It is just astonishingly good. Vertigo potentially has a big hit on its hands here. It’s also only $1.00 for this double-sized issue, so you really have absolutely no excuse not to give it a shot. One issue in and for me, this is already the best new series of 2009. Buy this book!