by Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (art), Chris Chuckry (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: We go back in time, witnessing Rudyard Kipling’s encounters with the shadowy, villainous group hounding Tom Taylor.

What’s Good: Well-researched and a clear labor of love, this issue is really quite the achievement on Carey’s part. This is in no small part thanks to the entire issue’s being heavily narrated by Kipling, himself.  Carey carves out a distinctive and engaging voice that really colors the entire book. This is no small feat, given that Carey is working with a real historical figure. Thus, Carey not only has to deliver a believable voice, but also a believable Kipling. Kipling’s voice sounds like one might imagine it, and it is distinctly human, never bland and not once expository. The voice adds color, emotion, and humanity, with the narration being used to add to the story’s impact, not merely telling rather than showing.

Revisionist history stories are always difficult to execute and are often a big pill to swallow, but Carey manages to pull it off, telling a story that gives off the feel of the era it describes while making the presence of real historical figures fun and intriguing, as opposed to head-scratchingly illogical or unbelievable.  Carey, in other words, successfully applies his wacky, physical, pseudo-magical manifestations of the power of writing to actual writers, legitimizing his world, and all its phenomena, by injecting it into human history.  What’s better is that we also finally get some much needed, though still hazy, background info regarding Taylor’s mysterious Illumaniti foes.

Peter Gross meanwhile puts out what may be the best looking issue of the Unwritten thus far, and that’s saying a lot. Gross manages to give the book a definite “old-timey” European feel, going a bit heavier on the shading, or at least the linework, and a lot lighter on the inks. The comic, though still recognizably “Unwritten,” looks nothing like any issue thus far. The sheer amount of creativity that went into this issue also cannot be understated. The panel layouts are at times completely bonkers, images often metaphorical or abstract to go along with the abstract paneling. Gross also makes endlessly creative use with the gutters and borders surrounding the panels. Ultimately, the comic feels like a free, dynamic swirl more than anything else.

What’s Not So Good: Well, the obvious point is that it’s a sudden, jarring departure from Tom Taylor’s adventures and the cliffhanger ending of last month. This issue is all backstory and history. It’s very good, but be aware.

Also, I really enjoyed Carey’s re-reading of Kipling’s Just So Stories into a metaphor for Kipling’s struggles with the Illuminati. It would’ve been the best part of the issue for me, were it not for Carey’s need to spoil it by heavy handedly explaining  just what the metaphor meant and how to read it. It would’ve been far better if we were free to interpret the meaning for ourselves, rather than have it hammered home directly.  Kipling’s whale story became simplified, losing a lot of its impact when it was explained at length on the next page. It felt like a rare misstep on Carey’s part.

Conclusion: As long as you go in knowing that this is a break from Taylor, this is yet another mind-blowing good issue of the most intelligent book on the stands.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans