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

The Story: Tom Taylor is thrown in prison and Lizzie Hexam is tasked with breaking him out.

What’s Good: I’ve always enjoyed the beginning of every issue of the Unwritten, which often focuses on another text, whether a real world one (like this month’s “Song of Roland”) or a Tommy Taylor book.  It sets a certain tone and allows Peter Gross to stretch his legs and provide a different, more painted/static style to convey the different text.  More than in past, however, Carey does not just limit these shifts to an opening.  Rather, a couple of times, Carey switches to a frame or two from the “Song of Roland” or Tommy Taylor in a manner that is fluid and perfectly in synch with the events happening to the comic’s characters.  As a result, he gives a sense of this not only being a singular comic, but also a dialogue between several different texts.

I also rather liked the introduction of the decidedly satanic looking thief, Savoy.  I hope he sticks around past this arc.  While he’s definitely a character, Carey chooses to keep him realistic and relatively subdued.  He has just enough flare to provide a nice contrast with Tom, while still keeping Taylor foregrounded.

A scene with the jail warden, meanwhile, provides perhaps the best scene of the book.   Carey is able to once again show the impact of fiction, as the warden’s relationship with the Tommy Taylor books exposes the softer family man below the hardened exterior.  The sudden shift is touching and the scene also shows just how much we invest in literature, our favourite books, and the hope they provide, as well as the lengths we’ll go to protect the illusion and escapism.

On another note, I should also mention that this issue’s ending is awesome and is sure to raise eyebrows.

What’s Not So Good: This is probably Peter Gross’ weakest issue, art-wise.  That’s not to say that it’s bad, nor is it to say that he’s committed any terrible errors.  You won’t be wincing at all at anything in this book, and honestly, it’s pretty decent looking.  However, it’s just under Gross’ usual high standards.  Something about the issue just doesn’t give me quite the same sense of comfort and satisfaction as previous issues did.  I do feel that things look a little less detailed and a touch more scratchy at times, so perhaps that’s the problem.  Though maybe this is intentional, to reflect Tom’s miserable status and surroundings.

I’m also not sold on the introduction of the new “Inside Man” narrator.  While it is logical to add a colorful, self-aware narrator who directly acknowledges the reader to a comic so concerned with text and the metatextual, the presence does nonetheless jar at times.  It also removes some of the sense of foreboding and mystery that has defined the book thus far.  Perhaps this too is intentional, reflecting a shift in the series’ tone, in which case these are just growing pains.

Conclusion: Didn’t like the art as much as usual, but it’s still a great book.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans