By: Mike Carey & Peter Gross (creators), Dean Ormston (finishes), Chris Chuckry (colors), Todd Klein (letters), Gregory Lockard (assistant editor) & Shelly Bond (editor)
The Story: Braaaiiins!!! The shambling undead make an appearance in The Unwritten.
Review (with SPOILERS): It’s no secret that I really love The Unwritten and this issue exemplifies what I love about the series. The funny thing is that it is a hard series to review because the good issues (like this one) have multiple interesting things going on and it can be hard to meld my thoughts about everything into a coherent ~700 words.
The best thing about this issue is that the creators laid out why the “death of stories” is such a bad thing. Ever since the wounding/death of Leviathan in the finale of War of the Words, this series has discussed this concept that stories are somehow dying. We’ve seen the effects in “storyland” where characters from popular fiction are living in a sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland. That theme has been interesting, but it was never expressly clear why this should matter to us in the real world (or even the “real world” of the comic). Sometimes I can be pretty literal and I wondered, “Death of stories? Huh? What does that mean? Does it mean words vanish from the pages of books?” This issue uses narration from the vampiric Savoy character to establish the consequences of the “death of stories” and show us that we’re living with the consequences right now in the real world. It isn’t so much that the stories vanish from the page, but that we humans lose the ability to pay attention to a good story and instead focus on less demanding forms of entertainment like reality TV, porn, sports, etc.
This is interesting on a couple of levels. For one thing, I can’t help but look at this as a very meta commentary on the state of Vertigo (the publisher of this comic). For ~20 years, Vertigo has been THE place for long-form (i.e 50+ issues) comic storytelling. Now, due to market forces, Vertigo is reduced to a ghost of its former self and the only planned new series are 10-12 issue miniseries that are more in keeping with today’s market. The death of stories indeed!
But, it is also clever how this disinterest in stories isn’t cast as a failing in the readers. That’s so very smart. It’s easy to bemoan the state of modern people and how they have no appetite for really good stories: “Gah!!!! If only these idiots would appreciate good stories, we could have ALL good stories and none of this popular drivel!” Heck, anyone who reads my reviews know I’ll wander down that path when I bemoan the downfall of Vertigo and act as if it is the fault of all these silly superhero fans who are ruining comics by purchasing 200k copies of Fear Itself and only 5k copies of The Unwritten. Instead Carey and Gross present this death of stories as a fundamental problem with the system (the death of Leviathan); the people aren’t “doing it wrong”; the system is sick and they couldn’t appreciate good stories even if they wanted to. It’s very clever and non-judgmental toward the reader. Again, I can’t help but wonder if it is a meta-commentary on the comics industry: do Vertigo titles sell poorly because readers don’t want them or is it because DC and the Direct Market don’t do a very good job of promoting the stories.
These last couple of paragraphs above show what is great about The Unwritten. Even if all my speculation and ramblings above are a big pile of BS, this comic at least inspired me to think a little and see parallels with other things. That’s really what storytelling should be about.
The remainder of the issue seems more mundane. There’s a murder and it seems to be caused by zombies who have been ripped into existence by a little boy who is writing zombie fiction. This is neat and cool – who doesn’t enjoy zombie fiction? – and presents some interesting questions about this boy. Who is he and where did he get his powers? Why is he still able to create stories? How does he connect with Tommy Taylor?
But, even this zombie story weaves back into the big, meta-themed “death of stories”. Can it be any accident that the only type of new story that anyone can create is about zombies? You know, everyone says they are sick of zombies, yet they still flock to read/watch “stories” about mindless monsters. The whole thing is brilliantly meta.
The only thing holding this issue back is the art. I’m not sure what happened with the art on The Unwritten, but it has been tailing off for the better part of a year. It first I just thought it was changing, but now I’m starting to wonder if someone broke their hand or something. I mean, this art is functional, but that is all I can say for it. Gosh, maybe the art is intentionally drab because of the “death or stories”? Wouldn’t it be cool if whenever stories are healed if the art suddenly got better too?
Conclusion: Brilliant meta-commentary on modern popular culture. This is a comic that keeps revealing more and more the longer you think about it.
Grade: A (with the assumption that the art looks like this for a reason).
– Dean Stell