The Unwritten #1 - 'Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity' - Carey and Gross
Story - Books, in many ways Comics shouldn't like books, they are our bigger, more successful, more athletic brother, gaining the mainstream respect our own little niche medium. But for some reason, many comics have played with famous literary creations and have shown a large deference to the medium. Whether it be Warren Ellis exploring the pulps in Planetary, or Alan Moore making them fuck eachother like rabbits in Lost Girls, there is a rich history of comics playing with Books in ways that they themselves cannot, The Unwritten looks to be the next great step in Comics about Books, and it really is a great step, hugely enjoyable and choc-full of interesting ideas, this 40-page opener was one of the best debut issues I have read in a while.
The basic conceit is that a Harry Potter-esque boy Wizard was based on a real person, the son of the author, much like Christopher Robin in Winnie The Pooh. That alone would be enough for an interesting story, the contrast between the boy in the stories, and the man in the real world, and Carey seems to have particular fun showing the fiction, and then the fact. But there's more. There's a conspiracy even! Is Tom Taylor actually Tommy Taylor, crossing the boundaries and into real life? Or is he just a publicity stunt, bought by his father to sell more books? These are very powerful hooks, and at the moment I'm definitely leaning towards the more supernatural side of things.
But all this hokum wouldn't mean much if we didn't have interesting characters and situations to base it on. The central figure of Tom(my) Taylor is a strong one, we get to see multiple sides of him, his anger at his father for leaving him, his confusion about all the fuss, and even some of his arrogance. I also liked his knowledge of literary geography, it's something I'm also pretty interested in, when I was in London recently, my Mother showed me Poirot's house, and I have seen 22-1B Baker Street a couple of times. Not only were these bits educational, but I think they are a big clue for the future, I think Tom is going to cross back over into the world of Literature, like that Macauley Culkin film (Pagemaster? I think that was it, with Doc Brown), and this knowledge will be a big help. We also have Tom's sleazy agent, who may be a bit of a cliche, but he certainly knows something we don't. And there's Lizzie Hexam, the woman who opened the lid on this stuff, or is she actually Sue Sparrow? The Hermione to Tom's Harry. It certainly seems so, with her constructing a real-life 'Boy Who Lived' scenario at the end (and maybe giving him a real-life wheel tattoo? I think so). I wonder what became of Peter Price, the Ron Weasley of the group? And of course, the mysterious villains at the end, who are they? What do they want? Strong mysteries, and very well constructed. I also liked how Carey didn't shy away from Potter comparisons, he tackled it head on, and that was good, nothing worse than a cowardly homage.
But there's more here than just characters and situations, The Unwritten does some interesting things with the comics format too, using a full page for a web-page report, and the online IM chats, which were certainly more on the nose than I'd expect a comic to be, 'Tom T is made of fail' and 'I call for moar!' all actual online language, and it really works. The lettering is also used in interesting ways, from the different fonts in the storybook world, the way that whenever 'Tommy Taylor' is mentioned it's in blue, and the mysterious villain at the end, speaking in Times New Roman. It's the kind of thing only comics could do with this concept, and it makes the book stand out, so a big up to Todd Klein, letterer extraordinaire.
The Unwritten #1 is a very good comic, it has a new take on the worlds of fiction, strong characters, and plays with the medium in fun ways. Plus, it was only $1 (75p for me) for 40 pages! This was a dense tome of a comic, and although the rest of the issues will be standard sized, I imagine Carey and Gross have many more thrills ahead of us. Highly recommended.
Art - Peter Gross is an underrated artist, this is probably because he doesn't really work on Superhero comics, but his art would not be suited for that, but here, it's perfect. I first came across his work when he did Chosen with Mark Millar, and I think this is a step up from there, maybe it's the colours by Chris Chuckry, which were brighter than Chosen, but this really popped. I especially liked that there was a slight shift in style from the story worlds, to the real worlds, and also the movies. And the transformation of Ambrosio (the Voldemort analogue) is particularly good, when we first see him he looks like a crazy, like someone we'd see at a convention really! But the way his appearance shifts... it's scary, yet it remains recognisably the same guy... until he is blown up. Good stuff, I can't wait for more of Gross, both here and in the sequel to Chosen.
Best Line - 'Stories are the only thing worth dying for!' That kind of sums up what the book is all about at this point to me, it's about the importance of stories in the world, that whole page of Ambrosio rant seemed to me to be of particular importance.
Herogasm next week? Should be good fun, The Boys is an excellent book, and some of the best stuff is showing how the supes are total sleazebag fuck-ups, and this is a focus on them! It's going to be ugly.