Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Colours: Chris Chuckry
Publisher: Vertigo (DC Comics)
Mike Carey and Peter Gross re-ignite their working partnership from Lucifer to bring us one The Unwritten, a story with a premise that screams Vertigo, while simultaneously retaining a sense of the new and unknown. Of course, there is a difference between original and good, and a story such as this really needs to go several rounds before you really know whether the plot has the invention and the legs to keep pace with the ingenuity of the concept. But everything about this incredible-value, oversized $1 first issue suggests that The Unwritten can more than hold its own.
Tom Taylor is the son of Wilson Taylor, superstar fantasy author (unashamedly in the Harry Potter / Chronicles of Narnia mould) who disappeared in mysterious circumstances several years ago. Tom continues to live off his father’s fame on the convention circuit, but as more than just the writer’s heir – he is also the central character in his father’s stories. Unable to make his own mark on the world, Tom slowly finds his reality brought into question, as rumours surrounding his family past start to surface, and characters from his fantasy life begin to make an appearance.
The big picture here revolves around grand questions such as: What is fiction? What is reality? And to what extent do these concepts create and reinforce each other? These are very bold, worthwhile and interesting themes, but for something like this to work in comic-book format, you need a strong, dynamic narrative populated with relatable characters. And this is where writer Mike Carey comes into his own – having been a fan of Mike’s work since his run on X-Men, his real strength is in anchoring all manner of storylines back to characters that always ring true. Tom Taylor may not be the most likeable character in this first issue, but there is enough there to establish empathy and a general interest in watching his adventure unfurl.
Carey’s artistic collaborator, Peter Gross, utilises a very clean but expressive style with almost flawless storytelling, which is often synonymous with the Vertigo line. It may not be the most memorable or distinctive, but it services the needs of the story impeccably.
The $1 promotional price for the first issue is a really bold step by Vertigo, but I think in the long-term this is going to be an important marketing strategy for new books. With the escalating price of comics, it is getting harder to justify taking a chance on something that looks…well, intriguing. Hopefully this initiative will provide opportunities for other creator-owned comics to establish themselves in a market dominated by the super-hero books from Marvel and DC.
The Unwritten does everything the first episode of a mystery should, establishing interesting characters within a storyline that twists and turns without hiding behind a cloud of confusion. The interplay between fantasy and real-life is pitched so perfectly that it confidently zig-zags across the line between blur and juxtaposition. It is a real joy to read, with the wider themes at no point dominating the natural progression of a well paced story. This book may not be for everyone, but at such great value you’d be pretty crazy not to give this first issue a shot and find out.