Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Unwritten #6

Life's not always filled with peaches and roses when you're the son of a famous author. Tom Taylor is living proof. The child of one of the globe's most popular writers, he shares more than a father figure with his deceased(?) dad's old work. Turns out the lead character in every one of those generation-old masterpieces is also named Tommy, and that's led to some good-natured debate among devotees concerning which stories are truth and which are fiction. Some even claim he's the miraculous offspring of the pen and ink itself. For most of his adult life Thomas has made a slim living, feeding off the convention circuit and signing his pa's crusty old books, but lately that ho-hum existence has taken a swerve for the dramatic. That might have something to do with his beginning to believe the legends about his own literary origins. Or maybe it's the bloody massacre he's being tried for.

Mike Carey's done fine work here, tailoring an engaging, rich, playful world that's easy to fall in love with but close enough to cold, harsh reality that it actually stings. Wrapped within the veil of this fantasy tale is a sharp, intelligent dissection of the influence modern media has on our hearts, minds and culture. Mixed in with the frequent leaps between literature and current narration, Carey intersperses quick glances at a variety of news sources, chat rooms, forums, even online advice columns, revealing how the sudden, dramatic fall of such a prominent figure has touched every one of them. In a land where instant information is cleverly and transparently mixed with opinion and immediate judgment, how can anyone really expect to receive a fair trial?

Carey's partner, artist Peter Gross, uses the frequently shifting narrative to showcase his versatility. When the pages of Papa Taylor's old manuscripts are the focus, his style takes a thin-lined, beautiful illustrative slant, something that wouldn't seem at all out of place in the middle of a leather-bound six-hundred-pager. On the pages more concerned with modern events, Gross backs away from his early detail and relies more on his simple compositions to carry the show. A subtle shift in colorists between pages completes that transformation, resulting in a very deliberate and effective change in flavor that cleanses the palette and cues the reader's imagination that it's time to change gears.

There's a whole lot going on in this issue, and I still only feel like I've scratched the surface. While there's little doubt in my mind that this series would be best appreciated in a trade, where its subtleties can be better appreciated, that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed today in its original, episodic format. In The Unwritten, Carey and Gross have patched together a mature, diverse, enveloping central plotline, candy-coated it with a delicious fantasy cover story, then let the two bleed ever-so-slightly into each other. The lines between truth and fiction are as blurry within this issue as they are between its contents and the world outside your window. Buy it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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