The Unwritten TPB Vol. 1

by on Jan.11, 2010, under Comics

At first I thought The Unwritten was okay, nothing special. A cute little metafictional story about Tommy Taylor, a guy who may or may not be the incarnation of the main character in his vanished father’s fantasy novels. This failed to grab me in part because those fantasy novels seemed to be a lamer version of Harry Potter crossed with the Hardy Boys, and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to notice how dumb they were.

A few issues in, though, it becomes quite clear that Mike Carey and Peter Gross know exactly what they’re doing. A group of writers meets in the house where Frankenstein was conceived, and after a few pages to remind us of the power of Mary Shelley’s work, we meet her literary heirs:

I’m Sonia Taft, creator of vampire detective Medley Silver. Sexy undead chick solves crimes in the big city. It’s noir fusion.

I’m Simon Grove. I write cosmic metaphysical horror. Most of my work comes from the Lovecraft estate. I’m finishing off three novels that he left in note form.

My name is Lauren Sedgwick, but I write as Lauren Snow. I’m just finishing a big magic realist psycho-gothic epic. Umm–not yet commissioned.

‘The name’s Bond, James Bond.’ Nah, I’m Stanley Jardine. I do post-modern, self-referential slasher horror. Lots of blood, but–you know, played for laughs.

I’m James Mortenson, and since you’re thinking it, I’m happy to say it. I write torture porn, which is horror unencumbered by the demands of plot or character. The real deal.

Later, the group is hunted through the house by a scythe-wielding maniac. “It does no good to run,” he declares.

And it does no good to hide. But I know what it’s like, your brain shuts down, and you follow your instincts. Or at least you think you do. But you know what you’re really doing? When you flee through the night, or crawl into your little bolthole? You know what’s really guiding you? Controlling you? Pushing you on? Genre conventions.

That last line is delivered after he cuts in two a woman hiding behind a curtain, which is of course two references in one: horror movies and Hamlet.

And then Tommy Taylor isn’t even in the last issue. It’s all told from the point of view of Rudyard Kipling, who explains how the shadowy conspiracy that sent forth the scythe killer made him a literary success for their own reasons, and how he ultimately rebelled by writing the Just So Stories. For which they destroyed his family.

In other words, The Unwritten appears to be genuinely interested in the power of narratives to shape the real world as well as their fictional one. This could be one of the many cases where authors promise more depth than they can deliver. But at least Carey and Gross have the ambition to make the promise.

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