Review: The Unwritten #1

The Unwritte

A new Vertigo #1 is often something to check out.  A new Vertigo #1 that’s $1.00 is almost always something to check out.  A new Vertigo #1 that is 1.00, written by Mike Carey, and is 40 pages long?  Well, that right there was enough to get me to give Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s new book, The Unwritten, a shot.  I’d heard a little about it and read some of the preview, but it wasn’t particularly on my register.

The story, for those who haven’t seen it about, stars Tommy Taylor.  Tommy is a real guy in his 20s, but when he was a child, his father based a series of fantasy novels very much reminiscent of Harry Potter on him – the Tommy Taylor books.  The books quickly eclipsed Potter, Twilight, and a great many other fandoms to become a 13 book juggernaut… but after book 13, writer Wilson Taylor mysteriously disappeared.  Tommy, desperate to disassociate himself from the infamous boy-wizard character, has become a bitter drunk working the convention circuit for easy money, but going nowhere fast.

Everything changes for him when it is revealed publicly that his life might be a lie – his National Insurance number is faked, pictures of children identified as Tommy are, in fact, others, and there is no record of his mother ever giving birth to him.  Things fall apart quickly, but Carey maintains everything with a deft hand and a lot of interesting stylistic changes, going from a normal paneled page onto a page meant to be a screen shot of a blog report on the situation through a series of panels depicting the news cycle coverage of the incidents and into a more muted set of panels that represent scenes from the Tommy Taylor novels and films.  Through it all, Carey sets up a lot of what the book will be about – the power of stories.  The power of stories to change our lives and shape our beliefs and more.  Whether Carey can pull that off remains to be seen, but he’s already proven adept at high-concept epic fantasy in his excellent Lucifer.

Accompanying Carey is another veteran from Lucifer, Peter Gross, who does some great work here.  The characters are clear and expressive, the backgrounds are thorough, and the frequent shifts in tone are well-handled.  While the art is unspectacular, the quality never falters.

On the whole, Carey and Gross bring a compelling first issue to a series with a great deal of promise.  The modern comics fan is reluctant to try his hand at fantasy, but hopefully, The Unwritten will be given plenty of space to breathe.  We’ll see whether it lives up to the promise displayed in the first issue, but regardless of what comes later, Carey and Gross did rock solid work here.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary


16 thoughts on “Review: The Unwritten #1

  1. I’m glad one of us read this. I’d feel bad if there was a Vertigo #1 for a buck that nobody reviewed on here.

    I for one am reading way too many books right now. I would read something like this in trade, anyway.

    But if you keep giving this book an A, I may have to read it in trade.

    Although, I think I’d rather read Lucifer if I was in for a Carey book.

  2. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha


    If you were going to make a joke, why not bash LOST on DC’s post?

    I actually decided today I’m going to try to drop my Bendis books. I’ll still have to buy Ultimate Spider-Man in those hardcovers, I think, but I’m dropping New and Dark Avengers. It’s something I probably should have done a while ago, but it’s a lot easier now, with the four dollar tag, Bendis’ worst writing year ever in 2008, and Billy Tan on the art. Stuart Immonen is next, and I’m not a big fan.Sadly, Mike Deodato’s art on DA rocks! But the writing sure doesn’t.

    It just doesn’t make sense. Do you know how many books I need to read? I shouldn’t waste time on mediocre fluff like NA. Still, I have loved some Bendis books. Maybe I’ll pick up the new Powers, if that ever comes out.

  3. Hey, where’s your Secret Six review? You usually post that quick, what’s up? I mean, I’ll write one, but you could, too. Or DC, don’t we all read it?

    Actually, I recently thought about how all three of our tastes are rather similiar. We’re all sporting DC avatars. We all love Morrison, and Secret Six. We’re like the three Cuckoos! Only…dudes.

  4. Haha. I used to be such a ridiculously hardcore Marvel fan, but it seems like every decision they’ve made in recent years has been geared towards driving me away. As is, I’m only reading 1-2 Marvel books nowadays… but one of the reviews will be up soon!

    This time, I tried to plan my reviews by importance. The Unwritten was a big-name new #1 that people would have questions about, as was Escape. Secret Six and the other 4 books could wait until the weekend, because they’d have less searches.

  5. Ah, Seventh, there is some reader-gathering in you, after all.

    Yeah, I used to like Marvel more, too. They’re still a marketing giant. Even after dropping those three titles, it’s still 7 Marvel to 4 DC, and it’s even more Marvel in trade.

    Basically, it breaks down like this:

    DC has the biggest highs. When something is great, it’s freaking fantastic!

    Marvel has more power-hitters than DC, so if you looked at 10 Marvel books and 10 DC books, Marvel would have a higher number of good books. So, Marvel has the solid quality going for it, which is probably why I’m totally jazzed for the few DC books I do read, and just regular happy about my Marvel titles.

    I can’t remember you talking much about Marvel, though.

    Honestly, and you’ll know this when my review hits in a few hours, or you should already know this if you read my Top Five Comics of April list:

    Secret Warriors is the Marvel book I’m most jazzed about, right now.

    Well, Astonishing X-Men is awesome too, but it never ships.

    So, if you read 1-2 Marvel books, make it those.

    Daredevil’s sweet, too. C’mon, it’s the Gotham Central team! Brubaker/Lark! But their run is ending soon, and I’m not sure about that Diggle bloke. Only Americans can write DD!

  6. I read the first issue of Secret Warriors and didn’t even remotely enjoy it. Astonishing looked nice, but I haven’t been able to maintain interest in the X-Men for a few years now.

    Nope. Captain Britain and MI:13 and Incredible Hercules. Those are my Marvel books right now. And neither one lives up to Patsy Walker: Hellcat for the amount of sheer joy reading ’em brings, but Kathryn Immonen is going to be writing Runaways soon, so I’ll probably add that to the list.

    As long as it isn’t 4$.

  7. CBMI13 and Herc are good. I used to read Herc in trade, but I think I’m going to drop it. It’s fun, but it’s pure fluff. It does seem to get better with each volume, though. But it’s just fluff! And the art isn’t anything to write home about. I never stayed on Britain, but I know it’s good. I was going to pick up the first trade, but it was 17 dollars for four issues. Yeah, fuck you, Marvel.

    How could you not keep reading after the first issue of Secret Warriors? Seventh, read my new review for the book. It’s interesting stuff! Haven’t you been craving a kick-ass Fury/Hyrda book? I know I have.

    Whenever it comes out, get the first Astonishing Ellis trade. You don’t need to know anything, really. It’s the best X-Stuff since Morrison left. And even if, for some reason, you don’t like it, Simone Bianchi art! He’s awesome!

  8. Herc is fluff, but it’s well-done fluff and it’s fun – something Marvel has seemingly forgotten exists. I remember that the first issue of Secret Warriors tried to convince me that Hydra had actually been controlling SHIELD all along. It made no sense from a storytelling perspective, and seemed to exist solely to make things more Dark Reign-y and to artificially ratchet up the paranoia. You could get away with something like that a few years into a story, but this was just another example of a kind of storytelling I despise – instead of showing us there’s a massive conspiracy through clever storytelling and solid masterplotting, you just tell us, generally in the first 1-2 issues/episodes/chapters. It pissed me off on Lost and it pissed me off on Fringe and it certainly didn’t do much for me here, either. Show, don’t tell, dammit.

    Also, given how poorly executed Dark Reign was when it came about, I’ve little desire to read a book so steeped in the entire idea of it. I like DR conceptually, like I like a lot of what Marvel does… I just think they’re playing into all their biggest creative weaknesses and blindspots and producing subpar stories because of it.

  9. Have you actually tried Hulk? Don’t believe the hate! That’s fun fluff with really pretty art.

    Despite the tag, Secret Warriors is not Dark Reign. No Osborn, Doom, or any crap, just Fury and Strucker, fighting like the God and Devil they appear to be. Go read my review!

    As for the reveal, give Hickman the benefit of the doubt. He extensively researched it, and it’s a spy book. It could throw you for a loop.

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