The fifth issue of The Unwritten takes a break from the established story to take us back in time. Looking at the life and works of Rudyard Kipling (most notably today of Jungle Book fame), The Unwritten #5 at first feels fairly self-indulgent. Kipling, a struggling writer, is contacted by the mysterious Mr. Locke. Shortly after that meeting, circumstances begin to arrange themselves in his favor and his writing proclaims the grandeur of the British empire wide and far. The issue follows him from there to the downfall of his career, to the birth of his children and on through the rest of his life.
For much of the issue, I was confused. The shift in tone, theme and setting was so vast that it seemed wasted on so utterly unnecessary an issue. As it moved along, however, and the issue came into focus, I found it more and more impressive. The tale is, for the most part, engaging, though the extreme amount of narration slows it down to a crawl at a few points through the issue. The plight of Kipling is creepy and insidious, which Carey does quite well.
The Unwritten #5 is creative and clever. Despite occasionally suffering from cramming too much information into too little a space, it remains a worthy entry into Vertigo’s newest series, and a surprisingly vital one. Late game revelations give some of the biggest hints thus far at the backstory of the series. “How the Whale Began” serves most of the functions of a great one-shot in its lush sense of history and more personal feel, but it certainly isn’t a jumping-on point in the series. Slow, ponderous and powerful, it resembles in some ways the whale of it’s name.
– Cal Cleary