Review: The Unwritten #10

As The Unwritten‘s third arc begins, Carey and Gross take us to a profoundly strange place.  At the end of “The Inside Man”, Tom and his new companions escaped the rioting prison housing them all by means of magic doorknob.  They left in their wake a great deal of devastation, a pair of profoundly tragic deaths and a powerful enemy none of them know anything about.  But as always, The Unwritten never takes you where you think you’ll end up, and in this case, that means #10 begins with the three wanderers dropped in a dreamlike version of Hitler’s Germany, learning about an obscure story co-opted by the Nazi propaganda machine.

I have praised the art of The Unwritten before, and while Gross and his team, including Jimmy Broxton and Christ Chuckry here, are getting more confident, the action remains slightly stilted.  That said, The Unwritten generally bypasses that my focusing on the drama and the atmosphere, and those are two things Gross & Co. do quite well, a talent that comes in handy in the dreamy half-world of the current arc.

The Unwritten continues to be one of the strongest titles on the shelves.  Smart, fast and literate, Carey and Gross have crafted an unpredictable adventure.  “Jud Suss”, the newest arc, follows the same pattern as before: even as the story moves forward, the setting continues to get deeper and more elaborate.  The issue ends on a shocking moment, but even if it hadn’t, my response would be the same.  I can’t wait for more.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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The Unwritten #9

The Unwritten #8

Review: Detective Comics #857

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It’s relatively rare that the paneling in a comic – not the pencils, not the colors, but the layout itself – can make me sit up and take notice.  And yet, every month, J.H. Williams III uses the layout of Detective Comics in strange and interesting new ways to move the story along without letting it get bogged down by his somewhat stiff action sequences.  Sequences like the fight between Alice and Batwoman that is paneled within the small confines of their flowing capes gives Detective Comics #857 a visual dynamic that more than makes up for whatever shortcomings the book may have.

Rucka doesn’t manage quite as well as an out-of-left-field late-game twist hurts the book a bit.  While he continues to do fine work on the main feature, the brief Question back-up he does with Hamner generally features more focused writing.  In this issue’s main story, Kate and Alice come head-to-head after the kidnapping of Colonel Kane.  Master plans are revealed, secrets come out, and, unfortunately, there’s significantly more flash than substance to the conclusion of “Elegy”.  Despite all that, however, Rucka’s work on the title is still more than competent.  No matter how much the Alice story slipped by the end, Rucka still used the opportunity to begin fleshing out Kate’s backstory and supporting cast, two things the character desperately needed.

The issue was more than just a showcase for Williams, however, as Hamner steps up in the 8-page Question back-up feature and brings some of his best work to date.  A pair of brief sequences in particular stand out, the first coming as Renee breaks into a well-guarded mansion and the second featuring her daring escape.  The art is dark and slightly cartoonish, but it’s also fluid and lifelike in a way very few running scenes are in comics.  Though there appears to be no thematic or literal crossover between the two parts of Detective Comics, the Question back-up has quickly become a worthy piece of one of DC’s most entertaining, visually dynamic packages.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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Detective Comics #856

Detective Comics #855

Review: The Unwritten #5

Unwritten

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.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

The Unwritten #4

The Unwritten #3

Review: The Unwritten #4

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The collaboration between Carey and Gross on The Unwritten continues to provide top-notch entertainment, though this might have been the weakest of the issues to date.  Carey and Gross take things pretty dark in this issue as the book opens with a grotesque parody of the Tommy Taylor books (imagine Saw crossed with Harry Potter) and follows with Pullman, sent after Tommy Taylor by a mysterious group, systematically murdering a number of people in horrible ways.

This issue is, just as much as the last one, about playing with the conventions of horror – Pullman says as much during a Scream-like monologue as he begins his wicked hunt – but it adds to it the touch of surreal wonder that Carey has become so adept at blending into his work.  Tommy and the enigmatic Lizzie Hexam dig deeper as we continue to piece together the background of the story even while things fall apart all around the pair, all of which builds up to a relatively shocking final page.

Gross continues to do fantastic work setting up the atmosphere of the book and jumping gears from the macabre to the fantastic.  Especially impressive are the scenes of Pullman’s hunt.  Gross’s figures in action sequences sometimes seem a bit static, but there’s no illustration of that problem in this issue; every action segment is brief, creepy and to the point.

This is a book in which Carey seems driven to make sure we’re never comfortable as it hurtles at a break-neck pace through plot-twists and revelations that many books might’ve drawn on far longer.  In the end, though the issue is creepy and creative, the plotting slowed down significantly, the danger felt hollow, and the whole thing felt far narrower in scope than any previous issue.  Despite those problems, though, it remains an interesting chapter in a story you should all check out.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

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The Unwritten #3

The Unwritten #2

Review: The Unwritten #3

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You may have noticed, but the first two issues of The Unwritten, the new Vertigo series from Mike Carey and Peter Gross, were relatively highly praised by me on this very site.  It’s almost inevitable in a serialized medium that there will be a stumbling block somewhere along the line, an issue that just doesn’t click, but thankfully, The Unwritten #3 not only avoids this curse, but manages to improve and elaborate upon many of the most intriguing elements of the early issues without sacrificing quality in any area.

Tom Taylor, who may or may not be the grown version of fictionalized boy-wizard Tommy Taylor come to life, continues to be drawn into a surreal world while investigating his own muddled past.  Pursued by the mysterious, deadly Pullman, this issue finds Tommy at an infamous mansion – the one he grew up in, yes, but also the mansion in which Mary Shelley first thought up Frankenstein.  Tommy is joined once again by Lizzie Hexam, a graduate student who seems to know more than she lets on, and a circle of horror writers at a weekend retreat to the mansion to discuss the impact of Shelley’s most famous creation on modern horror.  Though this is perhaps the least action-oriented issue of the series so far, Carey does an excellent job setting up the next issue without letting things get dull or repetitive.

Gross continues to be an apt collaborator for Carey.  Though this issue features none of the flashes to the Tommy Taylor books, it does open with a wonderfully illustrated scene from Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Gross can still capture the various shifts in atmosphere of Carey’s books, a skill that Carey used well in this month’s homage to the horror genre.

Carey and Gross have created a number of interesting characters and used them to populate a fascinating story.  This issue sees us branching out just a little from the meta-plot, as it hardly touches on the idea that Tom may be the boy-wizard grown up, but it also gives us an example of the narrative flexibility the premise has, and the deft hand with which the creative teams can pull off the changes of pace.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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The Unwritten #2

The Unwritten #1