Posted by Don MacPherson on May 13th, 2009
The Unwritten #1
“Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity”
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Colors: Chris Chuckry
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artist: Yuko Shimizu
Editor: Pornsak Pichetshote
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $1 US
The $1 cover price is a solid promotional approach for this new series. The Vertigo brand doesn’t turn as many heads as it did when it debuted 16 years ago, so anything DC Comics can do to attract attention to a new series is a smart move. What attracted my attention to this comic on the shelves of my local comic shop was the fact that there more copies of this comic than any other among the new releases. I took a closer look and discovered the price. I grabbed a copy without even glancing inside or inquiring about the premise. I’ll check out any professionally crafted comic for a buck, especially one written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross. As strong as the storytelling is in this comic book, if the series succeeds, it’ll be due in no small part to this cheap cover price.
Tom Taylor is famous, even beloved, by the world. His father authored a series of fantasy novels that are such a sensation, it makes Harry Potter seem like an obscure footnote in pop culture. The Tommy Taylor books remain a phenomenon, even after Wilson Taylor’s disappearance years ago. Unable to access the fortune being generated by the books, Tom Taylor is forced to eke out a living through convention and retail appearances, but that comfortable life is derailed when a young woman discovers and reveals that Tom Taylor may not be who he believed he was. With his identity in doubt and fans across the world calling for his head, that’s when Tom Taylor’s world really starts to get weird and dangerous.
Peter Gross has been something of an unsung mainstay of the Vertigo brand. He worked on The Books of Magic series, and he worked on Lucifer. Both were reliable performers for the imprint and produced a lot of collected editions, but neither was a bonafide hit either. My hope — if only for Gross’s sake — is that The Unwritten is the book that really garners the artist a lot of attention. With this issue, he demonstrates, as he’s done before, that he can handle the everyday and the fantastic with great skill. He captures the crowded chaos of a con perfectly, but the fantasy elements look appropriately lovely or horrific, depending on what the scene calls for. His work here reminds me a little of that of Cliff Chiang’s, and those who enjoy that artist’s efforts will no doubt appreciate what Gross has to offer.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the script is the cult that arises to worship Tommy Taylor. I’ve always found the notion of that worship can evolve (or devolve, depending on your perspective) from infatuation to be interesting. Roger Stern explored similar territory in various Superman comics in the 1980s and ’90s, and here, we see love for a cherished pop-culture icon perverted by zealots or perhaps the mentally ill. Zealotry in general is fascinating and frightening, and Carey delves into it quite cleverly here.
Carey explores the culture of the fan convention quite effectively in the opening scene. As a comics creator, it’s a culture with which he is intimately familiar, no doubt. I rather enjoyed the fact that the focus isn’t on how weird the fans are or demanding, just that it’s a tiring experience in which professionals or personalities participate out of necessity rather than for their own enjoyment. Carey could have easily fallen into the trap of portraying all of the fans as pathetic, but he takes a rather even-handed approach to such events that were once on the fringe of pop culture. The writer also wisely acknowledges that this premise is inspired by the recent boom in popularity of various fantasy book series — such as Harry Potter, Twilight and the like — in the script itself.
Thematically, The Unwritten has a lot in common with Bill Willingham’s Fables, and fans of that title will no doubt appreciate what writer Mike Carey offers up in this comic. Ultimately, The Unwritten is about the power of stories and how they can evolve into something much more than a piece of fiction designed to entertain. Of course, the metaphor of the literal power of stories is nothing new for DC’s vertigo imprint. Its flagship title, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, explored the same theme as well. Fortunately, while the same theme keeps popping up in this corner of comics publishing, the various creators aren’t just reiterating what’s come before. The Unwritten feels fresh and doesn’t disappoint. This book has the potential to be Vertigo’s Next Big Thing, and with two of the imprints stalwarts coming to an end in the past year (Y: The Last Man and 100 Bullets), it’s about time for another strong series. 9/10