REVIEW: The Unwritten #40

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In a world controlled by the narratives in the collective unconscious, what happens when the main story ends? In the aftermath of Tommy’s final battle with Pullman, who will pick up the pieces and can this book continue to raise Harry Potter Fan Fic to an artform?

THE UNWRITTEN #40
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colors: Chris Chuckry
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously in The Unwritten: Stories have magical power to shape the world and a secret cabal has been controlling the world by controlling the stories: fiction, news, propaganda. Tommy Taylor was indoctrinated by his author-father to straddle the line between fact and fiction so he could use his power over both to overthrow the cabal. And that should have been that, but the “final” battle left the a power vacuum and a new cult leader is looking to step in to take control of the narrative.

ON A HIPPIE TRAIL, HEAD FULL OF ZOMBIE

This issue begins with all the players in transit to the climactic scene of the story arc, which happens to be a theater in Australia. Undercover detective Didge Patterson is riding a flying unicorn to try and stop cult-leader Pastor Filby who is plotting to disrupt Tommy’s spoken-word performance with a nuclear bomb. As you do.

Tommy is finally back in his own book (Didge has been the main protagonist for this arc), and really makes an entrance, showing that he has learned the lessons of his prior trials and adventures. This is a more mature, confident and capable Tommy than we had been reading about for most of the run but in a way that makes sense given what we have seen him go through. The danger is that Tommy has learned so much of the lessons of the story that he is in danger of becoming just a mouthpiece for the author. That may be why the focus of the title has shifted to new characters like Didge who still have a lot to learn.

The current story arc concludes in this issue and I’m torn about the actual climax. Pastor Filby is trying to force Tommy into following a narrative that fits the pastor’s own purposes, but ironically Tommy refuses to be a part of the expected story. Filby’s plans and motivations are more interesting on a meta-level than an actual reading experience level. It’s like they introduced a fascinating villain then have him fall to his death because his shoes were untied. I can see how the final fight not ending with the expected bang was part of the point, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the whimper that we were left with.
The story does provide a different bang when Tommy follows up the confrontation with Filby with two full pages of story-magic (to be fair, not a term used in the comic). If you’ve been reading Unwritten, particularly the part when he time-travels to Nazi Germany to battle a book of anti-Jew propaganda (and how could you not with a description like that?), then the story-magic scene is powerful and impressive. If you haven’t, then I fear that the scene is unintelligible. You could tell what emotions are supposed to be evoked, but not sure why. Even the narrator on these pages refuses to try to describe what is going on.

GHOSTS APPEAR AND FADE AWAY

Artist Peter Gross knows exactly what he’s doing, as befits a book that’s had the same co-creator/artist from the beginning. It’s not eye candy, but that wouldn’t fit the tone of the story. The style reminds me of the old pre-code crime and suspense comics but with the benefit of modern printing technology and colors. You can tell from the art what any given character is thinking, even the unicorn and that’s tough to pull off.

The panel layout varies greatly from page to page guiding your eyes to the important elements and changing the tone and pace of the story as appropriate. I tend to go on about this, but how the images are arrayed plays a huge part in how well a story is told. It is like the difference between being told a joke by a professional comedian or by a 5-year-old. Even with the same elements, delivery can be the key. Gross delivers masterfully and seemingly effortlessly.

THE BOTTOM LINE: STREWTH, I’D GIVE IT A BURL

Until I started writing this review, I didn’t appreciate how weird this title really is. That’s because it does such a good job of staying internally consistent and drawing you into the characters. So, even though I think it could be better, I give it a solid 3 stars–A decent enough issue with fabulous ideas that are under-developed. I’m curious to see how much more can be done in this setting before the title ends, but in a way that has me eager for the next issue.

Rating: ★★★☆☆