Synopsis: Tom Taylor’s life was screwed from go. His father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem is Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom’s real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart, turning him into the lamest variety of Z-level celebrity. In the final novel, it’s even implied that the fictional Tommy will crossover into the real world, giving delusional fans more excuses to harass Tom.
When an enormous scandal reveals that Tom might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a very mysterious, very deadly group that’s secretly kept tabs on him all his life. Now, to protect his own life and discover the truth behind his origins, Tom will travel the world, eventually finding himself at locations all featured on a very special map — one kept by the deadly group that charts places throughout world history where fictions have impacted and tangibly shaped reality, those stories ranging from famous literary works to folktales to pop culture. And in the process of figuring out what it all means, Tom will find himself having to figure out a huge conspiracy mystery that spans the entirety of the history of fiction.
I will be honest. Sometimes when reading The Unwritten, I feel out of my depth. Part of me wonders if it is just my unfamiliarity with the structure of serial comics or if it is just this particular comic. There are so many levels to what is going on in The Unwritten it practically takes a flow chart to keep track of it all. I’ve read volumes 2, 3 and 4 three times now and I finally have a grasp on what the heck is going on.
Having to re-read these comics three times doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, does it? Would you even pick up a novel that I said I had to re-read three times to understand? Hell no, you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t read a novel three times to understand it. That type of novel would have lost me in the first fifty pages. Graphic novels, though, are designed to be read multiple times. An excellent graphic novel will reveal layers to the story in the artwork, layers that are only visible on multiple viewings. The best example of this is in Watchmen by Alan Moore. I don’t necessarily see that visual depth in The Unwritten, but I would argue that what Mike Carey is doing with the story of The Unwritten is much more complex than Moore’s Watchmen. Watchmen was a visual feast. The Unwritten is a literary, mind stretching banquet.
In Inside Man, we get a better idea of what Tom’s abilities are, that he can conjure fictional characters into the real world by reading or telling a story. How he can do that remains to be seen. If you want to compare the character structure to Harry Potter, we meet Tom’s “Ron,” a journalist named Savoy who bribes his way into prison with Tom so he can get the inside scoop. Tom discovers his ruse but quickly forgives him – he doesn’t have that many friends and Savoy turns out to be better than most. But, not better than Lizzie, who gets thrown in jail as well but only so she can bust Tom (and Savoy) out. The only way to do that, though, is for Tom to use his “powers,” powers that he is determined to believe he does not possess. Unfortunately for Tom, his belief in himself means less than the public’s belief in his abilities. If they think Tom can open a portal to another world with an antique glass doorknob, then Tom can do it. Yes, this all sounds fantastical and it is. But, it is also really, really good.
- Paperback: 168 pages
- Publisher: Vertigo (August 17, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1401228739
- ISBN-13: 978-1401228736
Synopsis: Publish or Perish The boy wizard is back!
The fictional adventures of Tommy Taylor are the biggest publishing sensation of the still young century. And now, years after the last volume, Tommy’s creator Wilson Taylor — long missing and believed dead — is unleashing a brand new Tommy Taylor book upon the world.
There’s just one problem: It’s not a new Tommy Taylor book at all.
Sinister forces have created a fake book in Wilson’s name, a fraud designed to destroy his literary legacy — and coax the reclusive author out of hiding so they can destroy him once and for all.
But they didn’t count on Wilson’s most powerful creation: his son, the real Tom Taylor.
To unmask the truth about the new Tommy, Tom must confront some of the darkest secrets that surround him, from the hidden fate of his father to the secret origin of his closest friend to the true nature of his fictional alter ego.
Will Tom be able to stop his doppelgänger’s return? Or will the publishing event of the decade lead to the end of time?
Of these three compilations, Dead Man’s Knock is my favorite because it gives us answers to two questions: Who is Lizzie Hexam and what is Wilson Taylor’s game? First, Lizzie. Is she a mentally unstable orphan or is she the character from Our Mutual Friend made flesh? If the answer is the latter, then there is credence to the idea that Tom Taylor is a fictional character made flesh. If she is the former, then why does she so totally believe in her mission to help Tom and in Tom’s destiny? The answers to these questions also help answer questions about Tom. Tom and Lizzie are human beings, one raised to become a fictional character and one hiding her true identity in the safety of a character from 18th century England. Wilson’s game is still a little foggy, mainly because Tom was so bitter with the reappearance of his long dead father he wouldn’t take the time to listen to what he said.
One of the sections of Dead Man’s Knock is a Pick-a-Story Book that lets the reader choose what Lizzie’s back story is. It was very inventive if irritating to read the first time when I wanted answers, not a cutesy comic. On subsequent reads, however, I gained an appreciation for it.
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Vertigo (March 29, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1401230466
- ISBN-13: 978-1401230463
Synopsis: This fourth volume in the acclaimed series sends Tommy Taylor into the world of Moby-Dick!
After the shocking return of Tommy’s father, best-selling fantasy author Wilson Taylor, the mysterious Cabal audition a new assassin and Tom seeks out “the source.” The source of what? He’s not really sure, but it looks like a whale, and apparently it can be found in the Nantucket farmhouse where Moby-Dick was written. What he finds is a path into a whole different ocean, with more trouble (and more whales) than he could possibly imagine.
I am sure my dislike Moby Dick influenced my dislike of Leviathan. Granted, I haven’t ever been able to finish Moby Dick so to say I don’t like it is disingenuous. I didn’t like what I read, that’s for sure. A general knowledge of Moby Dick will suffice for the reader of Leviathan, i.e. there is a man searching for a white whale, but there was too much time with Tom apart from Savoy and Lizzie. We did get an answer to a big question, though. Tom Taylor realizes, “I exist in the suspension of your disbelief.” What the reader suspected back in volume 2 is confirmed – it is the public’s belief and perception that Tom Taylor is real that gives him the power. So, I guess it stands to reason that if the public ever starts to doubt him, his powers will diminish or evaporate all together. As I stated at the beginning of this review, I have no doubt there is much more to Volume 4 than that one revelation, but that was what I came away with.
What I haven’t mentioned but deserves acknowledgement is how Cary and Gross are shining a light on how fandom, internet culture and instantaneous information can create a worldwide mob personality. The best example of this, since the conclusion of Harry Potter, is Twilight. While the surfing internet is, literally, a solitary occupation, being connected wirelessly to every type of person imaginable at any time creates a virtual mob whose opinions and thoughts are capricious, at best. There will come a time, and probably not too far off, when someone will figure out how to mobilize one of these mobs into real world action. The Occupy movement is the first of such and will one day seem quaint in its idealism and peacefulness. I’m not saying that Team Jacob is going to pick a time and place to throw down with Team Edward and settle their disagreement once and for all. But, the power of the internet will be used for ill in this way. One day. Reading The Unwritten, a tame version of internet culture and how it intersects with the real world should make everyone stop and think. Unfortunately, the only people reading The Unwritten are already very familiar with fandom culture. I doubt many average readers are picking up graphic novels, which is a shame.
I would recommend The Unwritten to anyone that loves books and has an interest in the “other world” of internet fandom. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it to middle schoolers or younger because there is sex and a bit of nudity at the beginning of Volume 4. It is ridiculously tame compared to a more hard-core graphic novel like Fables, but I would wait to introduce teens to it until they are mature enough to handle it and that depends on the person.
- The Unwritten Volume 4: Leviathan (★★★)
- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Vertigo (October 25, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1401232922
- ISBN-13: 978-1401232924