Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, Kurt Huggins, Al Davison, Russ Braun, Shawn McManus, Dean Ormston, and Gary Erskine

I've had a complicated relationship with The Unwritten, the long-running Vertigo series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.  The first arc or so didn't do much for me, but I stuck with the title out of faith in the creators, and it soon became one of my favourite Vertigo titles.  Somewhere, along the way though, I lost interest in the comic, as it became a little too lost under its own weight.  A disastrous cross-over with Fables (that wasn't actually a cross-over, since it only happened in the one series) followed by a relaunch with a price increase was enough to get me to stop reading the book.

Somewhere in there, this graphic novel was published, but I guess I didn't even notice.  This is an interesting book, clarifying one aspect of the series, and diving into another aspect which has been largely ignored.

This book is split between two stories.  Wilson Taylor, author of the Tommy Taylor books, and father to Tom Taylor, writes in his journal about the first couple of years, when he managed to have his first novel published on the same day as his son's birth.  We learn about how he managed to manipulate his mother into leaving Tom's life, and how he arranged to keep his real son tied in the public consciousness with his fictional son.

The majority of this book tells that story that is in that first Tommy Taylor novel.  We learn about his parents' death, and how he ended up being raised in the kitchen of a school for wizards.  We learn that he doesn't have the 'Spark', the precursor to a magical education, and we meet his close friends.  Eventually, the Conclave, a group of powerful wizards, decide to raise the ship that his parents died on, as they tried to transport wild magic to the school.  Bringing the vessel also brings with it Count Ambrosio, an immortal vampire.  It goes without saying that it's up to Tommy and his friends to save the day.

The dual nature of this story is interesting, but I'm not sure that a reader new to these characters would have much of a clue as to what's going on in the Wilson Taylor sections.  Although there are passing nods to Leviathan, the whale-spirit that lives off fiction in the regular series, no mention is made of the Cabal, or why Wilson is immersing young Tom in a sensory deprivation tank.  Long-time readers are rewarded with this fleshed-out timeline, but I think the Wilson sections of this book would feel inconsequential to anyone else.

The Tommy story is enjoyable, in a YA kind of way.  It does help to understand the bigger picture of this whole series to know Tommy's story, and see how it parallels and differs from the Harry Potter stories that it was clearly roughly based upon.

I found the approach to art in this book pretty interesting.  Peter Gross provided layouts for the whole book, and gave it a consistent look, but the various finishers added their own voices to the mix.  The only pages I found I could identify were Dean Ormston's, as his work is always pretty individual.  This approach worked well to distinguish the Wilson pages from the Tommy ones, and to set apart different sections of Tommy's story.

I'm glad I read this book, and it does have me interested in picking up the last half-dozen or so issues of the second volume of Unwritten.  Carey and Gross do great work together; I just wish this series hadn't gotten so bogged down that it lost me.

No comments: