Comic Book Review: The Unwritten #1

The Revolution was not going to get The Unwritten #1 at first. For the most part, I have never been attracted to Vertigo titles. And, while Mike Carey is a good writer, he is not one of the writers that I purchase their work no matter the genre or characters in the title. Then I saw that this issue had a cover price of just $1.00. Hey, I had to give this issue a chance for such a cheap cover price! Let’s hope that The Unwritten #1 delivers the goods. Let’s hit this review.

Creative Team
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross

Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with the final scene from one of Wilson Taylor’s books about boy wizard Tommy Taylor and his two friends, Peter Price and Sue Sparrow. (Think Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.) The book’s big villain, Count Ambrosio (Lord Voldemort) is about to blow the golden trumpet a seventh time and end the world. Luckily, Tommy, with his dying breath, casts a spell that turns Ambrosio to stone. Peter looks at the trumpet and wonders if the prophecy that “When the horn sounds, he will pass beyond the veil and legend, and live again.” is true. Peter then took the trumpet and blew the final note.

We cut to Tom Taylor signing the afterword of the book “Tommy Taylor and the Golden Trumpet.” Tom Taylor is at a Tommy Taylor convention signing books. Tom Taylor is the son of Wilson Taylor, the author of the Tommy Taylor books. Rupert Swope, Tom’s agent, is also present at the signing. We learn that Wilson Taylor mysteriously disappeared a while back.

Tom leaves the signing table and complains to Swope that he is tired of the convention circuit. Swope reminds Tom that this is steady money. We learn that Tom has been a failure at acting and could not even get the part of playing himself in the Tommy Taylor movies. Tom begs Swope to do something to save his dignity and get him out of the convention circuit. Swope replies that he is running out of options. That Tom has failed as an actor, a novelist and as a jazz trumpeter. That nothing seems to stick.

We then see Tom arriving at a discussion panel at the Tommy Taylor convention. Tom fields some questions from various fans. We learn that Tom is not rich because his dad’s estate has been tied up in some complex blind trust. We learn that Tom has felt like he has lived his life as his father’s test tube experiment since his dad patterned Tommy Taylor after him.

We then see a crazy person dressed like Count Ambrosio asking Tom about how Tom managed to defeat him the book “Tommy Taylor and the Last Gorgon.” Tom whispers to Swope that it is the same insane fan that has been showing up at all of the various conventions. Security then shows up and pulls the fan out of the room. The fan stammers that he is sorry.

A girl named Lizzie Hexam stands up and asks Tom what his real identity is. Lizzie says that Tom’s National Insurance number belongs to an old lady who died in 1998. Swope steps in and says that the discussion panel is over and that Tom has to leave. Swope tells Tom to smile and wave as he pushes Tom off the stage.

We cut to Swope and Tom at a bar having drinks. Tom is embarrassed over what happened at the discussion panel. Swope counters that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Swope gives Tom some money and tells him to get drunk.

Swope leaves the bar and gets on his cell phone. Swope tells the mysterious person he is calling that he assumes the person heard about what happened at the discussion panel. Swope says that they should act on it right now or else the media will run with it. That the newspaper headlines would “spoil all of our fucking breakfasts.”

We cut to the newspaper headlines the next morning. The newspapers are reporting that Tom is really the son of the Drasics and his name is Thomas Drasic. That the couple “loaned” their son to Wilson Taylor so that he could be used in photo shoots with William. The Drasics claim that William reneged on the deal and refused them visitation rights with Thomas.

We see a huge angry mob of protestors outside of Tom’s hotel. They are mad that Tom is a fraud and has been playing with the public’s heart all of these years. Tom complains that he is sick of being a fictional character, but that he does not want to be the “star of national hate week” either.

A maid with a cart of food enters Tom’s hotel room. Tom realizes that it is Lizzie from the discussion panel yesterday. Lizzie apologizes for the mess that she has made. Lizzie urges Tom to take the initiative and do some interviews. Tom says he is going to lie low and let all of it blow over. Tom tells Lizzie to leave and find another person whose life she can fuck up. Tom pushes Lizzie out of the hotel room and shuts the door.

We shift to one week later with an angry crowd outside of a video game store where Tom is present to do a signing for the new Tommy Taylor video game. The video game store owner tells Tom to leave and that he does not want the angry crowd to destroy his store. Tom and Swope leave the store through the back door. Tom and Swope walk through London and Tom proceeds to point out all of the various buildings and streets that were used by various authors in their novels.

We learn that Wilson Taylor used to quiz Tom on the literary geography of various cities. The places that authors used in their books. Swope then tells Tom to go lock himself into his hotel room and get drunk. That in a couple of days they will be in New York City and that they love Tom there in New York.

We shift to a news report talking about Tom Taylor and the scandal surrounding him not being the son of Wilson Taylor. The news reports talk about how Wilson Taylor was never comfortable with the fame that his Tommy Taylor books brought him. That Wilson moved to Villa Diodati and lived a reclusive lifestyle. Then Wilson mysteriously disappeared.

The news report then interviews a man named Lucas Filby who lives in Auckland and is the president of a Tommy Taylor fan club. Filby rants that Tom Taylor has no past because he was not born of this world. Filby tells everyone to read the poem in the afterword to “Tommy Taylor and the Golden Trumpet” which says that “He will come to you.”

Filby raves that Tom Taylor is Tommy Taylor made flesh. That Tom Taylor is the messiah. That Tom is the word made flesh. Filby yells for everyone to give Tom their prayers and worship.

We cut to Tom and Swope watching the news interview with Filby. Swope gives Tom plane tickets to Pianosa, a small secluded island off the Tuscan coast. Swope tells Tom to stay there until Swope comes for him. Tom says that he has just wanted to get Tommy from around his neck and just be himself. Tom thanks Swope for everything. Tom hugs a surprised Swope and then leaves.

Tom walks to the lobby of the building when he is hit on the head from behind. We see the fan who looks like Ambrosio standing there over the unconscious Tom.

We slide over to the Globe Theater with Tom waking up and finding himself tied up while the fan who looks like Ambrosio is busy building a small bomb. Ambrosio rants that they are calling Tom a messiah. Ambrosio says that he came over and no one knew him. Ambrosio claims to be the Count Ambrosio from the Tommy Taylor books. Ambrosio comments that the world will know him now. Ambrosio yells that the world is a stage.

Ambrosio turns on his web-cam and says that everyone will see him kill Tom with his nail bomb that will tear Tom apart. Ambrosio says that the web-cam is hooked into every single Tommy Taylor fan-site so that they can watch Tom die. We cut to a bunch of Tommy fans across the globe watching the scene with terror and disbelief.

We then see a shadowy figure of a female watching the scene on her computer. She calls Swope and says that it is happening right now. That it is everywhere.

We cut back to the Globe Theater and see that the police have surrounded the theater. We see Lizzie arrive on the scene and sneak past the police and into the Globe Theater. We cut to Tom telling Ambrosio that the Tommy Taylor books are just stories and are not worth dying for.

Ambrosio says tell that to the Greek soldiers who fought at Troy. Or the women who were burned as witches. Or the Rosenbergs. Sacco and Vanzetti. Or the martyrs of all religions who fell in war. Ambrosio screams that stories are the only things worth dying for.

Lizzie enters the scene and disconnects the web-cam. Ambrosio calls Lizzie “Sue Sparrow.” Ambrosio hits Sue. Tom then breaks one of his arms free from the rope and then kicks Ambrosio. Ambrosio falls into the nail bomb which then goes off and kills Ambrosio.

Sue then sprays Tom with some knockout gas and then takes a knife and cuts up Tom’s clothes so it looks like he got hit by the nail bomb as well. Sue says that she messed up real bad last time, but that she has one more chance to make things right.

We cut to Tom in a hospital bed. Swope is in the room and they are watching the news report about how Tom was found in the Globe Theater and that he was completely unharmed from the bomb that exploded. This just fuels the belief that Tom is Tommy Taylor brought to life and is the messiah. The nurse brings in another huge bag of fan mail and then asks Tom if he could give her a blessing spell. Tom tells Swope that he is never going to be free of this.

We cut to a large gothic library. We see a mysterious man talking with a man named Mr. Pullman. Pullman barks that they should have killed Tom when they had the chance. The mysterious man tells Mr. Pullman to be quiet. That he is telling Pullman a story and if Pullman does not listen then he won’t know how it ends.

The man continues telling a story about a spoiled boy who got lost in drugs, alcohol and insane binges. Then one day the boy quarreled with the father and the father disappeared. This lead the boy down a path of his own destruction. A tragedy in one act. The man hands Pullman a container of prescription meds and the statute of Tommy Taylor that Ambrosio hit Tom on the head with when he kidnapped Tom earlier.

Pullman says that it is actually a fantasy. The last in a series. And that it is the only one that anybody is going to remember. End of issue.

The Good: The Unwritten #1 was an interesting look into the world of fiction as reality. The Unwritten is a story based on a fictional set of books that examines the world of fiction and how it shapes and influences our “real” world. And at times, the lines between what is real and what is fiction can get blurred. Carey uses the fictitious set of books about Tommy Taylor as the foundation for this story. Obviously, the Tommy Taylor books are based on the wildly popular Harry Potter books.

The result is an incredibly complex and dense story that captivates the reader’s imagination from the very start. Carey manages to cram so much detail into this one issue. I am duly impressed with Carey’s remarkable attention to detail in crafting such an intricate story that has so many mysterious wrapped up inside of it.

And what is most surprising and enjoyable about The Unwritten #1 is that despite the fact that this is an issue full of narration and dialogue with huge chunks of prose inserted into it; there are absolutely no wasted words at all. There is no extraneous dialogue or narration. Every word in this issue was carefully crafted and placed in this issue for a purpose.

This requires the reader to read this story quite carefully in order to pick up everything that Carey is trying to tell us. The Unwritten #2 has so much substance to it that it demands a second or third reading in order to absorb all of the various details. And this issue is certainly just as good with the second or third reading as it was with the first.

Carey also demonstrates some fantastic research in writing this story. I love the literary themes that Carey plays with in this issue. The fact that Wilson Taylor would quiz Tom on the literary landscape of the world is a fascinating concept. And it helps to further the goal that Carey has of blurring the lines between reality and fiction to the point where the reader can no longer distinguish between the two. Taylor is seemingly unable to stop himself from only seeing the literary landscape of every city that he visits. It is as if it is the only lens that Taylor can view the “real” world.

And the concept of the literary landscape of our world fits nicely with the theme of stories and the power that they have on our reality. Ambrosio’s rant hammers home the point that throughout existence the power of stories has impacted the course of history as much as anything “real.”

Carey references the Rosebergs. That would be Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg who where American communists who were executed in 1953 after having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. The charges were in relation to the passing of information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Their execution was the first time in U.S. history that civilians were executed for espionage charges.

Carey also references Sacco and Vanzetti. That would be Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti who were executed August 23, 1927. Both men were two Italian-American anarchists who were tried, convicted and executed on August 23, 1927 in Massachusetts for the 1920 armed robbery and murder of a pay-clerk and a security guard in Braintree, Massachusetts. Their trial was notoriously corrupt with anti-Italian, anti-immigration and anti-labor sentiments and is one of the most obvious examples of a rigged trial in America.

Carey also dips into history with the setting for where Wilson Taylor lived in seclusion: Villa Diodati. Villa Diodati was the summer residence of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Dr. John Polidori in 1816. The events at Villa Diodati where the basis for the classic horror stories Frankenstein and The Vampyre were laid. Villa Diodati, the birthplace for two popular works of fiction, is the perfect setting for a mysterious writer like Wilson Taylor who somehow managed to make his work of fiction come to life.

Carey does a fine job setting up the story and kicking it off at a proper pace. Carey wastes no time introducing all of the main characters and the setting for The Unwritten. I appreciate that Carey did not hide the ball with the fact that Tom Taylor is really Tommy Taylor. Some writers would have drug this out over the course of the first several issues. That would not have been necessary.

The fact that Tom is really Tommy made flesh is not the interesting part of the story. The interesting part is the how and the why. And that is the present mystery that is captivating the reader’s attention with the end of The Unwritten #1.

The Unwritten #1 is a technically well done issue. Carey crafts excellent dialogue and narration in this issue. Carey impressed me with his use of imagery, use of language and the way that he constructs the various scenes. This is a level of writing that I simply was not expecting from Carey. This is an incredibly intelligent and cerebral story that reads more like a piece of literature than a mere comic book.

Tom is a good protagonist. Tom is obviously a guy who is down on his luck. He has struck out in every attempt to create his own identity and career. Tom is frustrated having to live the life of Tommy Taylor and not his own. Tom is understandably tired of the life of going to an endless series of Tommy Taylor conventions and putting up with your typical fanboys and fangirls.

Tom is a character that the reader can easily sympathize with. And even though Tom complains about his lot in life, he does come across as a generally likeable fellow. He is never mean-spirited even when dealing with annoying fans.

Of course, any good story needs several intriguing mysteries. And Carey certainly creates several of them. First, we have the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Wilson Taylor. Then we have the mystery surrounding Swope. There is much more to Swope that we currently know. We saw Swope on his cell phone talking to an unknown person about Tom’s true identity. And we saw an unknown woman calling Swope and discussing Tom’s true identity. I am curious to learn more about Mr. Swope.

We also have the mystery surrounding Lizzie actually being Sue Sparrow and what exactly her mission is in our reality. And, of course, we have the main mystery surrounding Tom Taylor and if he is indeed Tommy Taylor. If Tom Taylor is in fact the word made flesh. And speaking of that, I liked the addition of the Tommy Taylor cult. It adds a nice level of fanaticism to the story. The fact that Tommy would be viewed as a messiah makes sense. After all, all religions are belief sets based on stories.

The final scene was well done. Count Ambrosio gets killed. Lizzie is revealed as Sue Sparrow and admits that she has failed Tommy before and is trying to make up for it. That was quite a stunning final scene. I was not expecting Ambrosio to get killed off so quickly. Of course, we don’t know if Ambrosio is gone for good. I am curious to learn more about Sue and how she failed Tommy before. I am also interested to see where Sue fits into the puzzle that Carey has created with this story.

Carey ends The Unwritten #1 with a mysterious one page scene involving a mysterious man and another man named Mr. Pullman. This was a fine way to end the issue and hook the reader into wanting to come back for the next issue in order to learn more about what Carey is brewing with this story.

At the end of this issue, Carey inserts a cool bonus page with the post-it notes from Wilson Taylor’s desk. This page is packed full of cryptic hints, clues and teasers to the reader. It is similar to Rip Hunter’s blackboard in 52.

The Bad: Peter Gross is a talented artist. However, I simply do not like his style of art. The art was boring and lacked detail. I found this issue to be incredibly dull and drab looking. Having said that, while I do not think that the art adds anything to the reading experience, it certainly does not get in the way of the story.

Overall: The Unwritten #1 was a fantastic read. Carey has created a title that has tremendous potential. This is an intelligent and well written comic book. No, this issue will not appeal to action fans, but I think that it would appeal to most other readers. And the best part of The Unwritten #1 is the price: $1.00. Seriously? A $1.00 comic book is a rare find. And add on top of that the fact that this is such a good read.

Look, you can either blow $4.00 on an issue of New Avengers that has as much substance as a ball of navel lint. Or, you can spend just $1.00 on The Unwritten #1 and get a complex and intriguing story that warrants several readings. I definitely recommend running to your local comic book shop and picking up an issue of The Unwritten #1.

4 thoughts on “Comic Book Review: The Unwritten #1

  1. I think you have your ratings backwards….you gave the story a 4 and the artwork a 9.

    Shouldn’t those be reversed?

  2. Not bad. When I first heard about this, I immediately thought I would like it. And surprise, surprise, I did. Glad you did as well.

  3. Not bad good artwork.

    Read a great new sporting comedy, entitled Classes Apart.
    This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. The team had previously been known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

    During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and they embark on an epic journey.

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