Vertigo's "The Unwritten" blurs the literal and the fantastic while revering the power of words

Those who follow comics will be familiar with the team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross, whose previous collaboration birthed the strange soap opera of Lucifer, a series that depicted everyone's favorite fallen angel in his travels through our realm and several others (his passport is understandably well-stamped). Their newest series, The Unwritten, combines some of the loftier trends in the medium with a narrative well-suited to our particular moment.

The story concerns Tom Taylor, whose father wrote a series of magic-based, wildly popular novels about a young wizard named Tommy Taylor--and then promptly disappeared from the face of the earth after a series of strange, violent events. Tom finds himself working the convention circuit fielding questions from obsessed fans, until one of the more deranged readers tries to kill him. Tom escapes, only to be revered as a sort of messiah by many among the millions who have grown up reading his father's novels.

So, yeah, there's a good reason this book's subtitle is Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity. Midway through the story's initial arc, a couple emerges to declare that they are Tom Taylor's real parents, and that the entire life he remembers was a hoax in order to further his dad's obscure aims. And there's a homicidal madman following Tom's every step, dispatching a few novelists along the way before warming up to the main event of (presumably) eviscerating our hero.

The stories in The Unwritten first appeared as monthly comic books, but as is almost always the case with exceptional series, it's more gratifying to sit down and cut through great swaths of stories in a single go. The trade-off is that a monthly comic isn't (necessarily) designed to be a gratifying graphic novel experience, and all sorts of subplots and ambiguous elements either will or will not be resolved in the future--should you choose to stick with it and read future editions.

I will, in my case. Carey and Gross are picking up the baton first wielded by Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, as well as Grant Morrison's mind-blowing The Invisibles. This series is about the power of words to alter reality, both in the sense of a massively read book and the warping effects of perception and reality and how the written word can steer their course. The book has a spiky, unsettled feel, much like the restless apprehension that one's own life could be altered with a single phrase (they used to call them incantations).

The Unwritten (Book 1) by Mike Carey and Peter Gross is published by Vertigo (DC Comics), 2010, $9.99.

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