Pick of the Week

Pick of the Week – 01.25.2012 – The Unwritten #33.5

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283
Pulls
Avg Rating: 4.8
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 12.2%
 
Users who pulled this comic:
Written by MIKE CAREY
Art by PETER GROSS and VINCE LOCKE
Cover by YUKO SHIMIZU

Size: 32 pages
Price: 2.99

I feel guilt sometimes. I take the responsibility of my job to be that I should take the comic book work I think is very good, and talk about it. The thing about that is, sometimes there’s not enough time. In other ways, it just works out that certain work doesn’t get the attention it deserves, just by chance. Maybe I read a wonderful book, but don’t have Pick of the Week that week. Maybe I just can’t figure out the right thing to say about it at the right time. Either way, there are certain books that I really love and respect, but I just feel like I haven’t shed enough spotlight on, and The Unwritten is at the top of that list.

How do we know it’s a good book? For starters, they decided to double ship and number the alternate extra issues with an absurd “.5” designation. There’s only one way to get away with it, and not be scorned mercilessly, and that is to make the books very, very good. In fact, if you wanted to skip the .5 issues, I think they’ve mostly been backstory issues, shedding light on minor characters, as opposed to the main storyline in the “present”. That would be a giant waste, but if you’re really pinching your pennies, I suppose you could get away with it. But The Unwritten has hit some of its highest highs on the diversions and side roads, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Mike Carey is very good. He’s at his best, in my experience, when working on the long form comic stories he’s been doing at Vertigo for years. I couldn’t tell you Carey’s style or genre, but I could tell you that he’s always pushing his imagination and doing things I know I could never think up. His books are unique in the best way. They are literate and entertaining at the same time. They are erudite and just a little crude at the same time. They are both high and low art, and they are always well crafted.

Granted, when you set your story in Prussia in 1740, you might not be for everyone. This issue explores the origin of Madame Rausch, the terrifying supernatural puppet master nun lady who scares the bejeezus out of every other character. It turns out that when she was a child, she had a very rough life. The thing that’s nice about this issue, is that they aren’t pounding you over the head with it. You don’t really know what the story is about or how it pertains to the overall story when you start, or even near the end. Carey gives the reader credit time and again for sticking around and paying attention. As such, it’s not even close to a new reader friendly story, but long form, close-ended narratives are my favorite kind of comics, and Mike Carey is one of the masters of the format. Lucifer was an excellent 75 issue series, and I think he’s gotten better since then. The sheer amount of story Carey crams into the scant amount of pages in this issue is sort of astounding. He covers the doings of this entire village, its richest influential family, the soldiers gearing up for a coming conflict, and more really horrible things than most could fit in 20 pages. It was laid out in such a way that as you went through it, page by page, you learned what was happening (In a comic book, no one sitting next to you prematurely asks what’s going on). It’s also pretty much exactly what I expect from every issue of this series.

Another thing I’ve come to expect from this series is solid art. Peter Gross was Carey’s co-creator on Lucifer, assisted by Ryan Kelly, and these days Gross is still doing the bulk of the storytelling on The Unwritten. This issue was finished by Vince Locke, who you may know as the artist on A History of Violence. The inks tend to just slightly remind me of the woodcut type of illustration you might have seen in centuries past. As the story takes place in the sixteenth century, it’s a subtle bit of accord between the story and art. As always, the storytelling work is exemplary. This is no small accomplishment when you remember that in this issue, we’re introduced to a panoply of new characters. The artists’ job is to keep it all straight, and keep this very different world familiar to us, and engage the reader it the story. It’s done in such a way that most readers won’t even be aware what a feat is being accomplished. That’s the fundamental core of a good comic book artist. It’s not to blow you away with splash pages, but to create a world, tell the story, and make it all seamless to the reader at home. At this point, Carey and Gross are clearly so attuned to each other that it feels effortless. I’m sure it’s not, but that’s the illusion they must maintain.

The fact is, this entire series has been something special. It isn’t the kind of special that grabs you by the throat the way that most big name comics do. It’s the kind of special where you read it, and you’re seeing talented creators doing their very best work. They’re not doing it to meet market demands or get a movie made. They’re working within the form of comic books, and making books no one would ever be sorry to recommend to someone. It stays under the radar largely because of its subtle quality, which isn’t historically rewarded by the comics market, but thanks to dedicated readers, and Vertigo Comics, they’re getting to tell this story, and everyone who reads it is better for it.

Josh Flanagan
And that’s how you make a scary puppet lady.
josh@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. Really love this series. Read trades 4 and 5 over the weekend. It just gets better every issue. This sort of story is what makes Vertigo so important.

  2. Agreed. This is an incredible issue. It was very hard to read, but incredibly well done. This is a wonderful example of why Vertigo (and similar publishers) need to exist.

    I also feel that the “background” issues of Unwritten have exceptional.

  3. Been reading this series in trades and absolutely love it. Looking forward to this one too.

  4. This really is one of the best on going series out there. I hope Carey isn’t ending the book soon because thats the feeling I get with the story lately.

    • I do too.

    • I remember reading an interview where Carey and Gross stated that the Leviathon arc was the beginning of Act II of the overall story. My guess is that the War of Words will change the story drastically. Similar to how after Dead Man’s Knock the book went from and interesting take on a Harry Potter-esque character and the power of storytelling, to a book about the nature of stories and how they shape(ed) our world and history/future. That said, I will be happy either way because this is such a great book. Awesome pick Josh.

  5. I just picked up all the trades this past weekend. I am on book 3 and loving this story. I feel like it gets better with every turn of the page. This book has a lot of crass but at times also displays a sensitivity to its characters that is rarely felt in other stories. Simply a great read.

  6. I feel like I’ve missed out on this series. But I gave it the good old try several times even getting the first seven issues at one point. But I just couldn’t get into it…..Now maybe is a good time to try it again since it’s been several years since then.

    My POTW was Fantastic Four. Galactus, Celestials, and all out war; Hickman is writing some good FF right now.

    • @TNC Go to a decent library & pick up the first few trades. The first & second arcs didn’t grab me, but the third trade is where things begin to really pick up. By the fourth, it really is a great title. (Not something I think I’d ever read in single issues, mind you. Just that kind of book/storytelling.)

  7. One of the only series I’ve been reading since tracking down the first issue soon after it came out – and which I read first whenever it is on my stack. One of my favorite series of the moment.

    Back a few shows ago however you guys forgot to mention The Unwritten when you were talking about Vertigo series!

  8. I have been reading since issue 1. It is still my favorite comic series.

  9. Loved the Carey stuff I’ve read. I need to mention this book to my indy comics friend.

    My POTW was Morning Glories (does anyone else still read this?), but I finally finished reading all the Fear Agent trades this week too. Thanks for making me read it. Volume 5 ends at the best/worst place possible and Volume 6 doesn’t come out for a million years. ReeeeMEEEENDEEERRR!!!!!!! <—fistshake

  10. Does anyone else get the feeling that Carey is poking fun at the Marvel .1 issues with this recent numbering? Like, in a story about storytelling & technicality, he’s saying, “Hey duncecap, if a number is inbetween two whole numbers, it should be .5 not .1 – and here’s how you do that gimick right anyway!” (I haven’t read these issues yet [trade-waiter], so maybe I’m not getting some nuance, but that’s how it seems to me.)

  11. I thought issue #24 with Mr. Bun and the staircase was the best single issue from 2011.

    The main story is good. Much of the back and side story stuff is great.

  12. I jumped on due to the unbelievable art and fell in love with the storytelling. It’s nice to read a book that allows you to feel okay being an intelligent person who enjoys comics books. Don’t get me wrong, I love my two page battle splashes, BUT, like Sandman, it is nice to feel like its okay to read a comic book in public and not be ashamed to be in your thirties doing it. I also feel like the book is nearing the final act. Damn shame.

  13. Secret avengers 21.1 is my pick. A great jumping on point

  14. This issue was a punch in the nuts, but it was fantastic. Unwritten is certainly hitting its stride now, and it’s become one of my top books.

  15. Great review. I absolutely love the Unwritten. What truly makes the overall story unique is that the side stories, that generally take a small dive in quality, have been incredible. Vertigo really has been putting out a lot of POTWs for me, from Unwritten to American Vampire and Sweet Tooth.

  16. Potential new readers: go for it! This was my first issue of The Unwritten—I don’t even know what the series is about, really—and I absolutely loved it. Admittedly, I tend to be okay with a little confusion and generally don’t know much about the history of the titles I do read regularly. But as Josh suggested in his review and others have noted in the comments, one need not know how this issue fits into the series to evaluate its artistic merit: its unique, thoughtful construction will give you much to think about and even more to appreciate.

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