I read the first volume of Mike Carey and Peter Gross's new Vertigo series The Unwritten a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it enough to order the recently released second volume... but I knew this would be the decider. Sometimes it takes a second drink before you can tell whether you've really got a taste for the liquor... and it seems I'm now officially an addict. Barring a massive drop in quality further down the line, I'm with this title till the end.
Unwritten tells the story of Tom Taylor, the son of legendary author Wilson Taylor and inspiration for the character Tommy Taylor, Boy Wizard, in a bestselling series of Harry Potteresque fantasies. Tom has made a career out of touring geek conventions and posing for photographs with fans until a series of mysterious and deadly events begin to suggest the fictional world of the Tommy Taylor adventures is starting to bleed across into the real world of his day-to-day life. At the end of volume 1, Tom was the only survivor of a massacre at a writers' gathering in Geneva, and with nobody believing his stories of monstrous killers (he kept mention of winged cats to himself) he's now been extradited to a French prison to await trial.
Everyone wants a piece of Tom Taylor - from the shadowy authoritarian thugs who plan to torch the prison to ensure he can't interfere with their schemes to the spooky witch-girl who knows more than she's telling about where reality ends and fiction begins. Then there's the governor of the prison whose children are huge Tommy Taylor fans. And the journalist who's disguised himself as Tommy's cellmate to get the inside story. And Tommy Taylor's "fictional" arch-nemesis Count Ambrosio who's looking for a way across into our world. And Frankenstein's monster. And a mass-murderer who famously bit off the ear of his own defence lawyer. And the soldiers of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (circa 778 AD) who may also haunt the prison. And a flying cat. Don't forget the flying cat.
Carey is telling his story on a huge canvas here, and even two books in it feels like we're still very much in the opening chapter. It draws you in though, and there's a lot to read. Pages are given over to website discussions and news feeds, while prominent supporting characters are given whole issues of back story. And every now and then Carey goes off on a complete tangent, such as the final story in this volume which tells of an angry man who finds himself trapped as a rabbit in a cute Beatrix Potter-style world, desperate to escape and have his revenge on the storyteller who put him there.
Peter Gross has developed into one of comics' best storytellers. He has a very European art style, so I was surprised to discover he's actually an American. He's being given free reign to show off his skills on this book, tailoring (no pun intended) his art to suit specific sequences and showing great skill at making busy pages clean and uncomplicated (Carey often writes 6+ panels with lots of dialogue, but they never seem crowded).
Unwritten: Inside Man has an rrp of £9.99 though I bought my copy on Amazon for £6.23 (it's since gone down to £6.15, so I'm asking Amazon for my 8p back). That's less than a quid an issue for a 7-part storyline that'll take you longer than most equivalently sized graphic novels to read because of the depth of the storytelling. Unwritten it may be... but if you buy this book, I doubt it'll stay unread.