Impression of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1

[Also read Black Science #3 this week. It’s stepping on the gas, and I’m holding on to the Pillar.]

Despite my current status as an English graduate student, I am hesitant to think too long about what makes stories work, or ascribing to some literary theory. That hesitance is probably partially why I ended up deciding to pursue and MA in rhetoric instead where I could focus on developing ideas about persuasion in language and allow myself to continue worshipping at the altar of stories without having to look under the hood (hell of a mixed metaphor there). When I first encountered The Unwritten series I was intrigued at how, in some way, it seemed like one of the most creative and stunning graduate theses about why humans crave stories. Those early issues were intriguing in a way that few comics are for Carey’s thoughtfulness, and trust in the reader’s ability to play in the abstract world of myth making.

However, I stopped reading the series after the twelfth issue. This halt happened for what occurs too often in the life of a minimum-wage comic book fan- I just couldn’t afford to catch up. I was so behind in the series that purchasing the trades would’ve meant Ramen for some weeks, and I’m just too much of a diva for that. Therefore I put The Unwritten on hold, promising myself that I’d read it someday when the series had ended, or it’s quality began to diminish ala other long-running independent series (Fables is the first to come to mind). Then I saw A.V. Club’s Big Issues column last week where they spotlighted this issue, The Unwritten:Apocalypse #1, as it was the first of the series’ last arc. Even before reading their glowing review, I knew I was going to pick it up this week once I saw the gorgeous cover provided by Yuko Shimizu.

How could you say no?

Seeing that cover came right on time too because I had been thinking last week that perhaps investing time and money in individual comic book issues was not the best use of my very limited resources, but ogling over that cover made me recognize just how amazing reading comics are if done on a month to month basis. In addition to being one of the last remaining artistic mediums in which its appreciators often experience the work around the same time (new comic Wednesday is the Sabbath for many), I can own a copy of the art in the form it was intended to be seen. Whether in my hands while browsing or in a frame on a wall, a comic is the art and not a copy of it. The visual artist produces the art so that it can be seen in this form. The art is the comic book in my hands, and what the artist actually draws is fantastic prep work for something even more incredible. When colored, edited, printed and published then it becomes this-the comic book, and that’s just…wow. You know?

As far as the story inside, Mike Carey immediately sucked me back into the world of Tom Taylor even as its first page starts at the beginning of the universe with images of microbes and DNA shown in conjunction with Carey’s narration about LIFE’s own story being built into “the form of endless loops and spiral proteins.” We then join Tom as he awakens as a beetle in the world of Aesop’s Fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper.’ With no knowledge of what has brought him here, the reader and Tommy are united in their unfamiliarity with this world. Carey and Peter Gross then take us through several worlds of fairy tales, what seem to be Carey’s idea of the basis of all stories, as Tom tries to navigate his way back to the ‘real’ world as he knows it.

In the Beginning…

From world to world Tom is transformed to fit into the new universe’s story. He enters the tale of the Ugly Duckling, and Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland before arriving in Narnia as a mouse where Aslan counsels him on how to find the way home. Throughout his journey, Tom and the reader are both asked to consider the nature of story and whether there is any distinction between the ones made-up on a page and the ones that make-up our everyday lives. Start to end, Gross makes artistic distinctions between these worlds that convey the tone of the world while maintaining such remarkable detail that at points it becomes apparent that Taylor only wants to go home due to a sense of responsibility, and not because he cannot envision a happy life for himself in some of the worlds he traverses.

In the end, Taylor makes it to his world only to find that the world is at an end, ensuring that I continue reading until Carey says the story is over.

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