A month removed from last issue’s creative Choose Your Own Adventure experiment, The Unwritten #18 is perhaps the most accessible and straightforward installment of the series to date. For the time being at least, Mike Carey and Peter Gross have set aside the offbeat storytelling techniques and unexplained plot occurrences that have become this book’s trademark. It proves to be an effective move, demonstrating the ability of the creators’ core concepts to stand on their own legs apart from special narrative assistance.
In particular, this issue gives readers some long awaited details regarding the sinister cabal of literati for which the series was named. As conflict bubbles up from within its ranks, we’re treated to a close look at the group’s inner workings, its goals, and its power structure. Not only is the arrival of this information much appreciated for its own sake, but Carey manages to structure the scenes revealing it in such a way as to maximize the suspense of the reading experience. It all comes to head in a parting shot that may very well turn out to become one of the series’ most lasting images.
Running parallel to this is a sequence in which the book’s star, Tom Taylor, seeks to figure out how, exactly, he has previously been able to access the mystic powers written about in his father’s fantasy novels. As in the other half of the issue, the answers are nice, but there’s a bit of a saccharine flavor to Tom’s epiphany that doesn’t match the harder edge of the rest of the issue. Placed elsewhere in the series, I might suspect that Carey is having fun playing with the notion of a literary cliché, but there doesn’t appear to be the necessary sense of irony to support that conclusion.
If there’s another complaint to be had in this issue, it’s probably in the simplicity of the art. Peter Gross has never been the most intricate of pencillers, but the visuals here are basic even by his standards. With last month’s deluxe sized page count, it’s likely that the realities of a print deadline are to blame, and it is admirable that Gross is able churn out his work without a delay. Even so, it would be good to see the illustrations get a bit tighter in the near future.
Whether it’s pushing the envelope of comic book conventions or laying it all out for the audience in an uncomplicated manner, The Unwritten remains a genuine triumph of imagination. After consistently being asked to bend their brain around many a wild idea, readers should enjoy the opportunity this month to take a break and simply be fed.