Saturday 23 December 2017

#CBR9 Books 115: "The Unwritten, vol 9: The Unwritten Fables" by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham

Page count: 144 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Tommy Taylor has been separated from his friends and is desperately trying to find a way back to them. He also needs to stop the ancient adversary, Pullman, from killing the legendary Leviathan once and for all, but is waylaid on his journey when the various witches and magical personages of Fabletown attempt to summon the greatest mage the worlds have ever seen, in order to stop the menace threatening their own realms. Tommy is pretty sure he's not the person they're looking for, but it's clear that the remaining (and rapidly decreasing) citizens of Fabletown need all the help they can get, and he's not really in any position to refuse.

Many years ago, I was given the first volume of Fables as a Christmas present by my husband. I read and enjoyed the comic for several years, but eventually got fed up with it not seeming to go anywhere interesting (and Bill Willingham's statements that he didn't really have an end in sight anywhere soon). According to my records, Fables, vol 10: The Good Prince was the last one I read, back in 2008, after having skipped vol 9 altogether (not sure why, but I bet it's because I'd heard negative things about it). I didn't really start reading The Unwritten until 2010, so when discovering that volume 9 of that comic was going to be a crossover with Fables and furthermore that said crossover was disappointing to a lot of long time readers of The Unwritten, I pretty much just stopped reading the comic.

I just checked - it took me 3 years and 8 months between reading The Unwritten, vol 8: Orpheus in the Underworld (early August 2014) until I finally picked up and read The Unwritten Fables (late November 2017). If I hadn't recently seen author Mike Carey at a small fantasy and sci-fi convention in Oslo, talking about the final parts of his series, in addition to the fact that I have a LOT of comic books/graphic novels to get through by the end of December if I want to complete my Graphic novel reading challenge, I may just have let the final three volumes languish unread on the shelves.

Now, since it was so long since I last read about Tommy Taylor, and his friends Lizzie and Richie and all of the others, I didn't feel quite the same annoyance of being taken out of their world and being thrust into the Fables universe, where things have clearly moved on a LOT since I last read that series. A malevolent creature calling himself Mister Dark has brainwashed and married Snow White and is raising her many children, while they keep Bigby Wolf locked up in a dungeon and are systematically trying to wipe out all the remaining Fable characters, with rather a high success rate.

Summoning a great magician is their last hope, and let's just say most of them are not happy when Tommy Taylor shows up instead of some legendary saviour. Meta fiction is always an important part of the Unwritten comics, and there's quite a bit of discussion about what's real and what's fiction and whether our real world, where Tommy originates, is just another work of fiction (which in terms of The Unwritten being a narrative created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross is indeed true), but mostly the six issues collected in this trade are just rather grim and seem to have been an excuse for Bill Willingham (the creator of Fables) to kill off a lot of beloved characters without any serious long-term consequences.

I also much prefer Peter Gross' art style to that of Mark Buckingham, and it was strange to see Buckingham draw Carey's characters. I can absolutely see why this is the lowest-rated of all the volumes in The Unwritten, and don't regret having waited so long to read it. I'm sure it was a lot of fun for the writers and artists to collaborate on a project, but in the end it seemed rather meaningless and more gimmicky than anything else.

Judging a book by its cover: Peter Gross tends to draw really cool covers, and on this one, we get Tommy blowing a golden horn (this is a rather significant story point). The New York cityscape going up in flames suggests the danger to "our" world posed by the happenings in the Fables world, but of all the various covers for this comic, this is not all that remarkable.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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