Tag Archives: review

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #5

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Synopsis
This single-issue story interlude, “When Rabbit Howls” stars reader-favorite character Pauly Bruckner. Sometimes it’s hard to be a man – especially if all your recent experience is of being a rabbit. Pauly is back, and having his wishes come true may be just the start of his problems.

Story
After the end of its first arc, The Unwritten: Apocalypse pauses for an issue to look at the character that wasn’t intended to be: Pauly Bruckner, ex-regent of hell, ex-murderer, ex-rabbit – currently in the middle of a severe identity crisis, and adjusting to his new, uncomfortable reality.
An uncomfortableness that he realises is not due to the post-literary world outside, where a murderer can thrive, and in fact, does, very easily at that. But there is something bigger, something triggered by the outside that brings up what is simmering inside of him. And he speaks to may-or-may-not-be-there Dr Wise Old Owl, sometimes quite uncomfortably moving for the reader.
Writer Mike Carey gives us a fascinating look at Pauly’s character, in a very different vein from what we’ve seen before from him as Mr Bun in Willowbank, on the Staircase or even in Hell. And he gets his voice perfectly, really revelling in the non-filtered language, attitude and colourful turns of phrase of this bad bunny.

Art
The artwork, taking a leaf from The Unwritten OGN, Tommy Taylor and The Ship That Sank Twice, is taken care of by both Peter Gross and Al Davison, respectively on the layouts for the full book, the ‘narrator’ perspective that opens and closes the issue (and one of the most unsettling brown owls I have seen in a while), and on Pauly’s tale in between. And believe me, if Carey got the voice right, Davison does wonders with the looks. Between some truly creative panelwork to finish Gross’ layouts in the narrated flashback and some gruesome sequences, Pauly’s murderous nature finds a fitting outlook on the page. And Gross’ sections does not shy away either, with an excellent rabbit-to-human tranformation early on.
The transition between the two sections is made almost seamless by Chris Chuckry’s excellent soft hues of colour, keeping the grainy, gritty, worn-out look on most of the characters, Pauly and Wilson Taylor in particular. Only a couple of effects for Todd Klein’s lettering work to really shine trough, but the jagged title and coda fonts really capture the tone of the book.
In addition, the hauntigly beautiful cover by Yuko Shimizu is.. well, haunting, and beautiful. There are echoes of the first one of the Apocalypse run, but with Pauly’s trying to painfully emerge from the rabbit shell, trapped and tied to a tree by a thin, blue ribbon. Read in it what you will, before and after the story inside.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
As far as interludes go, I’m not sure this was really an interlude. The issue does pause and look at Pauly’s troubled mind, wishes and identity, but, much like the Mme Rausch appearances in #4, he is being set up for something promisingly very big, and stunningly so with Al Davison’s visual work. I have the distinct feeling that Carey and Gross are playing with their characters (and readers), some of whom in particular are playing with all the others, as the messed-up chessboard is slowly but steadily being laid out. Bruckner is going to return even less in control of what he thinks he is and wants, and Dr W.O.O. is.. you’ll have to find out, won’t you?

(Meanwhile Leviathan, quietly, watches.)

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #5 is now available in shops and digitally here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #4

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Synopsis
“War Stories,” part 3 of 3. Sometimes the closest thing you can find to a friend is your enemy’s enemy. But when Tom tries to enlist the help of Madame Rausch, he discovers that she’s already fighting a war of her own.

Story
The final part of the first story arc of The Unwritten‘s ending rolls in, not concluding the arc at all, but rather setting up the mayhem that is sure to ensue. The Unwritten: Apocalypse #4 brings us back to Wilson’s place, with Bruckner, Miri’s ghost, Wilson himself and the five main characters discussing (or trying not to discuss) plans to take down Pullman and restore (a) reality.
But Tom will have nothing of that, nor will Bruckner or Cosi or Leon, and Wilson is told what he deserves to hear – as Tom sets by himself to meet the only improbable ally he can think of: Madame Rausch, the third, literal, puppeteer alongside Taylor and Pullman. And what do we find out? Rausch knows things. And she’s on no one’s side but her own – or is she?
Mike Carey once again sneaks in some additional subtext in the section titles, this issue plucked from Lewis Carroll’s long nonsense poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. Something big is brewing in the future of the series, with Rausch quite probably returning to throw some splinters in everyone’s plans.

Art
The artwork that accompanies the issue, especially in the scenes towards and during the Madame Rausch encounter, is some dazzling and dizzying work from Peter Gross, with finished once again by Ryan Kelly. The parallels between Mingus and her tail around Tom’s neck and Rausch’s new ‘pet’ were subtle, but growing by the panel. And the pages leading towards ‘Grandmother’ are mindboggling. In the best way possible.
The colours, a dominance of dark grey and greens for this aftermath from last issue, are Chris Chuckry’s task. And does he know how to add reds and yellows when the situation didn’t know it needed them (and that first dusky sky is amazing). There are also some really nice touches by letterer Todd Klein, in the section titles and captions for different characters and settings, while the rest of fonts rest untouched this time.
The cover is by the fantastic Yuko Shimizu, though flipped with last month’s due to ‘Careylessness’; check that review for a look at it, and bask in the blood-soaked glory of the atavistic Pullman on this one, being and becoming the sacrificial ox of dark, deep red.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
The issue takes a step back from the action-filled conflicts of the previous two parts of ‘War Stories’, replacing the gripping with the chilling. It’s slower, definitely, than the encounter with Pullman and the Rakes. But then, Madame Rausch has always taken her time with things, after all. The dialogue, combined with the artwork in and around the scenes with Madame Rausch in her stronghold, are actually quite terrifying, looking back on the reading. Tom Taylor still believes he is no one’s tool, while being used by everyone around him. An issue of intrigue, strategy, and actually disturbing deals – surprisingly not with the regent of Hell. That will come next month, as we get back to the rabbit that isn’t, Pauly Bruckner.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #4 is now available in shops and digitally here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #3

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Synopsis
Tom discovers just how quickly the world is dissolving into chaos – and why. But where in all this fractured, insane landscape will he find an ally, and what price will he have to pay? The answer lies in the Divadlo Trinka puppet theatre of Prague, and in the old cliché: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.“

Story
Two issues down, third one up. The Unwritten continues in its exploration of what happens when the collective body of fiction dies, and crashes slap bang into reality — all the fictions, in the whole of reality. The Unwritten: Apocalypse #3 marks the second part of ‘War Stories’, and plays around stories in a nice twist. (NOTE: The synopsis makes no sense, actually. The second part is probably what the next issue will focus on, and that would seem appropriate to further solicits. In fact, the covers seem switched, too.)
The crux of the story is the creation (or destruction) of something linked to Leviathan, and Leviathan itself. And yet how the story gets to it, recalling elements seeded in very early issues of the series, playing with literary tropes, myths, genres and fictions is really quite impressive. The use of French for Cosi and Leon was smile-inducing, as it’s nice to see their linguistic ground come through when faced with immediate reactions to happenings around them.
Carey does like to show his literature and music knowledge in the section titles, picking titles of Wilfred Owen poems, a good number of which included in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Just because apparently we did not have enough going on with just sci-fi fighting-machines, Elizabethan armies, zombie nazis and fantasy knights.

Art
Peter Gross really shows some of those skills flaunted in issue one of this run, with finishes by Ryan Kelly for most pages. Especially from the point of ‘The Next War’ section, the splash pages and double spreads are really something to behold. Both him and Carey have written so much in these scenes that it’s impressive he can keep everything under control, but check with previous pages and you can see some of the same characters crop up. And all of that is going on while Danny fights with his own mazed dream-state in the woods, with some dazzling panelwork.
Colours go back to Chris Chuckry alone, and is brilliantly paired with the tone of the particular scene at hand in the story. A prevalence of earthy, red hues in the war scenes, darker tones for the forest, and some seriously creepy colours for the more supernatural (if we can say so) elements/characters. Todd Klein pleasantly delivers some excellent lettering for soundwords with different genre elements, from ray guns to tanks, arrows and fisticufss. And there’s a particularly excellent ‘blaaam’.
Yuko Shimizu’s cover, as it aligns with the synopsis, does not do its usual story capsule in an image – but is still a gorgeous piece of artwork, featuring Madame Rausch. Limbs, branches, skin and bark all echoing each other, as snakes rise from the base of the tree, on a blood-red background.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
Imagine a war just outside your window. Imagine that everyone around you is imagining their own version of that assignment. Now take all of those, and make them happen at the same time, in the space. That is the premise of War Stories. And the reason? We find out in ‘Strange Meeting’. War poetry can be executed fairly badly in popular culture, but the section titles actually work, and show their influence on the text and the reality of The Unwritten; the framework set up last month still holds really well, too, with fictional armies clashing, and the purpose is finally revealed. I continue to be impressed by the work going into this book, and so far (synopsis excluded) it has not disappointed.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #3 is now available in shops and digitally here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #2

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Synopsis
In the ruins of a post-literary world, Richie and Lizzie go in search of their lost friend Tom Taylor. But to find him, they’ll have to venture into the most dangerous place on Earth: London.

Story
If in the previous issue, the first of this ‘second volume’ of The Unwritten, the story was focused on Tom Taylor’s resurrection and return to the so-called, apparently-so real world, The Unwritten: Apocalypse #2 is about what happened to that world in Tom’s absence. And so we return to the rest of the cast, now comprising vampire/journalist Richie Savoy, word-made-flesh Lizzie Hexam, true Tommy fans Cosi and Leon Chadron, an aside on Mr. Armitage, stuck in a limbo of his own, and devious demiurge Wilson Taylor himself.
The latter, and the initial sequence he is a part of, is the section that stands out the most in terms of re-setting the whole story: Mike Carey (and Peter Gross) drop the readers into a ‘post-literary world’  – possibly my new favourite concept – giving very little clue as to what has actually happened, other than “all worlds are now this one”. All of them. Reality and fiction(s) are all one and the same, and navigating through it takes more than just a map.
Carey shows some great knowledge, research and humour in deploying the secondary literary characters in the issue, and carefully re-establishes and shows off Lizzie’s true nature and powers, along with the children’s unwavering faith and strength deriving from it. Never forgetting Taylor’s meddling, tentacled words.

Art
Peter Gross shows off his storytelling, too, through some truly excellent panel work and composition throughout the whole issue. From the Prologue’s twisting borders, to the full page scenes with panels contained and scattered within them, the story Carey’s words tell is captured and ordered (if at all possible). Horrors and references to other artwork are abundant in the panels, creating the shattered scenery of the ‘post-literary’ reality
Colouring duties are split between regular Chris Chuckry and Lee Loughridge (whose work I believe is in the Prologue, splendidly dark with one candle as the sole source of light), and is impressively executed: shifting from the greyness of London to the muted warmth of parchment fire and the character’s clothes, we get a constant dusty feeling about the new reality. Todd Klein had a busy time with the lettering, with a handful of soundwords taking place in later sequences, but mostly flipping between chapter headings, Taylor’s typing, and the odd flying cat meowr.
The cover is, as always, Yuko Shimizu’s creation. And it’s stunning, with its lack of background and triumphant, powerful Lizzie standing among the seeds and thoughts of fiction, ejected from the Book – the cause of the end of the world, and the only thing that can keep it alive.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
The issue does not feel as mind-bendingly and blindingly complex or powerful as the first one, but rather is used to set the scene, and the world in which the series might (unless even more things happen in the first page of #3) take place, in a very careful and twisted way. It can be a slow burner, but by the third read I appreciated all the nuances I could get out of both the artwork and the literary references in the writing. It’s nice to see 17th century literature in a contemporary piece of work, and the conceptual framework is extremely intriguing. A world – all the worlds have just ended and conflated into one; there is bound to be chaos. And there is, indeed, and with it ink and bleeding borders, a seemingly unrelated prologue, and shattered words on the page. Proceed with caution.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #2 is now available in shops and digitally here.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1

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Synopsis
It’s the perfect jumping on point, as Tom Taylor is stranded at the beginning of all creation! Lost in the unwritten scenes of all the world’s stories, Tom Taylor is headed back to reality — and all the gods and beasts and monsters ever imagined can’t stop him. But there’s a toll on the road that may be too high for him or anyone to pay…

Story
When the story arc of The Unwritten Fables, and with it Volume 1, came to a close, the world ended. In fact, all the worlds ended. Fictions, realities, imaginations, readerships, textworlds all finally shattered after a recurring mention and succession of events throughout the series after volume 6, ‘The War of Words’, and throughout volumes 7 and 8, ‘The Wound’ and ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ (released in TPB this month).
And Tom/Tommy Taylor was at the centre of it all. Which is where we find him now, as he is recreated and reimagined from nothingness and words. Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ story brings Tom to different stories of death and renewal, of childhood and innocence, of rebirth, revelations and knowledge – in search of his own identity, he inhabits the dawn of time, Wonderland, Narnia, Aesop’s Fables, The Jungle Book, Rose Cottage and The Hundred Acre Wood, debating whether his own reality is reality at all, and where that knowledge will take him.
Carey’s writing is wonderfully executed, with the highlight found in the palindromic poetic passage in the Narnia scenes, and some perfectly appropriate human reactions from Tom to the mindfuckery going on.

Art
Peter Gross is both co-plotter and artist on the series, and takes the idea of (re)genesis and (re)creation the visual sense as Tom proceeds through the different realities. From the early almost black and white pages which contain a trace of the blue pencilwork beneath the inking, and making the marks more ‘real’ as the story progresses. He imitates other artists’ styles according to the story, too, such as John Tenniel in Wonderland, while keeping elements of his own take.
Chris Chuckry’s colours and lack thereof really made it feel like a creative process in stages, starting from the light sepia tones of the beginnings, gradually shifting into more saturated colours, once again mirroring the style that the story is using as setting. Todd Klein’s lettering, while most Vertigo readers will be used to by now, has some really creative solutions in the different sections, especially in the sound-words used in the wild geese section and the first page’s DNA sequence. The issue’s title, ‘Bestiary’, is a delight, too, with each letter shaped as an animal and in light pastel colours, in distinct contrast with the black and white page it finds itself on.
As for Yuko Shimizu’s cover, there is little to be said other than it is, as usual, absolutely stunning. Tom coming out of a dead cicada’s shell, with the background of a grim, bloodied London skyline captures the entire issue in one image, in its composition, subject and colours.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
So what do I think of this new beginning? Excellent. The plot is getting back to what The Unwritten was about when it first appeared, without having to work within a universe that fitted it, Fables, but still felt a little short on the sleeves.
The way in which all creative aspects conflate into the telling of this story is superbly done, with both the visual and the textual elements blending perfectly to tell the story (stories?). Tom’s return to his ‘actual’ reality leaves us with a number of questions as to what has happened during his absence, and where the story may go from here. But for the next month, I feel I have enough to go re-read in preparation. I suppose.. the end begins here?

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #1 is now available in shops and digitally here.