The Unwritten #51 by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Others
Writers: Mike Carey, Bill Willingham
Artists: Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham, Russ Braun
Release Date: July 24, 2013
The Unwritten’s touted crossover event with Fables transforms a remarkably complex concept into a gripping 4-course adventure. On the surface, the second chapter of “The Unwritten Fables” pits a gaggle of folklore icons and child wizards against a near-omnipotent boogeyman. Peel back the layers, though, and the story weaves a dense tapestry of meshing fictions and realities. Frau Totenkinder, the reformed witch from Hansel and Gretel, sums up the situation by describing Harry Potter analogue Tommy Taylor and his dimension-hopping friends as “stories told by stories made up by the stories to whom we are only stories.” What else would you expect from the postmodern artistes at Vertigo?
Despite taking place in the pages of The Unwritten, this mashup ostensibly reads like Fables with guest stars, albeit incredibly cool guest stars. The Fabletown community, comprised of various public domain myths and fairy tale legends, has escaped head antagonist Mister Dark and his demonic legions by phasing a cloaked forest around his new Manhattan stronghold. As seen last issue, Totenkinder, Ozma of Oz and a host of magicians summon a “witch or wizard of near-infinite power” in a last-ditch attempt to turn the tides of their desperate war. When disenchanted every-dude Tom Taylor shows up, the Fables inhabitants realize that their new friend’s cynical one-liners won’t help repel the absolute evil encroaching on their refuge. As Totenkinder learns that she only conjured the blood-and-flesh inspiration behind the fictional child archmage Tommy Taylor — a character in a series of blockbuster books written by Tom Taylor’s father in the “real” world — she completes her spell by magically transporting the literary boy wizard into the man he was based on.
Let’s review so we’re on the page (pun intended): a group of fictional characters hiding in the reality where they were originally written (the Fables) accidentally shanghai the man (Tom Taylor) who inspired another fictional character (Tommy Taylor), but then a witch merges both together into the latter fantasy heavyweight who can potentially conquer a despot sorcerer. Got that? So when do we find out the humans who wrote the fairy tales in Fables are secretly characters written by distant alien overlords? If there were ever a new hook to bring back Saucer Country…
As mind-boggling as the above may sound, authors Mike Carey and Bill Willingham keep the storytelling accessible and fun. Though Fables and The Unwritten may provide metaphysical commentary on the works of authors like The Brothers Grimm, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling, this comic is also a classic examples of the rollicking, high-stakes adventures it simultaneously studies. The current conflict between Snow White and her ex-lover, Bigby Wolf, is especially delicious: Mister Dark has corrupted Snow into a pale, sociopathic dominatrix who holds court with her wolf/human-hybrid children while their father, the noble Big Bad Wolf, rots in a dungeon as his family taunts him. And to think this darling couple occupies a spot in Paste’s Top Modern Comic Romances.
If there’s any complaint, this event moves the overarching Fables narrative along at the exclusion of the book that houses it. Tom Taylor and his quest to repair Leviathan both stall on the sidelines, but this quibble looks like it will be addressed next issue. That said, a good story is a good story, and these two chapters are off to an absorbing start with crisp art that shows what wonderful, rich worlds Vertigo has continually fostered. Though these characters may not be enjoying any happily-ever-after endings, readers can’t ask for much more.