Unwritten, The 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity

Mike Carey and Peter Gross create a literary fantasy where reality and fiction are mysteriously intertwined

Mike Carey’s latest comic series is both surprising and familiar in almost equal measure. While he moves beyond the limits of his previous work, which has often seemed to be following a path first trod by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, there remains a literary derivation that’s one part League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to two parts Harry Potter.

Tom Taylor is the real life inspiration behind a Harry Potter-like character called Tommy Taylor. His father, Wilson Taylor, wrote a series of books then disappeared, leaving a grown-up Tom to tour conventions, signing copies of the books and talking about the fact that he never really was a boy wizard.

Or was he? When a post-grad student digs into Tom’s history and finds key records like his social security number falsified, questions are raised about his authenticity and the true whereabouts of his father. But then, when a character from the books appears to come alive and kidnap Taylor, public opinion sways back in his favour, as a swell of opinion starts to build that believes he might actually be a manifestation of the fictional Tommy Taylor, born into the real world like some kind of Messiah.

In an effort to circumnavigate the furore he heads off to his father’s mansion, a castle in Switzerland where Wilson used to write his Tommy Taylor books. This house is crammed with literary history and inspiration – Milton stayed here while writing Paradise Lost and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in the room that Wilson used as a study. It’s now used as a writer’s retreat, where authors can go to bounce ideas off one another. It’s also a house of secrets and Tom is set to find out a load of things about his childhood that he’s long since forgotten.

The book showcases Carey’s ability to write sophisticated, intelligent comics with adult themes – there’s a lot of swearing in the book, not to mention the violence. Literary references weave in and out, while the book-within-a-book story adds further layers of mystery and intrigue.

Peter Gross’s art is capable enough to bring life to the characters and locations, as comfortable in the humdrum of a signing at a fantasy convention as it is in the horror that follows. You wouldn’t be coming to the book for its illustration alone though, and the writing holds comparatively more power.

So it’s something of a post-modern take on a familiar set of genres, pulling in elements from literature and film. It’s clever and interesting but it doesn’t have that little bit of magic that can make your spine tingle as you read. It’s worth picking up and sampling if you’re on the hunt for a new series to follow though, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see where Carey takes it from here.

Read the first chapter FREE online:
Link to Vertigo's PDF of chapter 1

Read more books by Mike Carey:
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