I opened this issue with as much as dread as desire; my first time in 10 years of reading FABLES and 7 years reviewing for Ain’t It Cool I’ve said these words. I love FABLES and it’s spin-off FAIREST. Willingham’s take on our favorite fairy tale characters living in the modern world has broken so many walls of character development and the nature of literary figures permeating the zeitgeist I can’t even begin to describe what the man has done within the confines of my word count.
It’s all ending though; issue 150 will mark the end of FABLES proper with issue 141 being the alpha chapter of this omega arc (the appropriately named “Happily Ever After.”) I don’t buy for a second that the title will be reflective of everyone’s fate though, especially with the seeds of war mongering, deception and de-evolution Willingham jammed neatly but tightly into these 22 pages.
What surprised me most was that new readers could actually get something out of this arc. I don’t recommend that anyone starts now since it would be like coming in for the last two seconds of a blowjob, but if you only want money shots with no build-up you could. Willingham really does some grand explaining of Rose Red’s new Knights of the Round Table, the strife between her and sister Snow White, skullduggery from the 13th floor mages and a reintroduction of the recently resurrected, and now very feral Bigby Wolf. There is also a moment with Cinderella that has me salivating with hope for some of her FAIREST Bond like adventures to bleed back from whence they came.
To show that he’s not simply playing his end-game, Willingham resurrects a mythos from the Great War in the form of magical entities that were boxed up against their will when they told Gepetto to go pound wood. They are antsy, ornery and all have now found a home inside Rose Red. I have little doubt this is an effort to up her critical hit damage rolls for a final tussle with sister Snow before the end.
FABLES is almost impossible to review at this point outside of play-by-plays and spoilers, so this will most likely be my last words of admiration for the next 9 months. Instead I will spend the time lamenting the looming loss of Willingham’s delicious dialog, Buckingham’s marvelous margins and the end of yet another vivacious Vertigo era.
P.S. For anyone who is jonesing for more FABLES stories, there’s an app for that called the Wolf Among Us by Telltale games. It thrusts you into the life of Bigby back in the Ragan era as he cleans up the slums of Fabletown. Yes, it’s interactive so if you are tech tarded do what I did for my spastic friends. Get someone with hand eye coordination to play and then stream it to a big set with Apple TV or Chromecast so you can watch the story unfold.
SANDMAN OVERTURE 2
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: JH Williams III
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
All right, let’s shoot the white melting elephant in the corner first: this book was hella delayed. I’m sure the industry line will be it was on a quarterly schedule, but sorry that doesn’t satiate the ADD world of comics. If it’s a floppy…it better drop monthly.
However, if the glorious Escher intricacy doesn’t beg enough forgiveness, I think the Eisner style home Williams crafted on the first splash page will quell a bit of your fanman ire. If those two things don’t work, you don’t know how difficult art is to create, especially well thought out and paced art with a million Easter eggs of intricacy hidden throughout the book’s panel. NO ONE is dialing this in. If it takes 3 months for this uber quality, I’ll reset my expectations.
Now, for the story. First a mea culpa to Gaiman and all of you true Sandfanatics out there. The gathering of Sandmen from across the universe is merely metaphorical so wee humans can ride with this mystical being. From Sandfauan, to Sandrobot to Sandcat, they are all the same Sandman, just in a multitude of forms. Is he talking to himself then? You betcha, sorta…but one would expect the embodiment of dreams to be a few standard deviations off center. So, all of you who caught this continuity gaffe, deserve the wettest of dreams for keeping the faith.
Basically this issue drives forward the great mystery of how a facet of dream could be negated from existence. The answer as in any ecosystem is of course a higher power. After some dandying about again in the way back past, in a lovely interlude with a homeless woman who remembers when dream was entrapped so many years ago in SANDMAN 1, we go back to the void in space where the Sandmen…man gathered last issue.
Only this time there is an alpha among them and it’s not our Sandman. Well, it is our Sandman, but the earliest incarnation, the one that guided the dreams of Gods. Next metaphysical jump and we are presented with the embodiment of Glory (and please help me here fans if I miss details or past references as I am still making my way through the first series). This very British version of Teddy Roosevelt tells of a star that has gone mad and shaken the foundations of reality out of their ever watching complacency.
Next jump, Sandman is off to meet God. Well, his Father, who I assume is God. Again, if someone knows better, please share your knowledge with the group. Or, better yet, don’t. New readers as well as those of us who have dabbled with the sincerest intent to one day go deeper, will enjoy the unveiling of abstracts come to form by Gaiman’s pragmatic insanity. The man is still able to surprise while at the same time inducing smack yourself on forehead for missing the most obvious embodiments of everything. Of course Glory would be a British stuffed shirt. Yeah, Death would these days be goth versus monk.
Gorgeous art and an amazing universe to return to (or step into for the first time). Yes, delays are troubling, but in a time when all books are destined or trade no one will remember drop dates, but everyone will remember a story so elevated Williams had to create new panel schemes simply to make SANDMAN OVERTURE palatable for our myopic views of the universe.
THE WAKE 6
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Sean Murphy
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
It didn’t take a MENSA candidate to make the aquatic association of THE WAKE’s title to the shit storm that Snyder unleashed from Davey Jones’ locker, but the way in which he did it left me jaw dropped when this book took it’s hiatus a few months ago.
You all will remember when last we left THE WAKE, the aquatic brain trust had basically unleashed merman-a –geddon on the world. Not only were there thousands of razor mouthed man-guppys chasing our heroes, but they had also unleashed a skyscraper size mer-man who could devour the paltry underground base in one chomp.
Well, fuck them, they’re not in this issue. They probably died.
Act II takes us back to the very first pages of the book where we were flung 200 years into the future. Way back in the beginning there was a girl living in water world with her pet dolphin. Issue 6 is her story, and it’s a good one.
Her name is Leeward, and she lives in a world where only the highest regions of America remain above sea level. A world where these mer-men are the clear enemy, especially after they sent warm water gushing to the ice caps and melting them. Leeward lives in a world where these creatures are now hunted with a reckless abandon for consumerism and basic survival.
Now for some reason the last vestiges of our government aren’t too kind to these activities as they work to form their own plan for fishie eradication. Kudos to Snyder for restructuring the American government. The concept of regional governors is something I believe we should institute even before release the Kraken.
I would like something for you all to enjoy, so I’ll let you fall in love with Leeward and her bigger mission as your own discoveries when you read the book.
As a parting thought though, I offer you to not rush your read of the book like I did. Murphy brings his PUNK ROCK JESUS harshness to the metal barges our children’s children call cities. There’s a beauty and a sadness to this moisture laden pastoral existence and Murphy gets all the credit for bringing it alive.
THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR 1
Writer: Rob Williams
Artist: Simon Colby
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
(Sung to the tune Royals by Lorde)
They walk around in stately dress
While Nazis make a mess of their country
And they know they can impress
But they stay ducked down, perhaps out of mercy
You see it’s ninety forty, the blitz is hitting London
The Windsor’s have power, but none will dare to use them
It’s not that they don’t care, they just know that the world will perish.
You see every royal bloodline is all possessed with power, that means not just the English but also the Italians.
OK, the oldest Arthur doesn’t care, but he’s an enormous chode.
So, there’s three Royals (Royals)
Henry, Arthur and Rose,
Two have special gifts, but the world will never know.
They hid their power (power)
To abate the world’s envy,
But in a time of crisis
Henry will set them free.
Thank you for indulging me, that was stuck in my head since the book dropped on my doorstep.
Williams confirms what many yanks have believed since we stuck up our finger at George back in the 1700’s – Royals in their current state are pretty much useless (Though Henry 8, did introduce the concept of Royalty being far from divine when he stuck up his middle finger at the pope – just sayin.)!
By imagining a world where Royal bloodlines possessed super powers for countless generations one can’t help but to look across the pond and wonder what’s being wrought from our British cousin’s tax dollars than placebo Rogaine and naked billiards.
Of course watching a bunch of faps in frocks fly around would be a prat move by writer. So instead of being a wanker, Williams builds a personal story around the Windsor line and how their powers skipped a generation and then skipped another…or so the world is led to believe.
To the contrary, the WWII Windsors actually have two super powered beings capable of extraordinary feats of fancy. And again, Williams veers away from heavy exposition by book ending this issue with the youngest boy, Henry, making a death defying leap through countless Nazi’s plane like a blonde bullet.
Personally I found the crisis of conscious between the leaps just as intriguing. Rose, the only girl and an apt telepath can feel the screams of London’s people, supposedly her people, dying around her. Henry, imbued with Superman like powers is as equally aware of the suffering that they could help abate. Their brother Arthur is a chode as I mentioned lyrically earlier. He is truly the weakest and yet still the bully. When I say no one knows about the powers of Henry and Rose…NO ONE KNOWS.
I’m going to hold on why their Father, the good King kept the kids’ powers unknown. I might only behalf right and it’s a tender moment of parental love best left described with Colby’s sorrowful visual to accompany it.
I love alternate history so ROYALS was going to get a first issue read when I saw the solicits a few months ago. However, the first issue’s excellence of an honest representation of a world that was and never was is what will bring me back for issue 2.
DEAD BOY DETECTIVES 1
Writer: Toby Litt
Artist: Mark Buckingham
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I’ve found myself in a circular lament recently. My dalliances with SANDMAN have been a backwards affair of half regret and half I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have still yet to make it all the way through the original series, currently slowly and deliberately making my way through issue 21 as of this writing. I have however traversed many of SANDMAN’S spinoffs – OVERTURE, LUCIFER, DEATH, LITTLE ENDLESS and now DEAD BOY DETECTIVES. I wish I was more world aware when I was younger, so I could have traversed everything chronologically as it came out of Gaiman’s glorious brain pan, but I’m glad I waited because the years under my belt allow me to fully appreciate all of the levels in this masterpiece universe.
Even if you’re like me and have yet to make it all the way through SANDMAN, chances are you have met the Dead boy Detectives in one of the many anthologies Vertigo has churned out for Holidays in recent years. These vignettes helped whet the appetite for this book, but none captured the true essence of these toe-tagged Hardy Boys with such concise conservation of words as page one, panel one of their own book.
“The young lady had swooned away and was now deeply unconscious.”
“The babe was out cold.”
Without reading SANDMAN, before you even know why these two ghosts are hovering above the body of a young woman in burglar’s garb in the back of an ambulance – before anything – you know who these two characters are in spirit (pardon the pun) and practicality.
Of course as the issue goes on we learn that the young woman is the daughter of performance artists, whose latest stint of pretension to steal Van Gough’s “Sunflowers’ has placed their offspring on the cusp of death.
We also learn that the Dead Boys love to unravel a good mystery, but Charles especially can never turn away from a damsel in distress. This is why the Dead Boys stay by the young woman’s side even after they rescue the painting. Because in her dream state between life and death, she caught a whiff of these two spirits detectives, and the whisper of their demise.
The Dead Boys met their untimely fates in different eras, but both of their mortal coils were shuffled loose at St. Hilarion’s academy. We’ve seen this academy before in the GHOSTS Halloween anthology Vertigo put out, but never caught the true gist of the atrocities committed there all under the sadistic hand of an immortal headmaster.
This seems like a lot for one book, but nothing ever felt heavy nor did the story ever slow down. Exposition and character introductions moved as effortlessly as Dead Boy Detectives across the air.
Part of this grace is Litt’s spot on dialog and pacing, but we can’t forget Buckingham’s ability to pluck a writer’s brain pan with High Definition clarity. Buck is less dreamy than in FABLES and using a far more simplistic style to tell this tale. Much less lines, but no loss of clarity – whispy yet never dewy.
Someone recently posed the question on Facebook, what comic would you give a kid these days to get them hooked on the medium? I know the flash bang of books like JUSTICE LEAGUE tickle the same parts of the child mind as primary colors, but for as many hyper babies are out there, you can’t negate the Wednesday Adams of the world. Some kids are ready to explore the icky side of life (like death), and DEAD BOY DETECTIVES delivers this message without lowering itself to the base and banal nature of life’s true atrocities.
Now, I had back to SANDMAN to meet the DEAD BOYS for the first time.
If you’ve been following UNWRITTEN, the book whose veneer shines of pastiches that range from Harry Potter to the Books of Magic, you must buy this original graphic novel. Not only is it gorgeously crafted with its hardbound cover and high-gloss paper, this is essentially the Rosetta Stone to the mystery of how Tom and Tommy Taylor came to be. It’s the insight into their father, Wilson UNWRITTEN fans have waited a very long time to see.
If you haven’t been following this book, chances are you shunned it for the very pillars I used in my description. But I’ve never seen UNWRITTEN being about magic or simply a cautionary tale for Daniel Radcliffe. All of that ended after the first story arc. UNWRITTEN explores the very inception of ideation and creation. As a man without much mystical or spiritual faith, I have always questioned whether humans create what we dream or if we are simply conduits receiving signals to facilitate a grander plan. Carey seems to have no such waffling (at least on paper), what man creates can and will come to fruition through story then in true form. It’s the Tinkerbell concept taken to hyperbole; if we all believe at once – the public zeitgeist can make any flight of fancy as tangible as the nose on your face.
All right enough of the meta. The actual story lives in a duality between Wilson Taylor’s creation of two mystical boys and how much easier it was to create the fictional Tommy versus raising the real Tom. Writers well know the torturous existence our stories create for our souls and personal lives. We live in ideas and very often those ideas close out the rest of the world around us. When locked in imagination it’s very easy to lose those that have honored us with their love; they don’t know the story and their needs get in the way of us releasing the story on page. For most writers this drive isn’t malicious or calculated. We simply need space. Wilson Taylor is the opposite; in his drive to imbue a real boy with magic he used all those around him until his soul and theirs were completely spent. Through journal entries we see the beginning of Wilson’s plan unfold, while the other half of the story tells the origin of Tommy Taylor and his discovery of the magical spark.
It’s hard to tell which story was the better of the two since both tickled different parts of my cerebellum. Despite their connective tissue of magic’s inception they can certainly be read very separate and apart, especially since we are now well into Tom Taylor’s journey after cresting the 50th issue mark recently. Creating magic in the real world is a twisted dark affair wrought with a Machiavellian usage of real people to serve Wilson’s ends. Tom’s Mother is a nervous break-down waiting to happen until it does and Wilson like Honey-Badger doesn’t give a shit. The boy who would one day become a wizard also spends the first two years of his life in relative solitude. Even if one takes away the story deprivation tank Wilson crafted to infuse Tom with copious amounts of literature through osmosis, his time outside the tank is just as lonesome as Wilson builds an empire and transforms the fabric of reality. The cruelest measure was fitting Tom with a pair of spectacles for his first birthday without even a hint of myopia in the lad. But as Wilson explains it, the reflection must be perfect.
Tommy’s story on the other hand is brimming with optimism despite his hardships before discovering the magical spark. An entire world changes when Tommy discovers his true gift of magic, making Harry Potter’s Christ aspirations seem very limited since the muggle world doesn’t change one iota after Harry defeats Voldemort or discovers he’s special. Tommy is also far more heroic than his borrowed personas. Despite his parents passing, then subsequent servitude at the school of magic, there’s an air of confidence and surety we never saw from the boy under the stairs. Tommy is far more of a leader to his Hermione and Ron as opposed to a scrum player.
It’s funny; Carey actually doesn’t give himself enough credit for just how wonderful and original the THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE truly is. In one journal entry Carey speaks through Wilson about The Books of Magic and other properties he borrowed from, so capturing public imagination would come easier. Also, Carey stated in a recent interview (or in my PR letter, I can’t remember which) that he was happy he didn’t have to create a full narrative for this first foray into the Tommy Taylor novels. I personally thought this was a pretty flushed out story, which while borrowing from other sources, is truly and wholly original. Especially the ending of the book where Tommy basically imbues his entire world with magic. Even if this book one does borrow heavily from the Potter novels, book two will certainly be something wholly unique. That last line is a hint. I would love to read the other six Tommy Taylor books. I’m not sure I want to see them tomorrow, but perhaps after UNWRITTEN has run its course?
The art is spectacular as expected. It’s clear when the pencil changes hands, but since the book lives on two planes I wouldn’t expect any less of a shift. The world of Wilson and young Tom is as dark and foreboding as one would expect from my descriptions. It’s also a lot of close-up shots of man about to sell his soul for his beliefs. The world of Tommy is as light and effervescent as the hyper-colors on J.K. Rowling’s creations. A charcoal like dream melting into your eye sockets.
As I stated at the beginning, this book is a no-brainer for current UNWRITTEN fans. However, after this reflection I’ll say you truly NEED this book to understand the full UNWRITTEN story. Wilson came and went from the main comic so quickly we never gained true insight into his megalomania. Also, any true UNWRITTEN fan should want to spend some time with the books that have given our favorite protagonist such trouble throughout his life. If you’re new to UNWRITTEN, you’ll actually get what’s going on, but I don’t think you’ll care as much as true fans of the series. So buy TOMMY TAYLOR AND THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE, stick it on a shelf, then go buy and read the first two or three trade volumes.
I reserved reviewing ASTRO CITY at its new home, Vertigo, till now because the first issue threw me with its meta omnipotent narrator. I didn’t dislike the issue; it was simply a far cry from the ASTRO CITY I once knew. I understand why Busiek chose this route since it has been a long time since anyone has visited the birthplace of his homegrown heroes, it’s just not what an old timer like me was looking for.
For the uninitiated, ASTRO CITY is about people not heroes, and how their lives are affected by a world with super beings. It’s the natural extension of Busiek’s ground breaking work on MARVELS oh so many years ago. Except the sandbox is his own with ASTRO CITY and it’s a playing field where golden, silver and modern age collide. ASTRO CITY is about the dreams of mortals and how the God’s among them either squash or enable those aspirations.
Issues two and three have quickly corrected course. Another tenet of ASTRO CITY is that serves to reflect our own societal woes or wonders. For the past two issues, Busiek has pointed a laser sight at our failing economy, specifically the new job market where college grads are asking, “Would you like foam or no foam on your megafrap deluxe?”
I’m being a bit hyperbolic with that last statement since our protagonist, a recent college grad named Marella, opens issue two applying for what she believes is a job in a call center. In my mind someone with a programming degree shouldn’t be hocking low interest credit card loans though either. Fortunately for Marella (and us readers), her job becomes far more interesting once she says yes.
The call center is a front…sort of. Once she enters the door of the building and then the trans-dimensional portal inside she is whisked away to the sub-command center of Honor Guard. This is THE team in the Astro City universe, basically Jsutice League before they were wrought with so many problems and inexperience that seem to plague their current incarnation.
Marella isn’t being hired to hock anything, she’s actually been hired to be the front line of calls for help and triage what should be brought to Honor Guard’s attention. It’s not her ideal job, but certainly a far cry better than the alternative. Even in our world you’ll find much higher job satisfaction from someone working a 9-1-1 line versus asking people if they want to buy cheap real estate in Florida.
Another reason I’ve always been enamored with ASTRO CITY is that time is elastic. Often Busiek plays with entire decades of history like his last outing in DARK AGE. For this story though we’re only talking the course of a year.
But what a year it is. Again, ASTRO CITY is about people. So while the heroes are always omnipresent as Marella skills up, the true beauty of this story lies in a young woman finding herself and her place in the world. Here the story transcends to an all relatable tale as Marella gains confidence in her job skills, makes new friends with co-workers, deceives her family about what she does all day, and even develops a crush on the cute guy in the command console next to her.
Until it all comes crashing down.
Like any job Marella has metrics to meet, if you don’t triage correctly you waste precious escalation resources chasing ghosts. After being a chastised a few times, her team becomes gun shy about escalating issues to the next level. This proves to be a fatal move as one improperly diagnosed call gives a villainous group names the Skullcrushers the ability to obliterate a South American town.
I think I’ve described enough to entreat those who like me insist their stories be as much character development as carnage. I will say though, issue three is a story of redemption for Marella. She learns that mistakes don’t define a person, it’s rather the lessons we learn from those mistakes.
I’m thrilled ASTRO CITY is back and under the spearhead of a publisher known for a tight schedule. There have been lapses with past series that diminished a bit of the joy trying to recollect months prior. I’m aslo thrilled Anderson is in the pencil seat again. He’s been a staple of this series for a long time and truly gets how to make the characters look exactly like Busiek intends from an emotional perspective.
This isn’t just another pastiche, Busiek’s world is rife with originality even though it borrows from tropes we all know and love. I really believe new fans will dig this series, and Kurt provides enough Easter egg fodder so that old time fans feel once again welcome in ASTRO CITY’S bombastic and beautiful boundaries.
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
Jeff Lemire is once again Le Awesome in the first episode of his 8 part series TRILLIUM. While I’ve enjoyed his in-continuity work on books like JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, his true genius is served when working on his creator owned properties.
Also, his stories are best served by his sketchy art style. I laugh as I write this because it was that style that once made me at first shun his last series SWEET TOOTH. Honestly it wasn’t until an interview op with Lemire came to us that I bothered to read the series right after the first trade came out. All right, maybe it was also the fact I wasn’t able to accept a borderline diabetic deer boy could be interesting. I was wrong. I actually think I pissed Jeff off a little with my close to the mark guesstimates on where the series was headed, but I couldn’t help myself. Gus, the soulful harbinger of man’s doom sucked me in, and I cared so much for all the characters I was aching to know what would come next. This is a testament to Lemire’s ability to capture the human existence on page at the same time he delivers us to a world so unlike our own. Few accomplish this, focusing instead on the spectacle of something different. Lemire remembers that spectacle is only spectacular if our protagonist guide thinks so as well.
TRILLIUM is another tidy encapsulation of Lemire’s trademarks of the human condition colliding with WTF scenarios. This time he leaves behind Mother Gaia…sorta…to show us the last bastion of humanity amongst the stars. 4,000 humans remain…sorta…see, there are two series happening here. The “flip-book” nature promised in Previews is different than the past portrait to landscape shift Lemire did on SWEET TOOTH. No, TRILLIUM can be read front-to-back or back-to-front.
I started (purely by accident) with the Scientist part of the story. The year is 2797 and as I mentioned humanity is in its last breaths of existence. We are at war as we often are, except this time the enemy is not ourselves or some damn dirty Cylons. We are being chased down and eradicated by a sentient virus. The only thing to cure this virus is a plant called Trillium. Unfortunately we can’t synthesize the plant and the greatest natural source is protected by a bunch of aliens who we don’t understand. We tried to understand them and as usual we fucked it up royally. Nika our scientist is a lovely young lady trying to repair that damage with a translation program. On one of her scheduled visits with the aliens her contact is nowhere to be found so she enters the compound to find a shit ton of Trillium and an old Incan temple. That’s right, halfway across the galaxy sits one of earths or at least man’s oldest artifacts. When Nika is compelled by the aliens to climb the temple, she is in a dense jungle where she runs into The Soldier.
Flip the book…
William’s story is far more action oriented. He is a soldier suffering from a heavy case of PTSD from his time during the trench warfare of WWI. With the war behind him and the roaring twenties just getting started (I’m assuming England roared during this time as well), he’s a man looking for purpose. When at an exhibit on surprisingly enough filled with Incan artifacts, he believes he found his new mission in life. So it’s off to the jungles to look for a temple that is a verboten and dark place.
Have you made the connection yet? Of course, William’s tale ends at the same place as Nika’s, with the two staring at one another.
This is Sci-Fi at its finest, an amalgam of everything we love – time travel, space, alien races and of course the most important element of how humans process these stirring events.
Lemire has another winner on his hands if for nothing other than how all of these events will play out. The fact that I already feel something for these characters is the proverbial icing on this delicious cake. I’m already lamenting the fact this series is 1/8 over. I appreciate finite stories more than the endless characters these days, but on the same token I’m greedy and when I hold a winner in my hands I never want it to go away.
Writers: Mike Carey & Bill Willingham
Artists: Peter Gross & Mark Buckingham
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
Don’t call this is a crossover; it’s not. Even with the infusion of FABLES, at most I would say this is a spillover. But even that is too simple a description for the meta-highbrow antics of literal literature that is UNWRITTEN #50.
Here’s a real quick recap of the story thus far, which will surely obfuscate and obliterate all the wonderful layers Carey has added to this title over the years. Tis the life of a reviewer and the danger of Cliff’s Notes, but alas the PR must go on. Basically, UNWRITTEN is the story of Tom Taylor, a man who for years thought he was just the template for his father’s global best-selling book about a boy wizard. When UNWRITTEN started, I thought Carey was simply going to indict celebrity, as Tom’s whole life consisted of con appearances raping the legacy of his father for every penny it was worth. Despite being wicked smart, he never truly established his own identity. I should have known better, because quite quickly Tom Taylor’s Hermione, Lizzie Hexam, appears to remind Tom that those stories were real and Tom is in fact a real wizard, even if he can’t remember. OK, I thought, nice twist–but can this sustain a whole series? That’s when Carey introduced layer number three, the layer that makes stories real and started the race to save or thwart the literal embodiment of them, a creature named Leviathan. There’s of course more, much more to the UNWRITTEN tale, but this is the simple enough exploration to at least read this issue.
Now, why won’t I call this a crossover? Because this issue is really more of an Elseworlds for fans of FABLES. Also, I can’t remember a crossover where two creators so lovingly and expertly tackled each other’s titles in the same book. Tommy joins the FABLES universe smack dab in the middle of the Mister Dark arc. We all remember that time when desperation permeated all things FABLES and any last ditch efforts were tried. After a brief conjuration by the saltiest witches ever to grace the page, Tommy appears confused and bewildered. Geppetto, Ozma and Totenkinder, not being the warmest welcoming committee, give Tommy a bit of a baptism of fire getting him up to speed on their exiled situation mere moments before Dark’s legions mount another assault. Meanwhile, back in occupied Fabletown, Dark holds court with his “wife” by his side, the very Morticia Addams-looking Snow White. I don’t remember this moment from FABLES, nor do I remember Snow and thekids sadistically tormenting their husband and father Bigby with sadistic glee. There’s been a change to the fabric to reality; I don’t quite understand it all yet, nor do I think I’m supposed to. The book ends with the FABLES magicians transforming Tommy into his book counterpart and enlisting the aid of his stalwart companions. For them, this is just another adventure; for me the fate of two of my most cherished books hangs in the balance. Oh, we also get to see the possible resurrection of an old friend who would come blow his horn in times of trouble.
As for art, both Gross and Buckingham changed their styles to meld with one another. Gross had a little more fun with his often austere lines, and Buckingham tempered his propensity towards lushness (however, he did stick in a bit of his patented margin art). The result was a book where you could notice something happened, there was a switch, but it wasn’t jarring in the least.
This is the first time in recent memory where the Vertigo universe has had this kind of cohesion, and I have to say I’m a fan. I would never ask for shared continuity in the Vertigo universe, since its lifeblood is unfettered storytelling. However, UNWRITTEN 50 just makes sense. Tommy is forever saving stories, and lord knows the FABLES crew could have used some help during the Mister Dark days. I will say it offers a smidge of continuity confusion, but I think that’s simply because neither writer has played all of their cards just yet.
I honestly thought we were reaching the end with UNWRITTEN. Tommy learned who he was, learned the true impetus and nature of stories, and all of the bad guys appeared to have been beaten. With this FABLES infusion, though, we see yet another layer in the mind of Carey and the possibility for UNWRITTEN to written for years to come.
I’m not a mermaid, I’m a Mer-Man!” – Zoolander
I apologize now for donkey punching the spoiler of THE WAKE while you weren’t looking, but there are those who prefer immediate gratification and I felt a long heady piece in me when I conjured my original first paragraph. At the center of THE WAKE is sentient life from the sea. Now, that’s the surface – the sea foam that slathers the book. The joy in THE WAKE is deeper than the fathoms traversed to meet the humanity’s first alien life form. That is if it’s actually an “alien.” More on that in a second.
I guess I’m obliged to say this is a great book, but anyone who has read Snyder’s pantheon of titles and books like Murphy’s PUNK ROCK JESUS will know that even if the concept is lackluster it will still be a great book with these two on it. Honestly, both of these guys would have to have a stroke and eat a bag-o-roofies to conjure crap and even then there would still be a few panels of genius. But THE WAKE is a cool concept that goes beyond a Mer-Man and is simply another sterling example of Snyder’s versatility. While he has a leaning towards horror, his ability to mute it for all age books like BATMAN and then ratchet things back up to adult level in books like AMERICAN VAMPIRE and now THE WAKE makes every book a surprise. Some writers can be good, but they are trapped by their own tone. Snyder’s only constraint is a lust for research; he lets the characters set the tone. THE WAKE is the perfect culmination of these two tenets and as a result provides a different experience than any other Snyder book.
It helps that THE WAKE isn’t straight horror. It’s a meld of horror, mystery, Sci-Fi and post-apocalyptic goodness – almost an amalgam of the entire Vertigo brand rolled into one. The main characters of THE WAKE are going to leave you scratching your head, especially the contestant behind door #3. But I think that’s kind of the point. Though each lives in their own time period; the present, 200 years from now and one-hundred thousand years ago – each is intertwined after only a few pages. Snyder also unfolds THE WAKE in a non-linear fashion, making each clue about the Mer-Man’s existence relate back to pages you just read and has a far reaching scope that affects the entire world from years before and years to come.
We open in the future, where a wind rider glides across a flooded city. She has a pet dolphin that was assimilated by the Borg that’s helping her look for…something. We then move to the brunt of the story in present day where we meet our other heroine, Lee Archer, a woman who cares more about studying whale song than spending time with her son. Archer is contracted (read as involuntarily drafter) by the NSA to join a team that consists of mythologist, a man of mystery and her former boss at NOAA to meet our Mer-Man…sing it with me now…unda da sea. Character 3 our head scratcher is a cave-man from a hundred thousand years ago who scribbles on a cave wall and then gouges out his eyes with a piece of tech way more than advanced than anything we would have a hundred thousand years from now. Confused? It’s OK, I’m not Snyder and his characterization does a hell of a lot of grounding to make these high level concepts grounded and relatable.
Murphy crushes it on pencils; his ability to create such unique faces and shapes given how “scratchy” his lines are is simply amazing. It’s not easy to convey water, especially so many shots under the waterline, but he does it and does it well. There’s also terrific use of scope in this book, from the broad open waters to the confines of submarines there’s a juxtaposition that makes the scary moments even scarier.
About six years ago I predicted that Geoff Johns would be placed in an editorial position at DC. Actually it was more of a request, but we’ll call it a prediction. I’m now making the same soothsaying statement about Snyder, THE WAKE proves to me that Vertigo’s next Karen Berger is sitting in the DC office already. He simply needs to spend a little less time with capes. Get THE WAK and show Vertigo we still love her, because she damn well deserves it.