If ever two series cried out for a crossover, it’s The Unwritten and Fables series. Both are hugely meta-fictional, play with combinations of stories, discuss the power of story, and interpret that power literally. Both are written by widely-read authors who love their work and base it in the mythic; both often feature a wry, sideways look at their material, even though they clearly love it. Consequently, The Unwritten, Vol. 9: The Unwritten Fables by Mike Carey and Bill Willingham (on Amazon) caused much rejoicing here when it was announced. The finished volume offers a deeper exploration of the fictional universes and the powers it commands, and it gives a chance for two of the worlds’ most powerful spellcasters to meet and combat a third, dark problem.
The first thing to keep in mind when approaching this is the title: It is volume 9 of The Unwritten rather than volume anything in the Fables series. This fact makes Unwritten Fables something of an odd crossover, because it only “really” exists in one of the two universes. These are not “our” Fables, they are an alternate bunch in a world where the battle with Mister Dark went rather differently than it did in the stories Fables readers have been following. Both the Fables and, especially, The Unwritten universes allow for multiple parallel universes, but it does make for something of a shock on first reading as there are Fables back from the dead and others acting in uncharacteristically different ways. It is something of a disappointment to find that the “real” Fables, and Tom Taylor never meet. On the other hand, the alteration allows Bill Willingham to show some of the characters in a different light than we have ever seen them. It also allows him to bring Frau Totenkinder back, and she is the one most suited to confronting Tom Taylor about his dual roles. It also allows her character to move in directions we have seen hinted at previously but never found fully developed. Other characters’ changes range from the “Wow! Interesting!” to the “I’d have to see how this happened to really believe it.”
This is a significant step for Tom Taylor on his journey to the source of all story to find the true nature of stories and his power, a journey that he had just taken the first move in in The Unwritten volume 8. Frau Totenkinder and Tom Taylor have a couple of important discussions on the nature of story and the power Tom gains through it. This is likely to affect his understanding of what he is doing and why when he gets back to the “real”/our world. At the same time, his usual supporting cast are not present: Lizzie Hexam and Richie Savoy appear only briefly, and as their alternate selves. Tom spends most of his time with Sue Sparrow and Peter Price, giving more of a look at Tom’s alternate, literary self. He also, in this context, works magic in a world that accepts and expects magic, which will likely enable him to work with more confidence when he returns from his long journey downwards.
Peter Gross and Mark Buckingham do their usual stellar work. As this is all set in the Fables realm, expect a small tour of the Grove and of a twisted version of Manhattan. There’s also a good chance to see where several famous Fables live, at least in their second exile. Mister Dark looms over everyone with his golden yes.
The Unwritten Fables works as a complete, coherent story in its own right. The opening interaction between Frau Totenkinder and Ozma not only summarizes the basic situation nicely, it puts the kind of humor these stories are famous for on display There is a threat to the world of the Fables, and they need outside help. In their summons, they call up Tom Taylor. As the story develops, the threat keeps pace, pushing everyone to extreme actions. There’s some strong interaction between Tom and Frau Totenkinder (Who, yes, pretty much owns the book), and some meditations on story. Readers familiar with both worlds will find the threat that much darker because of knowing what it cost to defeat Mister Dark before and that that one, desperate solution is now out of reach. There is no easy victory here, perhaps no victory at all. Aspects of Tom’s recent past, familiar to those who have read The Unwritten, also come into play and will make for a richer story. A reader unfamiliar with either world can step in and read this, but a reader familiar with both will enjoy it more.
The Unwritten Fables is a must-read for fans of The Unwritten–it’s volume 9! Recommended for fans of Fables who are interested in seeing alternate versions of the characters. Also? Both series are recommended to everyone who enjoys strong plotting, cross-genre work, dark humor, and metafictional musings on fiction. Unwritten Fables demonstrates this last nicely: Take a look at the opening interactions between Ozma and Frau Totenkinder or read through the introduction to get a sense of the flavor.
Writers: Mike Carey, Bill Willingham
Artists: Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham
To order from Amazon, click here
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: DC Comics, Vertigo