Reviewing The Unwritten Vol. 10 War Stories

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The Unwritten Vol. 10 CoverWith The Unwritten #10, War Stories, Carey has created one of his most complex entries in The Unwritten series. Tom, having gone as far as he can toward the bottom of the stories, ties to find his way back to his world, moving from one story to the next, changing forms as he travels through a series of familiar fables and variations on familiar children’s stories. Over and over, different figures remind Tom of the flexible nature of reality, telling him variations of “You’ve been looking in the wrong places, making the assumption that the home you lost…exists somewhere else entirely. As though to be real and to be in a story were very different things.” He finally accepts this and finds his way back to his real world—which is now fractured and full of different, more violent stories all at war as the Leviathan dies.

Carey plays with dissonances and contrasts here. For example, anyone who has read The Unwritten for more than five minutes is used to frequent swearing, and Carey uses it again in this volume to create a notable dissonance as when Tom’s exchange with a lion evolves into poetry only to have the speaker(s) comment “Oh, what the Fuck??” It leads to a fractured reading. There’s the often beautiful world of the stories Tom is traveling through at the beginning, there is its violence, and there is Tom’s deliberately abrasive response to the situations he finds himself in. There are repeated instances of peaceful philosophy intermingled with violence and mayhem as things unravel.

On a deeper level, death and rebirth are reenacted again and again, with the suggestion at one point that the death is a sacrifice. At this point, the full ramifications of this theme have not been played out. Tom has been to Hades and gone further down, now he is back, but War Stories suggests that more will be needed before the Leviathan is healed and the “real” world restored to its equilibrium.

Plenty of further metatextual commentary makes its way in, beyond the discussion of reality that pervades the book. A character who is told that he “dropped out of the story some time ago” and is therefore overlooked and forgotten now has an important role precisely because he was forgotten. Everyone in The Unwritten, Tom, Lizzie, Richie, and Leon and Cosi, the kids now traveling with them, have been changed by becoming a part of a narrative. And Pullman continues to pull the strings, manipulating figures from stories and myths to get his own way, although as Lizzie memorably demonstrates, it is possible to manipulate back, although the company has yet to succeed in altering the greater reality.

Peter Gross has outdone himself this time. The opening illustrations match the children’s books in tone and form, often mimicking familiar styles. He manages to convey both elegance and violence in those first sepia-toned pages, and then moves over to the pastoral imagery of a Winnie-the-Pooh analog without missing a beat before turning from there to the nightmare streets of the real/Tom’s world.

It would be possible to start the series here, but I would recommend going back and reading earlier volumes first if at all possible. There are a number of long running themes moving toward their conclusion here. Recommended for those who enjoy metatextual commentary in their reading, those who like an outside in view of literature. Something for readers or potential purchasers to keep in mind: Vertigo is DC’s adult line; there is nudity, violence, and swearing aplenty. Consider the age range, maturity, and taste of anyone you intend to give this to.

Carey is moving toward the close here with only one more volume in the series, and if The Unwritten #10 is any indication, the tale as a whole is going to be spectacular.

The Unwritten Vol. 10 is available from Vertigo today, October 14, 2014. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title.

Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Cover: Yuko Shimizu
Publication Details:
Paperback, 128 pages
Published: October 14th 2014
Publisher: Vertigo
ISBN: 1401250556 (ISBN13: 9781401250553)

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