There are few comic books out there which openly strive to be literature. The Unwritten is one of them, but it is far more than that.
Its first volume, collecting the first five issues of the series in 2009, sets the stage for the driving theme of the work, that of a literary cabal who determines what stories will and will not be told so as to guide the path of the world.
The Unwritten is a work that makes us question the very concept of our own free will. Are we truly free to choose any path, or are our options defined by the tales we consume, limited by genre norms?
The main story follows a character who is both person and fiction within his own world. Tom Taylor, supposed inspiration for the Tommy Taylor books (an overt and self-conscious reference to the Harry Potter series, both profits from his namesake and is imprisoned by its power. He is hounded by fans, from literary scholars to cosplayers who imitate the book’s Voldemortian nemesis.
As Tom’s own life begins to crumble around him, he begins to discover that there is more to his relationship with his fictional self than he ever thought possible.
Tom’s world is intruded upon by the cabal that manipulated his father, and we come to learn that Wilson Taylor was far from the only author to have his path altered by these unseen forces. Rudyard Kipling, Samuel Clemens, and Oscar Wilde all fall victim in one manner or another to their machinations.
The Unwritten will, for literary scholars, seem like a riveting conspiracy story and, even for the uninitiated, will challenge long-held beliefs about the lives of some of the most famous figures in literary history.
To go into much more detail would rob the book of its powerful surprises, but suffice to say that this is one of the most engrossing books on the shelf right now. It seamlessly marries meta-fiction, history, and social commentary in a way that few books even attempt, much less succeed at.
The series is ongoing, so it’s worth your time to pick up the collected editions at your nearest retailer. If you get to Volume 2 before I pick it up from Westfield Comics, though, I may have to take a scythe to you.