In a series as metafictional as "Unwritten," in which the line between reality and fiction is blurred to a delightful extent, it's an added bonus to have Peter Gross providing the art work. Gross, best known for his contributions to Vertigo's "Books of Magic," may not be the most dynamic artist in the industry, but he's a fine storyteller who can shift to a more whimsical, storybook style when needed. And it's his very association with "Books of Magic" that matters here, as Tommy Taylor is nothing if not a Tim Hunter analogue by way of the very similar Harry Potter character you may have heard a bit about over the years.
It's like having E. H. Shepard draw the comic book version of a story about a real-life Christopher Robin struggling to figure out why these fictional characters keep invading his life.
Layer upon layer of metafiction.
Yet it's not just played as an intellectual game here -- Carey is using the mysterious boundary between life and fiction to tell a story of mystery and intrigue. And, in this issue: horror. Lots and lots of horror.
The issue opens with a wand thrust into Ron Weasely's eye (sort of) which leads into a discussion of Tommy Taylor torture porn fan fic. And there's a slasher on the loose, slicing up victims with a scythe while taunting the victims with lines like, "You know what's really guiding you? Controlling you? Pushing you on?" He answers his own question: "genre conventions" as he walks away, blood dripping from the victim.
Sure, the same kind of gag was used in M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water," but this is tonally different from that film, and it's actually good.
Tommy has a face-to-face confrontation with the slasher in this issue, and it only deepens the mystery. And the position Tommy is left in by the final pages adds a whole new level to the conflict. Not only has his notion of reality become fundamentally unglued, but he's now in a situation that seems impossible to escape. Things look bad for this real and/or fictional character.
I don't want to get all hyperbolic and declare "Unwritten" to be the best new series of 2009. But it just might be the best new series of 2009. It's pretty darn good.