Entering its third year, “The Unwritten” is in a good place. The larger plot is more apparent with Tom Taylor aware of the source of his ‘magic’ powers and his father’s plans for him. Not everything is 100% clear, but both the characters and the readers have a good idea of what’s going on. Issue 25 is the start of a two-part story that also feels like a transition issue. After Tom’s stay in “Moby-Dick,” this is an issue to catch up with the characters and make sure everyone knows what they should.
Simply getting Tom back with Lizzie and Richie is a nice change of pace after “Leviathan.” There’s a more relaxed and light tone to the book with the three of them joking around and making up plans to steal Wilson Taylor’s journals, which are up for auction. More than anything, this is a simple, straight-forward comic driven by the characters interacting and having a clear course of action. “Leviathan” was such an idea-driven story arc, especially the final issue and its big infodump, that something more basic.
Part of the problem with this comic is that, despite some parts of the larger plot becoming apparent in the first two years, where things are heading is still very mysterious. And not in that ‘has direction but still surprises you’ sort of mysterious, the book doesn’t have a direction beyond some vague ideas about Tom and his friends fighting against some mysterious group that manipulates stories for their own purposes. What shape that fight takes is anyone’s guess and, what’s worse, is that the characters don’t seem to have any idea of what they’re doing. That gives the comic a feel that the plot dictates what happens rather than the characters driving the story. So far, things happen to the characters, they don’t make things happen, and that’s been a big problem, one that looks like it could turn around here and, hopefully, it does.
Seeing Peter Gross illustrate an entire issue without someone else finishing his art is also a nice change of pace. Using other artists to give Gross’s art a distinct look in other ‘stories’ within the book is a genius move that works wonderfully with the concept, but it becomes less appealing when Gross doesn’t illustrate an entire issue by himself for a while. His clean, direct art really gets a chance to shine in this character-centric issue. So much of the fun of ‘hanging out’ with the characters again comes from how effortlessly Gross nails down their mannerisms and builds on Carey’s dialogue. He’s such a clear storyteller and is able to shift moods incredibly well.
After a big expository arc and a one-off self-contained story, “The Unwritten” getting back its core characters together and telling a straightforward story is a bit refreshing. There’s a hint that the book is gaining some clear direction and, if so, that’s what it’s been missing so far. Still, this is the sort of issue that reminds you why you like a comic so much.