“The Unwritten” #31 began “The War of Words” and, during that story, the title shifts to a twice-monthly shipping schedule. The main title will continue that story while the ‘point 5’ issues will shed light on the background of the conflict, beginning here with three short tales about the cabal that Tom Taylor is fighting against. Taken from the journals of Wilson Taylor, these three stories present a brief history of the cabal’s methods of control, first by suppressing ideas and, then, by using literature and media to manipulate ideas. With three incredibly talented artists joining Mike Carey and Peter Gross, “The Unwritten” #31.5 is a sign that these ‘point 5’ issues will not just be essential history lessons but entertaining and clever comics.
The structure of the issue isn’t linear, though it begins at the earliest point in history shown, 221 B.C., where Emperor Qin Shi Huang has declared that all books written that don’t comply with his views are to be destroyed. One of the Emperor’s emissaries travels with soldiers to a monastery to collect any scrolls not turned over and to discover if any copies have been made. Drawn by Michael William Kaluta, the emissary appears to be Pullman, though that’s only hinted at, suggesting that his role in the cabal has been one that doesn’t simply go back decades but centuries, possibly millennia. Kaluta’s art is both intricate and suggestive with fluid line work that suits the time period.
For the second story, Taylor’s journal jumps to 1898 and a political cartoonist that discovers that he may have helped the Spanish-American War. When he realizes this, he looks into the matter of who manipulated him and discovers the cabal, now wanting to expose the secret organization only to learn that his editor has already been compromised. It explicitly lays out how the cabal now uses the press and literature to manipulate the masses, a dramatic shift from the censorship of the past. Rick Geary’s blocky line work has a classic look to it, one obviously influenced by turn of the century cartoonists. It’s a dramatic shift in style and tone from what comes before and after, but a very appropriate one. More than the work of the other two artists, Geary’s style is one not seen in mainstream comics often.
The final story bridges the gaps, showing how the invention of the printing press changed everything about the way information is disseminated. If books can be printed easily and the common masses can learn to read, they no longer need men in authority to give them knowledge. Destroying one printing press or burning a bunch of books won’t stop information from making its way to the masses, necessitating a change in tactics. Bryan Talbot’s character work is top notch in these pages. The antagonist, Bishop Adolphus, is a man of passion and conviction, and that shows in every panel even when he realizes that his current tactics won’t work. He shift from rage to calmness is startling and handled effectively visually.
“The Unwritten” #31.5 provides a history of sorts of the cabal and its methods in broad strokes. It’s not a particularly deep issue, but the use of the artists is effective and the point that it makes is delivered in a clever fashion. As an introduction to the history of the cabal, it’s a smart place to begin before delving deeper. We now know that they’ve existed for thousands of years and have seen their methods. If the end of this issue is any indication, we’ll get much more in the coming issues. Call me crazy, but two issues of “The Unwritten” each month sounds pretty great.