The idea behind "The Unwritten" having a series of .5 issues, where each one slips between the regular series releases to tell the origins of some supporting cast members, was one that fit in well with the idea of the secret world of fiction that "The Unwritten" tells. In practice, though, I have a feeling that these extra issues of "The Unwritten" are probably getting forgotten or left out of people's thoughts. Reading the latest issue, it makes me hope that they aren't lost in the shuffle, because these are some fun little origin stories.
"The Unwritten" #33.5 tackles the early days of Madame Rausch, back when she was still Anna-Beth Toller and the year was 1740. It's a creepy little story, with army soldiers bunking with the Toller family as the Holy Roman Empire begins to convulse and collapse. It's the soldier Johann Rausch who tells most of the story here; they're there to protect the Tollers and the town in general from Prussian soldiers, but as order begins to break down, it's hard for him to ignore the increasingly odd deaths of those around him.
It's much to Mike Carey's credit that since the reader will figure out what's going on before Johann, that he keeps the plot gripping instead of predictable. You can see the revelation lurking around the corner, but it's the finer details. There's an air of doom and destruction hanging heavily over the events of the Toller family, and as each piece of the puzzle is revealed, it's done so in a way that makes it feel less like, "Well, we knew that was coming" and more like being told that you're allowed to exhale now.
Series artist Peter Gross teams up with Vince Locke for this issue; the two have worked together in the past with great success, and that's true here as well. "The Unwritten" #33.5 has Gross's strong layouts and shapes of figures, but Locke brings his own particular texture to the finished art. I've always liked the look of Locke's finishes and inks; they feel rather ornate and old-world, and that touch of class is exactly what this issue needs. It meshes with the time period well, and it also adds an extra veneer of nobility to the proceedings. Doing so makes the inevitable collapse that much more powerful, to see everything that the Tollers have carefully constructed all come tumbling down in one instance.
The idea behind "The Unwritten" .5 issues is solid, and the execution for #33.5 follows through. The best part is that even if you've never read "The Unwritten" before, this still stands quite nicely on its own as a horror comic. If you're reading "The Unwritten," don't think these are skippable. And if you aren't? It's a good place to begin.