Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Unwritten, Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Tom Taylor is a man who is famous, because as a boy, his father, Wilson Taylor, wrote a set of stories about a young boy named Tommy Taylor, who had magical powers and a destiny to save the world. But when he was a teenager, his father disappeared, and he was left alone behind. His father's vast estate was tied up in lawsuits, so he never got any money, and had to support himself. Which he did, at a variety of professions, but not very well. Now, he's reduced to appearing at conventions for his father's books, signing them as the supposed real Tommy Taylor.

But he's tired of appearing as something he isn't, and he begs his agent to get him something else to do. Only nothing else he's done has paid as well. And while signing books for awestruck kids is all well and good, he's also being followed by a man who thinks he is Count Ambrosio, Tommy's greatest foe. Until the day when a woman from the audience asks who he really is, and tells him that his father never had a son, but hired a boy from a Serbian family to pose as one for the publicity. Tom has never heard this before, and to be honest, he doesn't really remember that much about his childhood. His mother died when he was just four, and his memories of his early life are very spotty.

But her questions are soon picked up by fans and the media, and the backlash falls on Tom. Fans feel that he is a fraud, and rise up in rage against him, trying to kill him where they once lionized him. Worst comes to worst when "Count Ambrosio" knocks him out and kidnaps him, deciding to blow him apart with a bomb full of nails on a live video feed to show everyone around the world just what a fraud he actually is. But the same girl who asked him the question at the convention shows up and helps him get free. The bomb goes up and kills "Ambrosio", and the girl knocks out Tom and rips up his clothes, so that when the Police come in, they find him completely unharmed, aside from his destroyed clothing and a head wound from "Ambrosio" knocking him out. Since the Camera "Ambrosio" used was destroyed in the fight, and the girl, who calls herself "Lizzie Hexham" took care never to appear in front of the Camera before it was destroyed, everyone now believes that Tom really is "Tommy Taylor", the magical kid, and they won't accept Tommy telling them he isn't.

So, leaving behind his legions of loyal fans, Tom decides to go in search of the truth about himself. Who is he really? Is he really "Tommy Taylor" or just some kid from Serbia? Even if it turns out to be the second one, he can live with that. He just wants to know the truth. But what is the truth? And what does it have to do with the chalet in Austria where Tom mostly grew up with his father?

Tom tracks down the woman who was his father's mistress and asks her about his father and mother. She tells him she knew his mother, and that they had been friends. But she also shows him that the world is much stranger than he can imagine. She tells him to count the stairs down in her basement, which is dark and black, and he counts over 1000 before stopping, not having reached the bottom, but to where there was light. The way back up, there were only twelve. Having completely shaken his sense of what the world is, she tells him that the housekeeper in the Chalet could tell him more about his life there. After Tommy leaves, she is visited by a man who apparently wants him dead, and she works for the same people. And this man can dissolve anything to water/gel.

At the Chalet, Tom finds that it is not abandoned, that it is home to a horror writers group having some sort of writing meeting. The woman in charge says that the housekeeper isn't here, but she will be back when the meeting is done after the end of the week. However, as the owner of the property, Tommy can walk in and not be thrown out. Once again, he meets "Lizzie", which he knows isn't her real name because "Lizzie Hexham" is a character from a work by Dickens. But in her company, he remembers things about his father, and disturbing ones- his father beating a man so savagely that blood splattered everywhere, and how his father was so angry so much of the time. But thanks to his memories, he discovers a hidden safe behind a painting, containing a note, and a doorknob, much like one described in a Tommy Taylor book.

Meanwhile, at his father's old publisher, the man who edited the books receives a new manuscript supposedly written by Tom's father, the supposed 14th book in the series that all the fans have been waiting for. But as Tom and "Lizzie" examine his father's office, the man with the melting touch has arrived, intending to kill everyone there and blame the murders on Tom. the question is, who is he, who does he work for, and what is his real intention for Tom? Is he seeking to blight the "memory" of Tommy Taylor, or does he have something else in mind? And what is really happening here?

The graphic novel closes out with a story showing the lives of Samuel Clemens, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde and other authors, and the people, or perhaps the force they worked for. The same man who is trying to kill the other writers in the comic makes an appearance, completely unchanged between then and now, and we get hints of a force using stories and words to steer human thinking. A force that steered the Tommy Taylor stories- but to what end? We see how ruthless and cold they can be, and how writers transgress against them at their cost.

This was an incredibly spooky story. Obviously, the tale of Tommy Taylor resonates very well with Harry Potter, even to the point that Tommy is accompanied by two friends, one male, one female, and all three are wizards who can use magic, with wands. There are definitely points of departure- Tommy's got a winged cat as a companion, not an owl, and he's also much younger than Harry Potter was at the end of his run of the books. But like Harry, Tommy apparently crosses over the veil of death and comes back again- or at least, Tommy is fated to, anyway.

But brief glimpses of the "Tommy Taylor" stories aside, the real story is about adult Tom, and what is happening to him now. During the course of the story, he goes from fĂȘted, to despised, to considered to be something akin to a god. Even God himself (since in the story once Tommy is recovered from his attempted bombing death, people stop going to Catholic Church to worship Tommy Taylor). I honestly doubt that fans of the series would be so quick to proclaim someone a real magical kid (or adult), that part of the story quickly became ridiculous for me. But definitely, there were some real crackpots there in the crowd, so in some ways I do think maybe some people would, but not the huge crowds depicted in the graphic novel.

This part of the story, well, I may be over-thinking it, but, it seemed to poke fun at the people who were part of the Harry Potter phenomenon. As if to say that the adults who were part of it weren't quite all there, and were perhaps borderline insane, which wasn't very flattering. It would be like saying that anyone who is a strong fan of anything is borderline insane, like the people who paint themselves in the team colors to go to sports matches, or people who strongly identify with characters from videogames. On the other hand, fan is a shortening of "Fanatic", after all, and the word "fanatic" does have that connotation. I just didn't know if the authors were poking gentle fun, or just taking a poke at those who loved Harry Potter.

In any case, this graphic novel intrigued me. The hinting of an organization that uses works of fiction to shape the world was unexpected. Apparently, although the theme of the books really ties into Harry Potter, it's actually based around the life of Christopher Milne, whose father used him as the basis for Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh books. Milne felt his father took away his childhood, made a profit from it, and then gave it back to him as books he couldn't use. As for me, I'd like to see more about this shadowy conspiracy and more of the story, which ends rather abruptly. Thankfully, there are three volumes available- i just have to find them! Highly recommended.

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