Several things are happening all at once here. Tom, Lizzie and Savoy have reappeared in London after their jaunt in “Jud Suss”, only three months have gone by in the real world for their mere hours spent in “Jud Suss”. Tom is presumed dead in the fire at Donostia prison, and the world is abuzz with the imminent publication of the fourteenth and final Tommy Taylor novel, which appeared mysteriously on the editor’s desk in the last volume. Why now? everyone is asking. Will Wilson Taylor be at the book launch? Where has he been for ten years, and what has he been doing? These are answers that Tom is particularly keen to find out as well. He wants all the answers from his father and is determined to go to the book launch, even though he knows it’s a trap, for his father or himself, or both. Because yes, the book is a fake. It was written by the leader of the cabal, Callendar, as a strategy to undermine the base of Taylor’s power, which comes from all the billions of readers reading and loving his books, their Jungian subconscious creating a literal base of power that can shape the world.
Also going on: Lizzie is having a crisis of identity, and one of the issues in the collection is centered entirely on her backstory, told in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of way that is as frustrating as it is fun (it’s just a little hard to hold a comic book turned sideways like that). Her story sheds light on the ways that fictional characters enter our world, and shows us where she came from and why she’s so determined to help Tom. On top of that, Count Ambrosio nee Warden Chadron, has followed them to London and turned Savoy (temporarily?) into a vampire. And the mysterious and threatening Pullman is lurking in the shadows, waiting for Tom and his father to show so he can kill them.
This volume is where The Unwritten really hits its stride. You know what’s going on by now, and the mix of literary allusion, underlying themes, and existential crises are mixed perfectly with the actual plot of the story, which takes some tricksy and exciting turns. And really, more than any other comic I’ve read, I find the writing in this series beautiful and moving. As Paul Cornell says in the introduction for Volume 2, this isn’t just a series about literature, it’s literature itself.
This series is crazypants smart. Don’t read it on an empty stomach or you’ll be too stupid to understand it. And, man, I can’t say it enough times. The artwork in this thing is stunning, but also (and more importantly), consistent. Everything feels real, which, given the medium and the subject matter, is somewhat ironic. Now, on to Volume 4, which I remember gets kinda freaky.