“The Unwritten” is often at its best when it’s engaging with literature or literary figures directly. The issue about Rudyard Kipling and the discussion of “Frankenstein” in the early issues were some of the comic’s more interesting and thoughtful parts. With this story arc focusing on Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” it seemed like after a few stories focusing on the characters and the larger plot, which were enjoyable, that the book was returning to some literary discussion for an arc. Well, the literature geek in me has been a little disappointed so far, but this issue does show some promise towards the end where Tom Taylor enters into “Moby-Dick.”
In Pittsfield, Massachusetts — since that’s where “Moby-Dick” begins — Tom, Lizzie, and Savoy are trying to figure out what Tom’s father wanted from them before he died. It’s an unsure sort of quest where Tom doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, just that it starts with Pittsfield and “Moby-Dick.” Much of the issue has him hunting down a white whale that he thinks is the whale from the novel, escaped into this world, or, at least, escaped in a way that he can see. When it turns out to just be a glowing, spinning, mechanical whale, it’s funny, because of both Tom’s deflation and our own. The glimpse of the whale’s tail suggested an issue of Tom chasing the whale throughout the town with the obvious reactions of on-lookers. But, it does allow for him to gain the means to enter the book.
Besides the connection to “Moby-Dick,” there’s also the aftermath of Tom’s night with Lizzie. It’s not that awkward, especially since Carey writes the morning after (or, later that night after, I suppose) in a way where they don’t actually interact, but think they are, with Lizzie in the shower unable to hear what Tom is saying. His reminiscence about them as children and Lizzie making a point about the difference between ‘for real true’ and ‘story true,’ and which is more lasting and ‘real.’ It’s not a new idea, but it’s always one that makes me laugh and stop to think for a few seconds.
Visually, Peter Gross’s art is more minimal in this issue, using less lines than ever. It doesn’t have an unpolished or incomplete look, though, simply more streamlined and basic. It makes for a stronger contrast with the pages inside “Moby-Dick” that Vince Locke finishes. The continued use of other artists to finish Gross’s art when another level of reality is shown is great and really shows that the book is dedicated to its central concept.
The character moments in this issue are good, but it feels like this is ‘getting towards the end’ issue with Tom questing after the white whale. The ending is very promising, especially for us literature geeks. Still, “The Unwritten” is one of Vertigo’s most consistently entertaining and thoughtful titles.