“The Unwritten” #39 advances the detective fiction setup of the current “The Wound” story arc, but it also marks a return to the larger meta-level concerns and mythology that writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross have previously established. The original triumvirate of main characters Tommy, Lizzie and Richie are still largely absent, except for one page with Richie in Switzerland. However, current protagonists Didge Patterson and Daniel Armitage have separate confrontations with cult leader “Pastor” Lucas Filby, leading them to a connection with Wilson Taylor and other older mysteries.
Peter Gross continues to produce ambitious, well-composed art. His storytelling transitions are as smooth as ever, and he never neglects his backgrounds. His delicate architectural details are especially gorgeous, and I appreciate how the animals imprisoned alongside the unicorn have dejected or curious facial expressions and body language. When Carey has Lucas Filby launch into a flashback story, Gross executes a dramatic experiment in style, to a looser, violent, more heavily inked line. Also, Gross’ work continues to be very well-supported by colorist Chris Chuckry. The Filby flashback is set apart in chaotic reds and golds, while most of the issue is colored moody blue-gray. The scene in which a character dissolves is also strikingly pretty, with the puddle of words being a milky mint-green with swirls of letters.
I don’t think of Gross as being an action-shot oriented artist, but when Didge has another throw-down with the thugs she met before, Gross draws a short but sweet fight scene, with limbs popping out of the panels. Didge’s oral police report for her boss is deftly juxtaposed in text boxes over the appropriate actions in the in the fight, adding ironic humor to the scene. Didge’s euphemisms and outright lies, punctuated with her salty, verbally engrossing phrasing, make her the most engaging new character “The Unwritten” has seen for a long while. She’s an unusual heroine, a hard-boiled cop with a disability, and she has spent most of her on-panel time in tough cop clothing and a blackened eye. In the hands of a lesser writer, Didge’s text box voice overs could easily become info-dump monologues, but instead they are delightfully humorous and natural. Carey advances his character development slowly but surely, and by this point in “The Wound,” I care about tough Didge, hapless Danny and even the diffident, prophesying unicorn Shrdlu Silverhoof.
With only one more issue in “The Wound,” story arc, I’m wondering how Carey will tie it all up. He’s revealed far less of the mystery of the cult than I would have expected at three-quarters of the way in. The nature of Didge’s disability is still a mystery, for one thing. Even so, Carey has proven himself to be able to write dense, layered issues, so I have faith that he and Gross will continue to deliver their usual standard of unusually strong storytelling in next issue.