Now this is something a little different: “Inside Man: Interlude.” After the cliffhanger in last month’s “Unwritten” — where it looks like Tom Taylor is going to be dispatched by the forces working against him — this issue takes a step back and provides us with some context, showing us the personal life of the warden of the French prison where Taylor is locked up. Through the warden, we get to experience the craze of the Tommy Taylor novels thanks to his children, specifically his daughter, Cosi, who has some difficulty discerning fact from fiction.
This issue is less plot-driven than most, revolving more around the idea of the boundary between the real world and the fictional world of literature. Is the warden’s encouragement of his children’s love of the Tommy Taylor books — including pretending to be the characters or writing spells of protection on their windows — healthy? Or does it go too far? With the warden and his wife on opposite sides, both perspectives are given equal weight, for the most part, with Cosi’s own actions often determining which side the reader is likely to fall on. Make believe about Tommy Taylor seems innocent and acceptable when it’s a bedtime game, but when a violent incident happens at school, a line is clearly crossed.
If there’s a weakness in this idea being debated in this comic it’s that we know that the Tommy Taylor stories aren’t simply fiction. The series has been teasing about the nature of fact and fiction, and how the line isn’t so clearly drawn in this world, but that knowledge undercuts the focus of this issue. We know that Cosi’s devotion to Tommy Taylor isn’t entirely misplaced, but no one else really does, making her more sympathetic than her actions perhaps warrant.
As always, Peter Gross’ art is sublime. His rendition of the children in this issue is wonderful as he doesn’t simply draw little adults, and manages to also capture that element of androgyny that children exhibit early in life. The visual idea that Leon, Cosi’s little brother, looks a little feminine works with his character as he follows Cosi’s lead, perhaps growing longer hair to emulate his big sister. The warden is a strong visual as well, with his hardened face that would suggest he’d be against the playful fun of the Tommy Taylor books, not the proponent.
While an interesting issue, “The Unwritten” #8’s deviation from the main plot hurts it, as what we learn regarding the warden isn’t extremely revelatory. We already knew he had issues with Taylor because of his children, all that’s expanded here is how extremely devoted his children are to the Tommy Taylor books. It’s still a good read, but not as strong as other issues.