In "The Unwritten: Apocalypse" #8, Peter Gross and Mike Carey bring Tom's Arthurian adventure to an unexpected, exciting conclusion. Playing with genre and audience expectations, making unapologetically esoteric allusions, and drawing seemingly disparate storylines together, issue #8 is another reminder why I love this series. Even with only four issues to go, "The Unwritten" keeps its crown as the coolest story experiment in comics today.
Peter Gross' creativity and careful execution are as superlative as ever, taking what could be a gimmicky, awkward conceit and somehow producing understated artistry. As Tom and his friends shift in and out of a medieval chanson de geste, Gross shifts in and out of a period-esque parchment-and-ink style. The mix between this and Gross' usual aesthetic is constantly changing. Some panels are entirely medieval; others have the two styles colliding like streams. There's even a third fish-out-of-genre approach for the witch. This interplay between styles could have easily gone wrong, but Gross' composition and Chuckry's colors work together smoothly. Instead of being jarring, it's fascinating and fun.
Letterer Todd Klein also deserves some credit for the readability of these transitions. It would certainly have been tempting to give the medieval language and the modern distinct text treatments. Klein, however, trusts his own placement and his fellow creators to convey the changes, and it makes for a much less cluttered experience. When people emphasize how collaborative comics are, this is what they mean. Had any member of the creative team been less thoughtful, the "Sang" arc could have looked quite messy.
As far as the script is concerned, Mike Carey is on point with both his character work and literary references. The contrast between what Savoy calls "high medieval bullshit" and the characters' real-world dialogue is inevitably going to be funny, but it also needs to drive the plot, build the tension and convey what's going on. Carey managed to make me giggle and turn the page -- all this despite using a false rape accusation plot, which as a real-life rarity that's disproportionately frequent in fiction, does nothing to win me over.
Admittedly, some of the mechanics of the conclusion don't make perfect sense. It's unclear how the witch and Armitage get into the chapel, given that she's repelled earlier, and I also didn't understand how the chapel could keep her from entering, but not keep her from killing. As we're dealing with a world driven by deteriorating stories, I'll accept most of it at first pass, but it did make me curious.
In some sense, the end of issue #8 is anticlimactic. Much like the canker of the war stories, the Grail/maanim has been built up in its power and potential. When it's finally encountered here, it seems like more of a red herring. Issue #8 of 12 should begin the denouement, but Tom and his friends are still without answers -- and Wilson is once again in control. Why did they not know about this third option before? A pen isn't exactly shaped like a cup or horn.
Of course, "The Unwritten" has never been beholden to physical logic -- it's only beholden to story logic. And as a story about stories, I suppose this series couldn't properly end with a cup or a horn; it would have to end with the pen.