I gotta take, gotta take my mind off you
Not much to mention this time round – although obviously when the issue starts Frankenstein’s Monster is literally right there, chatting to Tom as the issue starts. Created by Frankenstein, who was created by Mary Shelley, the writer who many would say created science fiction as a genre when she wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818. The Monster meets Tom in a church, where it ponders the existence of Christ. Let’s not touch that.
We also get another recap of The Song of Roland, although this time Tom explains the purpose of the poem’s creation: it’s propaganda. The story is designed to have the Christians sound virtuous, betrayed, and needing vengeance, whilst the Muslims are duplicitous, sneaky, and… well, foreign. A familiar enough song, then. The song was viral marketing before that term was ever coined, as Tom describes it here.
Everybody’s looked at an optical illusion at some point. That one where you’re told there’s a bunch of circles hidden on the page, and you can’t see them until suddenly something switches in your brain and the circles are the only thing you can see? Sometimes all the pieces of a puzzle can be right in front of you, and you can’t find a way to put them all together which makes sense. It’s the same way of thinking which means people can have everything spelled out clearly for them and still not understand the story they’re in.
Issue #7 of The Unwritten is filled with characters who are ignoring the signs of what’s happening around them, or are deliberately trying to avoid seeing the whole picture. Take Savoy, the character who first appeared last issue and is clearly important in some kind of way. He’s got a slightly different kind of design from Peter Gross, and obviously knows more than he’s letting on. It’s a surprisingly blunt character introduction from the creative team, especially as Tom seems like he should be smart enough to recognise when somebody is blatantly lying to his face. That ruse, weak as it is, drops here, as Savoy comes to Tom’s rescue when he’s attacked by a group of prison guards who are on the payroll of our villains. Savoy rescues Tom long enough for Mingus the flying cat to appear and very clearly show us how real he really is, knocking one of the guards off the walkway and to their death.
Again, Gross makes sure the sequence thoroughly spells out what is happening for readers, in a panel which shows the guard knocked through the air, tumbling downwards, and hitting the ground. It’s like we’re being slapped with each passing second by the creative team: “pay attention, because this is REALLY happening right now”. It’s a lesson which Tom is hopefully now finally starting to realise, as he seems accepting of Mingus’ existence in a way he hasn’t previously. His denial of the blurred line between fiction and reality has been the heart of The Unwritten’s early run, but it’s like he’s finally now starting to unfocus his mind and let the illusion fade away. He doesn’t want to accept that those circles are visible, but he’s slowly accepting that there’s a different reality within the reality he’d previously accepted.
Shortly afterwards, Savoy explains for Tom what’s seemed obvious from the first time he appeared: he’s a journalist, placed in the prison so he can blog about what’s happening to the world’s most famous prisoner. Savoy is the “Inside Man” whose blog has been appearing in extracts across this second story arc, and he’s passing on a version of Tom’s story for the general public to read and embrace. We have the actual narrative of Tom’s life; we have the narrative which the world believes is true; and then somewhere in the middle we have Savoy’s account. Again, these conflicting versions of the truth are forcing the public to decide how they interpret what’s going on. Everybody is seeing the same image, but there are different valid interpretations of what the image is showing us.
That’s the high-wire which we all have to walk as well, as we still don’t know what Carey and Gross are planning here. We know this is a fictional story – a comic book – and we still don’t really know what’s happening with Mingus, Lizzie, or any of the other weirder parts of the series. That gives us the chance to project ourselves into Tom, an experience which’d become increasingly frustrating for readers if he weren’t able to see the bigger picture start to emerge. Because this is a comic driven by mysteries, our protagonist has to start becoming self-aware if we’re going to keep empathising with him. The quick reveal of Savoy’s true identity is essential, because most readers would already have guessed who he is, and there’s no point in us being ten steps ahead of our lead character.
This is why the first scene is so important for the comic. Frankenstein’s monster appeared at the end of last issue, and here he spends a few pages talking with Tom. He thinks Tom has summoned him for some reason, which obviously baffles the both of them. Tom can accept elements of the story he’s presented here – so we get that satisfaction that things aren’t being confusing just for the sake of them – but he refuses other, which feels real and true to his character. He’s starting to go with his changing story in some respects, but clinging on to his old life in others. It’s a gradual change, which gives us the hope he’s starting to change into the character we want him to be, and start to deliver a few answers after having seven months of questions.
Most importantly, Tom ends the conversation with a referential joke, saying:
“You don’t get to tell me what the truth is! You’ve got a defective brain! That’s in the book! That’s canonical!”
For one thing, it’s a good joke, giving us a bit of levity in all the grandiose pondering about the concept of fiction and reality. For another, it shows Tom’s awareness in how literature works, reminding us that he is clever and will have the potential to piece together the right story in due course. But mainly, it gives us the feeling of acceptance. Tom starts off the issue by denying the Frankenstein’s Monster stood right in front of him: by the end of the conversation he’s treating the character as someone who really is there in the chapel, accepting that what’s right in front of him has to actually be true. It’s promising, in other words: Tom isn’t going to flatly deny everything that’s right in front of him, and over the course of the issue he realises that Mingus, Frankenstein’s monster, Savoy and Roland (who he conjures towards the end) are all part of a different story to the one he wants to accept.
That’s also what marks Tom as being similar to the Warden, whose story continues with this issue. The warden’s children are obsessed with the Tommy Taylor novels to an extreme degree, and the warden has used that belief to create a moral system based around the fictional world of the books. The kids want to be like their heroes, so they’ll behave for their dad. If they ever find out that Tom Taylor – the apparent inspiration for Tommy and real-world equivalent of the fictional character – is in their father’s jail, how will they react? The warden has started to accept that Tom isn’t Tommy, and he knows he has to protect his children from a similar revelation.
But that’s the problem here. As readers, we’re starting to believe that Tom and Tommy are the same person in some way, a real person conjured from the fictional. The warden sees the reverse; and for the sake of his family he’s constructed a narrative that Tom and Tommy must be completely different people. Both of us are seeing the same picture, but we’re focusing on different elements, and it tells a different story for each of us in turn.
The Unwritten #7 “Inside Man: The Song of Roland”
Story by Mike Carey and Peter Gross,
Colourists: Chris Chuckry and Jeanne McGee
Letterer: Todd Klein
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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