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Bookends: How to Avert an Apocalypse February 7, 2016

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Bookends: How to Avert an Apocalypse

By Dan Davidson

September 29, 2015

– 745 words

 

The Unwritten, volume 11: Apocalypse

Story by Mike CareyApocalypse

Art by Peter Gross

Vertigo Books

176 pages

$19.99

 

Last weekend the Sunday Edition celebrated the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the first of two works about Alice written by Lewis Carroll. Inspired by Carroll’s friendship with young Alice Liddell, the book became a bit of a nightmare for her great-granddaughter, Vanessa Tait, who happened to look like Alice and was often forced to dress like her for photographs when she was a child.

Tait made her peace with the book when she got older, but her story is a bit like that of poor Christopher Robin, who grew up with people asking him what it was really like to grow up with Pooh Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood.

So it was with Tom Taylor, whose father, Wilson, made him, as “Tommy Taylor” the titular central character in a series of books that became known the world round. As Tom grew up he was determined not to be Tommy, but the 12 collected volumes of this series have made it quite clear that there were many ways in which he was just that.

Wilson had programmed his son and at least one of his companions, Lizzie, to be able to tap into the power of story, as personified by Leviathan, the mythical whale.

Wilson was once the agent of a mysterious Unwritten Cabal bent on ruling the world indirectly, by influencing what people think about and value through the medium of stories. Once he turned against them, he began the Tommy books as a way of fighting back and more importantly, of laying the groundwork for his real assault on the cabal, which would be launched through the person of his son.

Then, after making publishing history with 13 bestsellers, Wilson vanished, leaving Tom with little but doing appearances in memory of his father’s legacy to make a living with. There must have been money, but there’s no trace of it. Tom doesn’t even know who his mother was.

The series began with Lizzie Hexam standing up at a fantasy con and asking Tom who he was, because she says he’s a fake.

After that, through the next 11 volumes (and one prequel graphic novel) Tom and his two companions, one of whom turns out to be Lizzie, and the other an ambitious blogger, end up down more rabbit holes and into stranger adventures than Harry Potter or Alice ever dreamed of.

While the cabal takes the part of the central villain through much of this, Tom is haunted by their chief henchman, a man who calls himself Pullman, but whose real name is lost in prehistory. He became part of one of the first stories very early on in the way of the world, and his wooden artificial hand has the power to turn people into fiction, a terrifying power.

Tom has the ability to link himself to existing stories as if they were other dimensions, and as his quest to find out his own truth continues, he spends time in the story of Moby Dick, is companioned by Frankenstein’s Monster, and, in this final volume, lives through a fractured version of the Grail Quest from Arthurian legend.

In this volume, Tom and Tommy, along with their real life and fictional companions, join forces to combat Pullman and his allies, and Tom makes a discovery that leads to a surprising conclusion for him. He has won – sort of – but there’s a terrific cost.

In a bit of a coda, we learn how some of the secondary characters are getting on with their lives now that Tom has averted an apocalypse in which all manner of stories would have run roughshod over reality.

It is perhaps the end that Wilson trained him for, but that doesn’t make the old man feel any less guilty about the ways in which he had manipulated his son’s life. We leave Wilson descended the impossibly long stairway to the under realm, seeking to find Tom and try to make amends. As this is a comic book reality, there is always the chance that some other combination of writer and artist might take up the material – especially when it sells well and wins awards – but it feels very much as if Carey and Gross are finished, just as it says on the cover.

 

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