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Comic Book / The Unwritten

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Tom: It's— It's a story. It's just a story, man. It's not worth dying for.
Ambrosio: Just a story? Tell that to the Greeks who fought at Troy, Tommy. Tell the women burned as witches. The Rosenbergs. Sacco and Vanzetti. Tell the Martyrs of all the religions and the millions who fell in all the wars since time began! Stories are the only thing worth dying for!

The Unwritten is a Vertigo Comics series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, whom you might know as the principal creative team behind Lucifer. The series started in July 2009 and tells the story of Tom Taylor, son of an ultra-successful fantasy novelist who disappeared mysteriously at the height of his career. The protagonist of his father's Tommy Taylor series was obviously based on him, causing Tom no small amount of resentment. He is the constant center of attention for fans who want to meet "the real Tommy Taylor". At the same time, he isn't above cashing in by appearing at book shows and signings.

However, his life is turned upside down when it turns out that records of Tom's life are incomplete, and that he might be adopted, or just a fraud. Public outrage is instantly sparked, but things get even weirder when some of the more obsessive fans start believing he's Tommy Taylor made manifest. Soon afterward, he's attacked by what seems to be the vampiric Big Bad of the Tommy Taylor novels, Count Ambrosio. He's only barely rescued by Lizzie Hexam, the same woman who sprung the secret of his origin to the public, and who has some kind of connection to his missing father. The boundary between reality and fiction starts to blur as Tom sets out to discover the truth, while also being hunted by someone himself.

The Unwritten provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Tom really dislikes people calling him "Tommy", since that's the name of the fictional character his father based on him.
  • Anti-Villain: Pauly Bruckner in issue #12. He's clearly a ruthless person who's willing to commit any despicable act to get to his goal, but since his goal is getting out of the crap saccharine talking animal world Wilson Taylor has condemned him into and back into the real world, it makes his actions a bit more understandable.
  • Alliterative Name: Tommy (and Tom) Taylor, Sue Sparrow, Peter Price.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The unnamed cabal that constitutes the main antagonist faction, manipulating fiction to control the world (or perhaps vice-versa).
  • Arc Words: "Stories are the only thing worth dying for."
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The Villa Diodati is stated to be a Building of Adventure known for being the location where Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron met and where Frankenstein was composed. The narrative also states that it was where John Milton composed Paradise Lost. This is false on multiple levels. The owner of the house, Charles Diodati was a friend of Milton's but Milton died before his purchase of the house, and it's not true that Paradise Lost was composed in the same place.
    • The Kipling issue has the author fall out with the Greater-Scope Villain over the loss of his son John in World War I, seeing it as his Broken Pedestal moment on his role as a writer of empire and British nationalism, after propagandizing for entry into that war. Kipling in real life while grieving for the loss of his son, never once regretted or doubted his support for the Empire, nor for his support of the war. After World War I, he indeed insisted that the Treaty of Versailles was just, and that more effective steps needed to be taken to contain Germany who he saw before the war, and after the war, as Always Chaotic Evil. Kipling grieved for his son assuredly but he did believe that the cause he died for, and that of many of his comrades and soldiers, was just and had no doubts about it.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Pullman's actions cause the majority of the story, but close to the end Madame Rausch is revealed to be manipulating him somewhat. Exactly how much control she has over him is never really delved into, though Rausch is described by narration as "an even bigger threat", so their relationship zigzags between Big Bad Duumvirate and The Man Behind the Man.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: "Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity", the first collected volume. A later story arc, Tommy Taylor and the War of Words.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Starting when he goes to prison Tom starts to realize that some places are affected by the stories about them. For example, the town in "Song of Roland" wouldn't be remembered except for the fact that the "Song" was a Medieval meme. As he goes through the stories, he finds that stories have their own worlds, and also have connections to the corresponding locations in this world. Wilson seems to have written the book with the intent of bringing Tom the power of the character. It's revealed in Issue 11 that, when a book is turned against its purpose in the eyes of the world, it becomes a Canker. The example given is "Jud Suss," which was corrupted in its film form and "tortured" the story. This seems to be the cabal's goal with the fake 14th novel - it's full of mishmashed crap to the point that it would "poison the well" of Wilson's power.
  • Cliché Storm: In-Universe, the fourteenth (fake) Tommy Taylor novel.
    • As well as the real one, though drawing from generic spiritual cliches instead of outright plagiarism.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Wilson Taylor.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tom's only notable ability is his encyclopedic knowledge of the literary significance of various geographical locations. This ends up being continuously useful. It seems his father specifically taught it all to him for this very purpose.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Pauly Bruckner.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The Leviathan, which contains all dreams and stories. If it dies, all reality dies with it.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Some minor characters find themselves turned into wildlife and trapped in Willowbank Wood, a pleasant forest environment, with a group of cheery Talking Animals. One of them manages to adapt, but another, in the form of a rabbit, gets increasingly misanthropic and disturbed. His constant escape attempts... do not go well.
    • It seems perfectly nice if you're one of the locals, but for an ordinary human it's a maddeningly childish life.
    • Mr. Rabbit got out and and corrupts worlds ever since. The next place he ended up was a slightly less idealistic Talking Animal land (and a better example), here he became an Evil Overlord in all but name, just his "subjects" (or at least the narrator) were too naive to notice.
    • After the world goes post apocalyptic he's desperate to get back. In the end he's back for good, but in possession of a magic artefact that lets him leave any time he feels like it, which he frequently uses. Apparently a childish utopia is nice if you don't have to be there 'all' the time.
  • Crossover: With Fables
  • Disability Immunity: Didge Patterson's dyslexia turns out to be useful for escaping word-based magic.
  • Death Seeker: Pullman.
  • Expy: The Tommy Taylor series is more than a little similar to Harry Potter, down to the trio of main characters, similar villains and adjacent old mentors. They're also similar as phenomena. However, Tom Taylor himself is mostly based on the son of A. A. Milne, who was the basis of Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh stories.
  • The Dragon: Pullman to Mr. Callender, and various previous leaders of the Cabal. Also to his successor, Mr. Firth.
    • Dragon-in-Chief: As he informs the newly appointed Mr. Firth, "Your job is to do everything I tell you to do." Very little the Cabal does happens without Pullman's say so...
    • Big Bad: ...which makes sense, seeing as he founded it in the first place.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The Cabal is established as a major threat, but gets dealt with by the end of issue 35. Their founder Pullman, however is something of a subversion: even though his death happens roughly halfway through the book, it's self induced and the new threat following it comes about as a direct result of his actions. Plus, he gets better.
  • Gamebooks: Issue #17 is a "Pick-A-Story" issue, telling the confused backstory of Lizzie Hexam.
  • Hidden Villain
  • Historical Domain Character: Rudyard Kipling stars in one issue. Josef Goebbels makes an appearance as well. Also Mark Twain.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: Lizzie puts off a girl who wants to involve Tom in some sex magic by claiming that he has syphilis, he's celibate, and he's her fiancé.
  • Intrepid Reporter: More of an Intrepid Blogger, really. Savoy is willing to let himself be jailed to get the inside scoop on Tom Taylor.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot
  • Informed Ability: Wilson Taylor's writing skills. His Tommy Taylor books appear to be some of the most popular literature of all time. From the excerpts actually shown in the comic, they're fair to middling at best - and such brazen rip-offs of the Harry Potter books (which explicitly exist in this universe, and have been eclipsed by Tommy Taylor in popularity) that it would make The Asylum blush. For perhaps the pinnacle example, see Informed Attribute below.
  • Informed Attribute: Most of the excerpts we've seen have appeared epic and dark, but with a sense of banter and friendship keeping them from being overpowering. The fake book, of course, is hilariously bad - though only a little more flagrantly unoriginal than the actual corpus of the series. Then, we see the real Book 14. In-comic critics bend over backwards to tell us it has messianic themes but somehow avoids being overbearing and dull, yet whenever we see scenes from it, it appears to be nothing but the new white-clad Tommy going around spouting generically pseudo-Christian cliches while every good character literally bows to ask his blessing, and anyone who dares oppose him is stupid, ugly, and (in Ambrosio's case) wildly less competent and menacing than they used to be.
    • The series is a clichestorm because Taylor made it primarily as a weapon, not art.
  • Loony Fan: Lots. It goes with the conspiracy.
  • Messianic Archetype: Tommy Taylor in his last book, blatantly so. And for many people, Tom Taylor is this too.
  • Meta Fiction: "Stories" is the big theme of the series.
  • Mind Screw: A story about stories within stories that blend into other stories to form one big story is most certainly going to give some readers' minds whiplash.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Lizzie. Literallynote .
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lizzie's first few attempts to give Tom The Call backfire spectacularly (one getting him thousands of pieces of hatemail and death threats to the point where he's afraid to go outside, and one getting him locked up on murder charges). At least she apologizes to him for this.
  • Older Than He Looks: Pullman.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The vampires in the Tommy Taylor-verse look like Orlok and are unkillable to the point that thinking about them after destroying them can return them to unlife.
    • Lampshaded in Leviathan, when Lizzie tests Savoy to make sure he's turning into a Wilson Taylor vampire, "rather than, say, Stoker, Matheson or King."
  • Out-Gambitted: Mr. Callendar, and he pays for it.
  • Parental Abandonment: Tom's mother died when he was young, his father vanished.
    • Turns out that his mother is actually the woman that he thought his father was cheating on his mother with... at least according to Tom's father. He's not the most trustworthy source of information.
  • Playing Up the Stereotype: One issue shows how the Cabal made use of Rudyard Kipling, elevating him from obscurity while using Kipling's works as Propaganda Pieces to promote western imperialism and colonization of other cultures. After Kipling has begun falling out with the Cabal, he meets with Mark Twain and inquires if Twain was also approached by the group. Twain confirms that he was, but he either knew about the conspiracy beforehand or had a bad feeling about them, because, as he says, when they approached him he acted all country and "red in the neck" until they decided he was just a useless country bumpkin and left him alone.
  • Public Domain Character: Lizzie Hexam seems to be the character of the same name from Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Pullman is over 5000 years old, Madame Rausch is over 300, and Wilson Taylor is over a century old.
  • Say My Name: The first time Lizzie calls Tom "Tom" instead of "Tommy" (see the Accidental Misnaming example above) is when she's about to kiss him.
  • Shout-Out: To various books.
    • The Cliché Storm fake 14th Tommy Taylor book was designed to rip off several other novels and so has a number of crushingly blatant shout outs... The most obvious is to His Dark Materials with a ridiculously obvious Expy of Lord Asriel, but there's also a slightly subtler one to Discworld in the shape of a scruffy little talking dog who SAYS "Woof!" who is almost certainly meant to be an Expy of Gaspode the Wonder Dog.
    • One of the book reviewer's references Peter Pan, saying that if he lies and says the fake/poison Cliché Storm 14th book is good, "a fairy dies."
    • Also, the cover artist slipped Lucifer in among several other characters on the cover of issue #14 to reference the creators' previous work.
      • In issue 3, Tom Taylor makes a snarky comment about Lucifer and Frankenstein being "Tommy Taylor's creepy uncles," also referencing the creators' previous series.
    • As a kid, Tommy played with Terraformer and Mal-bot toys.
    • The special Tommy Taylor And The Ship That Sunk Twice references the protagonists of Carey's Crossing Midnight.
  • Smug Snake: Mr. Callendar.
  • Talking Animal: In issue #12. They're practically Civilized Animals, really, and even get called out for not trying to eat each other.
  • Translation Convention: Seemingly averted. Characters who do not natively speak English are regularly featured speaking English among themselves, which one could assume to be a use of this trope - but then they slip intermittently into their native tongue. For example, a French family at home conversing in English, peppered sporadically with lines in French.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Mr. Rabbit aka. Pauly Bruckner in almost every story he ends up.
  • You Have Failed Me: Mr. Callendar wants to pull one of these, but instead ends as the victim.
  • Your Costume Needs Work: Tom failed to get the role of Tommy Taylor in a movie.
    • To be fair, he was auditioning for the role of a character based on himself ten years younger.