Mr. Vertigo Reviews 34: The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice; Kinski; MIND MGMT Volume Two: The Futurist

Unwritten_Tommy-Taylor-coverThe Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice
Mike Carey/Peter Gross/Kurt Huggins/Zelda Devon
Vertigo

This is Tommy Taylor’s origin story, which Vertigo describes as a prequel to the series The Unwritten. It came out over a year ago, but just came out in paperback, so I’m catching up to it in a somewhat timely way. Technically it really is a prequel: it tells the story of how writer Wilson Taylor hatched a master plan to conceive a son and a literary character simultaneously. This has been hinted at and revealed in bits and pieces in the main series, but the whole thing is laid out here. Parallel stories depict the adventures of child wizard Tommy Taylor (in Wilson Taylor’s first book Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice) and the birth and early childhood of Tom Taylor, including the family’s role in the marketing of the series of books that became an immediate sensation. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this as a good starting place for readers new to the series. I think the reveals get most of their power from familiarity with the series, and the previous hints.

The story opens with Wilson trying out approaches to the series. He understands the power of literary templates, and sets out deliberately to tap into the “boy wizard” archetype that has been popular in recent stories (hard to avoid thinking of Harry Potter here, but Taylor mentions Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Superman, and “all their bastard offspring.”) Wilson meets with a publisher when he has some finished chapters. He’s convinced that his story can attract a far broader audience than the niche fantasy market.

The completed chapters at this point have already set up the core of the boy wizard story. His parents, wizards Sebastian and Leona Taylor, have set their infant child adrift to save him from a shipwreck. He arrives on land safely via the giant whale Leviathan, and is placed in the care of the master of the Tulkinghorn Magic Academy. Tommy grows up working in the kitchen, unaware of his background. But when the ancient vampire Count Ambrosio arrives–after the wizards have raised the ship that sank with the Taylors aboard–who he is becomes the key not only to his destiny, but to the salvation of the town and the entire magical community.

Meanwhile Wilson has sent Tom’s mother away (complete with a separation agreement that bars her from seeing him again) and taken up with the boy’s governess. He knows what he’s doing to his son is monstrous, and can only hope for understanding (and perhaps forgiveness) one day. Which does not stop him from using the boy to promote the books, right from early infancy.

So all of the questions about Tommy’s parentage and early life are definitively answered. But the bulk of the story is the part telling the fictional origin of the boy wizard. It’s far more entertaining. But at the very end the appearance of the winged cat Mingus calls the division between fiction and reality into question.

Finally, a word about the art. Co-Creator Peter Gross is credited with Layouts for the whole book. He and six other artists did finishes, and five artists get credit for colors. Sounds like it could be a visual patchwork, but in fact it looks quite consistent. Judging by the sample process page in the back, Gross’s layouts were detailed enough to guide the storytelling despite the many hands involved.

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KinskiKinski
Written and drawn by Gabriel Hardman
Monkeybrain Comics (digital original); Image Comics (print collection)

Joe has a frustrating dead-end job as a chicken feed rep. But he finds a new calling when he encounters an apparently neglected Labrador puppy while on a business trip. He develops an immediate attachment to the dog, and names him Kinski (after actor Klaus Kinski, a favorite of his). He’s so taken with the puppy that he buys a dog tag with the name “Kinski” and his contact information.

When he checks on the dog with the local Animal Control office he finds that the dog’s owners had claimed him. But he surreptitiously gets their address and goes to check on the dog. He convinces himself that Kinski is still being neglected, so he “rescues” him. It’s a crusade for him, which leads to one bad decision after another.

Which may not sound like much of a story. But Hardman makes it really compelling. We don’t completely understand what is driving Joe, but he is a complex character, and it’s fascinating to watch him as he goes after the dog, basically destroying his life in the process. During the course of the story his coworkers and the other people he encounters are just as richly drawn (both visually and in the script): they all seem like real people that we might meet.

The story is done nearly in real time through the first five issues. For the final issue Hardman takes the liberty of jumping ahead in time twice, which allows us to see how the whole thing resolves. It’s a surprisingly hopeful ending, with a chance for happiness for both Joe and Kinski.

In film terms, this little black and white series is an art film rather than a blockbuster. But it’s a first-rate art film with a lot of heart.

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MIND MGMT 2MIND MGMT Volume Two: The Futurist
Created, Written & Illustrated by Matt Kindt
Dark Horse Books

Our heroine Meru finds herself in her apartment with her mind a blank, about to begin the cycle of working on a book and following clues to former Mind Management agent Henry Lyme. But this time she has a vague sense that something isn’t right. When she realizes that she’s just gotten mail delivery on Sunday, she goes after the messenger for answers. She works her way up the chain, finally arriving at an advertising agency run by a man named Brinks. When she asks him about Mind Management a flood of memories come back to him about his career as an agent. Then all hell breaks loose: Lyme bursts in, too late to prevent Brinks’ assassination, but he escapes with Meru.

This sets up the dynamic for the stories in this arc. Instead of Meru following clues to Lyme, she works with him to contact former Mind Management agents before they get killed. In the course of gathering a group of counter-agents Meru learns more and more about her own past. One indication of this different focus can be found in the content of the vertical border text that runs on the left side of most pages. Instead of the MIND MGMT Field Guide that ran through the first volume (which returns at the end of this one) we get Premeditated: A True Crime Novel, Meru’s first (and only) book.

Kindt has raised the stakes here, telling more and more about the Mind Management organization, while setting up a power struggle between opposing groups of agents. I can hardly wait to see what happens next!

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