Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Strange Book-ends

The Unwritten Volume 9: The Unwritten Fables: written by Mike Carey and Bill Willingham; illustrated by Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham, and others (2013): With the last story arc of The Unwritten debuting in January 2014 in a whole new, restarted book, this volume brings the original run to an end in what is a bit of a curious fashion, a crossover with DC/Vertigo's other long-running series about myths and stories, Bill Willingham's Fables.

Despite not having read Fables for several years, I didn't have any problem following the basics of this crossover. But it still didn't exactly work. I have no idea why the antagonist of the series, Dark, is such a world-destroying badass, at the beginning or the end of the arc. I don't much care about any of the characters other than our Unwritten regulars, who only actually appear in the first and last issues. Well, technically only Tom Taylor appears. I think. Or maybe not.

There are still many fine moments herein, including some truly awful stuff involving a witch's last ditch gambit to save all of existence (Dark's arrival makes for strange bedfellows), and a very moving final sequence that sets up The Unwritten: Apocalypse with, well, a preliminary apocalypse. Still, this arc remains something of an oddity, the least satisfying storyline from The Unwritten's excellent run. Lightly recommended.


Astro City: Through Open Windows: written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Brent Anderson and Alex Ross (2013): Busiek's Astro City returns, complete with interior artist Anderson and cover artist Ross, in fine style. While a major story arc gets set up in the first issue, the book mostly focuses on stand-alone stories and short arcs.

Life in the superpower-filled universe of Astro City is a fascinating affair, both metatextual (Busiek creates analogs for virtually every comic-book character you can think of) and emotionally satisfying (the analogs rapidly become their own characters, while the lives of what would be minor characters in a typical superhero book are richly explored).

For instance, the first few issues deal with the exciting adventures of someone who staffs the Hot-line for this Earth's version of the Justice League or the Avengers. Busiek gets to world-build here in what seems to be a perfectly reasonable fashion (I mean, a hotline's going to need staff, isn't it?) while offering a groundlevel view of life on a world packed with supernatural superscientific shenanigans.

Brent Anderson's interior art, superheroic without being super-exaggerated, is as good as ever, which is to say absolutely perfect for the writing of Busiek. There's a nice balance of the mundane and the Super-loopy throughout Anderson's Astro City work.

We also get a look at what people with superpowers who don't want to either fight crime or commit crime do with their lives (find jobs that can use their specialized skills), and look in on a retired super-speedster. Meanwhile, the Over-Arc involving mysterious observer The Broken Man offers glimpses of some world-shattering Crisis to come. Recommended.

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