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I'm often hard on Vertigo Comics for publishing books that hold way too strictly to the Alan Moore/Neil Gaiman model. It seems as though most of their series (like House of Mysteries) feel like cut-rate Gaiman rip-offs, which is to say they're poorly told stories about poorly told stories. And everything else is a grim and gritty take on comics that feels like a bad Alan Moore rip-off. The best comics Vertigo has produced in the days since Gaiman and Moore (Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Y the Last Man) don't look like any other Vertigo book.

So that's why I was nervous about The Unwritten. I generally like Mike Carey's writing, but a comic book about the son of a Harry Potter-popular author who gets swept into the story his father created sounded like the worst kind of Vertigo pitch to me. So I'm surprised to say that I really enjoyed the first volume of The Unwritten.

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Tommy Taylor makes a living going to sci-fi conventions, talking about his dad, the creator of the Tommy Taylor boy wizard series of young adult novels. At one convention, he's confronted by a reporter who thinks he's a fraud—his identity seems to have been created quite recently. Soon after, Taylor is attacked by the villain from one of the books. It's not a Last Action Hero-style "the stories are coming to life!" snoozefest, either: The last chapter in this volume is a complex, wordy digression about Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, and Oscar Wilde that is only vaguely tied to the main story. It becomes clear almost immediately that this is a comic book for book-lovers and fans of literature.

The story doesn't progress very far in volume one—it only collects the first five issues of the series—but for ten bucks, you'll want to check out The Unwritten if you enjoyed Sandman. Not because it in any way apes Sandman in form or in content, but because, like Sandman, it's a highly literate story with mystery, heart, and depth. Pick it up the next time you're at your local comics shop.