The Highest House #4 (May 2018)

The Highest House #4

Gross has a double page spread this issue and it’s even more glorious than I could’ve imagined. He keeps the same small panel style, which is part of why the comic reads so well in general, but has a bigger area to flow. It makes up for the very confusing art at the end.

The issue is another full one. Not just with the existing plots, Carey goes ahead and adds another. There are visitors at Highest House and maybe they shouldn’t be trusted. Moth gets suspicious.

Before the end of the comic, after a lot of action and a lot of danger. It’s amazing Moth is still alive by the end–but in a great way. Carey is able to drum up concern as needed. A couple of the many subplots seem to get wrapped up. In both cases it’s more implied; it’s also very likely Carey’s on top of all the subplots. Because Highest House is refined. It’s grand and ambitious but the writing is just as precise as Gross’s art.

It’s an excellent comic.

CREDITS

Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 4; writer, Mike Carey; artist and letterer, Peter Gross; colorist, Fabien Alquier; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Highest House #3 (April 2018)

The Highest House #3

Highest House #3 really is only twenty-five pages. I had to do a confirmation count because so much happens I was having a hard time believing it was only one issue. Not a lot in terms of events, just in terms of character introductions and character development. Carey really does a lot, including giving Moth a love interest–well, a crush, anyway–in the lord’s daughter. And then he introduces the lord. And one of the princess’s maids. And some family mystic who can tell Moth’s got something going on with a dark power.

And then there’s Obsidian explaining how Moth is secretly descended from a royal line, which is why Moth can free Obsidian. There’s also a bunch about the deal with Obsidian. And with Fless, Moth’s roofing boss; there’s a lot with her. There’s not much with the creep cook, who’s still alive. For some reason I thought he was dead.

It’s a packed issue, beautifully visualized. Gross’s art moves the story along at a brisk pace without ever hurrying it. And he always makes time for some gorgeous establishing shots.

Highest House keeps getting better.

CREDITS

Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 3; writer, Mike Carey; artist and letterer, Peter Gross; colorist, Fabien Alquier; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Highest House #2 (March 2018)

The Highest House #2

Highest House doesn’t go anywhere expected. Even when it’s going somewhere predictably unexpected, writer Carey manages to get rid of that predictability. He’s got a lot of immediate danger, a lot of action, but after an almost pastoral setup.

Moth, new slave and roof-fixer, is in training. He talks to his boss, Fless, about life at Highest House, but without excitement. Life is long and without incident, it sounds like; Moth just needs to learn how to climb roofs better.

There’s some B plot with the mean cook who wanted Moth for the kitchen and then some C plot with the castle wizard. Though it’s unclear how much magic there’s actually going to be in Highest House. Even after it becomes clear there’s some kind of magic, Carey doesn’t define it yet. Because the reader understands more about what’s going on than Moth, because Moth’s a kid.

Of course, Moth’s got a voice in his head to explain things, which seems like it might be more trouble than it’s worth. We’ll see. Carey never rushes even when it seems like he’s about to rush. Instead, he dwells.

The issue just increases the series’s potential. Excellent art from Gross, who fits a whole bunch into these pages. Lots of panels, lots of information, but also lots and lots of movement. Some beautiful composition going on here.

Highest House. High hopes.

CREDITS

Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 2; writer, Mike Carey; artist and letterer, Peter Gross; colorist, Fabien Alquier; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Highest House #1 (February 2018)

Mike Carey and Peter Gross find a beautiful pace for the first issue of The Highest House. The issue’s full, but never too full–Gross’s pages sometimes have twelve panels, sometimes three, usually eight to ten. A lot of panels, a lot of story. And a lot of exposition.

In some medieval maybe fantasy world, a woman sells her son, Moth, into slavery. He’s off to Highest House, which he doesn’t know much (if anything) about. The guy who buys the slaves is an agent, not royalty. And he might he some kind of wizard (or hypnotist). He bonds with Moth because Moth’s got some perception abilities. Maybe. It’s unclear what they are or even might be.

So there’s the rural village, the trip to the city (with breaks), then the city itself. The palace. It just looks like a city. Anyway. Moth finds himself a roof repairer. He learns all about the tools, in this speedy, thorough page from Gross and Carey. There eighteen panels on the page and lots of text. Because it’s a full book.

Gross’s lines are a little looser than I remember, but he’s got gorgeous composition. And the loose lines usually make the characters emote better.

Carey’s writing is good. It’s interesting, it’s engaging, it’s not too complicated. Lots of panels, lots of text–Highest House could easily overwhelm. Carey doesn’t let it, even when it seems like it may. It’s that pacing. Beauty pacing.

Highest House is off to a strong start.

CREDITS

Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 1; writer, Mike Carey; artist and letterer, Peter Gross; colorist, Fabien Alquier; editor, Denton J. Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Unwritten 35.5 (May 2012)

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Interesting, now Carey’s using the final .5 issue to set up something else forthcoming. He introduces the reader–for the first time–to a peon in the Cabal. The protagonist this issue, Danny, is a thoroughly underwhelming English major who ends up working in the big reading room for the Cabal. Lots of the big events in the series occur, giving the reader a sense of the time passing.

There are a couple major bumps–it ties directly in to the story arc Carey finished the previous issue–and it’s a fine setup. It’s a little too much of a setup, but Carey does give the character an interesting story and perspective on this world. He’s entirely believable as a dimwit college student. It’s interesting to see the mundane in the Unwritten world.

Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art is good. The settings all feel very British.

It’s a thoroughly good comic.

CREDITS

Gospel Creatures; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; artist, Gabriel Hernandez Walta; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 35 (May 2012)

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Maybe Tom seems like an action hero because of his outfit. He’s got suspenders for some reason, looking a little like Bullitt.

It’s a Tom and Pullman issue. There’s some action, but there’s mostly just Pullman messing with Tom. Pullman–and Carey–promise some great revelation, but it’s unclear how much of it Pullman is just keeping to himself. The issue doesn’t exactly raise questions about Leviathan and the nature of the universe, but it doesn’t answer any either.

There’s a big change–possibly two–for the series at the end (and maybe even some little ones throughout). Carey, Gross and Perker do such a good job throughout, one can ignore the entire arc has basically just been a way for Carey to soft reboot the series. He could just as easily done a “One Year Later,” since he doesn’t even bother with subplots this arc.

Still, it’s fine stuff.

CREDITS

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Part Five; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and M.K. Perker; inker, Perker; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 34.5 (April 2012)

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The issue reads a little like “Wilson Taylor: Year One.” Gross and Carey give him a decent origin story, set in the trenches of World War I. Carey concentrates on the soldiers’ experience, hitting all the effective standards, but making them tie into Unwritten.

Actually, the questions he raises about stories, perceptions and reality during war are really interesting ones. He probably could get a decent limited series out of the concepts.

Gary Erskine’s art is good. The battlefields are either obviously frightening or Erskine just infers it. There’s a lot of refocusing but Erskine makes Taylor distinct enough to stand out.

The comic has a haunting quality. Even with all the magic, nothing compares to the lunacy of the war. Carey nicely lets Taylor revolt to jar the reader into paying attention. It’s a very serious issue. I don’t think Carey even goes for a smile. Well, maybe one.

CREDITS

The Whisper Line; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; artist, Gary Erskine; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 34 (April 2012)

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Perker’s finishes over Gross lead to a somewhat different look for the book. Besides Tom looking more like an action movie star than a twenty-something, there are some weird panel transitions. It’s not bad art, it just doesn’t feel like Unwritten at times.

It’s a combination of an action issue and a revelation one. The leader of the Cabal’s a good Bond villain who explains everything–multiple times–and there are a lot of explosions.

Carey weaves in a surprise–cheating, since the characters know about it but the reader doesn’t, but it plays well. Tom’s maturing as a character, the exposition is good, Lizzie and Richie have a good time. It’s a fine issue, but it just doesn’t wow.

It’s like Carey was giving more thought to the concurrently running .5 issues and letting the main story run on autopilot. Good material, smooth sailing, but not really engaging.

CREDITS

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Part Four; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and M.K. Perker; inker, Perker; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 33.5 (March 2012)

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This issue’s exceedingly good. These .5 issues really do give Carey the ability to show off his talent; even though they relate to the main series, they don’t rely upon it fully. This issue’s about a soldier stationed at a great estate in the eighteenth century.

The story eventually ties into the regular Unwritten world, but for a while it’s just straight historical fiction. Carey shows the soldiers’ lives, he establishes their personalities, and then he lets his protagonist loose. And the protagonist gets himself into trouble.

The resolution to the issue, which features the big tie-in, is great. Peter Gross is really hesitant when it comes to visualizing the fantastic in this issue. It doesn’t have a place in the story, not how Carey’s telling it; Gross’s visualizations match the mundaneness. There’s never any glamour to it.

Carey, Gross and Vince Locke turn in a particularly great issue.

CREDITS

From The Lives of the Marionettes; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and Vince Locke; inker, Locke; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 33 (March 2012)

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Something’s off about the art this issue. I can’t tell if it’s Gross or Perker, but something’s definitely off. Tom looks like a bland underwear model.

This issue features Tom’s assault on the Cabal. Lizzie and Richie both tell him he’s going too fast, which is also advice for Carey. There’s quick montage of Tom invading the headquarters–as the Cabal prepares their counterattack (based on Pullman’s obtuse advice)–but it’s rushed. No one seems like they’re enjoying themselves, particularly not Carey.

The issue gets some mileage out of Tom beating up the bad guys with magic–which Carey’s been hinting at for thirty issues–but the issue runs out of gas long before the finish.

Carey’s disinterest suggests the arc itself is for bridging, not just the issues. He needs to get Unwritten somewhere else and he’s not enjoying taking it there.

Even worse, Carey totally forgets Frankenstein’s Monster.

CREDITS

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Part Three; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and M.K. Perker; inker, Perker; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 32.5 (February 2012)

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It’s more from the adventures of young Pullman. I was wondering if it would turn out to be him and it does. Not sure if it’s supposed to be a surprise–Dean Ormston, who “finishes” (which looks like all the art), doesn’t draw the traditional Pullman. He’s a lot dirtier here.

Given the story takes place around 2500 BCE, the dirt is no surprise.

Carey looses Pullman on poor Gilgamesh, who goes monster hunting on the villain’s suggestion. The issue makes certain aspects of the Unwritten mythology quite literal, which is neat. Ormston does a great job with monsters.

Gilgamesh narrates the issue, giving Carey the opportunity to show off writer chops, but it also gives the reader a new perspective. Even with the time period, the reader knows more than Gilgamesh about what he’s encountering. Or some of it, anyway.

It’s yet another excellent issue. Thoughtful, action-packed goodness.

CREDITS

Set in Stone; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and Dean Ormston; inker, Ormston; colorist, Fiona Stephenson; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 32 (February 2012)

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I’m perplexed. Pullman does something bad, but I can’t figure out what he’s done or why it will put Tommy and the gang in danger.

What’s incredibly frustrating is Carey spends about half the issue with Pullman talking about what he’s going to do; I thought I’d understand it once he got to it… but no.

Otherwise, it’s a very solid bridging issue. Carey resolves the previous cliffhanger–not in a happy way, either–and sets up for the next challenge. Lizzie and Richie spend most of the issue trying to figure out how to survive without magic, which raises some interesting questions about Tommy’s powers while also providing drama.

There aren’t any big action set pieces, so Gross just excels at the dramatic pacing. Carey sets up a problem and gets to a resolution by the end; Gross has to make it frightening. He does.

It’s all quite good.

CREDITS

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Part Two; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and M.K. Perker; inker, Perker; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 31.5 (January 2012)

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Carey–with plotting assistance from Gross–internally spins off Unwritten with these .5s. I’m guessing, anyway; this one is my first .5. Carey uses Wilson Taylor’s journals investigating the Cabal’s history.

Michael Kaluta handles the art on the first story, regarding Pullman silencing some monks in ancient China. It’s a decent story with a good twist at the end, but it lacks any wow factor.

The second story, however, has the wow. Rick Geary perfectly illustrates the tale of a newspaper cartoonist who has to face the realities of being a storyteller. It’s quietly frightening, especially the postscript. Carey again utilizes a twist. It’s less showy than the first, but more successful.

The third story–beautiful Bryan Talbot medieval stuff–has the best twist because the reader’s in the dark about it for a page. The story progresses before the revelation.

The issue’s an excellent exercise from Carey and company.

CREDITS

Men of Letters. 1: Here is the Man of Virtuous Words; artist, Michael Kaluta. 2: No Honest Man Need Fear Cartoons; artist, Rick Geary. 3: Copy Errors; artist, Bryan Talbot. Writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Unwritten 31 (January 2012)

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Frankenstein’s Monster does join the gang, but he doesn’t really do anything. He’s muscle, without a lot of dialogue; it’s too bad.

This issue features Tom wielding the magic, Lizzie and Richie freaking out and a lot of action. Carey and Gross and M.K. Perker (who finishes) do a great job with the changing genres. Well, not so much genres. It’s always action-oriented, but there are some calm periods with the characters regrouping.

But, as an action issue, not a lot really happens. Lizzie argues with Tom about him not knowing enough about his magic, she tells Richie about it, she turns out to be right. Carey doesn’t go much for character development, he goes for big action set pieces. And those action set pieces work. It feels like Carey’s priming for something big.

Oddly, the issue’s most intriguing moment might just be a throw away line of dialogue.

CREDITS

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, Part One; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and M.K. Perker; inker, Perker; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

Swamp Thing 102 (December 1990)

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Okay, the shaman does have a name but only Alec uses it. The whole character’s a mistake, so why dwell.

This issue has social commentary, a magic ceremony to encourage Tefé to regrow her body, Swamp Thing fighting monsters and a few other things. There’s even a new supporting cast member who Wheeler doesn’t take enough time to introduce.

It’s a very hurried issue–and should be, it’s set against an approaching hurricane–and Wheeler’s got a good hard cliffhanger.

Sadly, Hoffman doesn’t have room to give it the appropriate space but it’s still effective.

Peter Gross inks Hoffman to mixed results. They remove Swamp Thing’s eyeballs, so Alec’s a lot less sympathetic. Their people feel very horror comic influenced, which would work better without some of Wheeler’s silly details. The fight’s boring; that failing probably has to do with the hurried pace.

It’s not bad, but far from good.

CREDITS

And All the King’s Horses…; writer, Doug Wheeler; penciller, Mike Hoffman; inker, Peter Gross; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Stuart Moore; publisher, DC Comics.

The Unwritten 30 (December 2011)

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Carey’s resolution is unexpected. It’s sort of celebratory and life affirming (and shows he and Gross could easily spin-off titles from Unwritten) but it also has the series’s first big fight scene in a while.

And it’s a comic book fight scene.

While all the detours into literature (Dickens, Moby-Dick), one doesn’t often think of Unwritten as being cousin to capes and tights comics. Carey apparently felt the need to remind everyone this issue and it’s cool to see a reluctant wizard battle a Golden Age hero.

It’s Marvel-style, of course, so the two heroes team up afterwards. Except it’s not to fight a villain, it’s to have a really touching scene together.

The Creature shows up again this issue as a deus ex machina but he also gets to meet Lizzie and Savoy. There’s even the implication he might hang out a bit.

An excellent issue.

The Unwritten 29 (November 2011)

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Carey sort of sidesteps the maximum tragedy to keep the narrative more interesting. It requires him to bring in a new character and pretend he’s been there for an issue… it’s an unfortunate oversight in an issue already riddled with problems.

It’s still a good issue, of course. But the scenes are unbelievably repetitive. Tom’s dad and his girlfriend have the same conversation two or three times. Wilson’s big solution to the problem shows he doesn’t plan ahead well enough. Carey also loses all sense of time. The flashbacks might take place over a month or three days.

Carey is able to finish up with a great cliffhanger, but it feels predetermined. He has to contain and direct the story this issue, which cuts down on its energy.

Like I said, still a good issue. Gross and Locke’s flashback material continues to be good and Carey’s gently working the subplots.

The Unwritten 28 (October 2011)

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Not a happy issue. Not one bit. Carey is forecasting an inevitable, devastating turn of events in his flashbacks. He’s really turning the screws too, as Tom’s dad meets a woman and, in an extreme Romeo and Juliet fashion, is going to have to kill her.

Besides the bad guys killing all the people Tom knows, which is often done without any personal touches to the scenes, it’s all this romance (set in the Depression). The art, from Gross and Locke, is fantastic. It exudes tragedy, keeping the inevitable event in the forefront of the reading experience.

There’s also some stuff with Savoy getting sick of Tom’s planning (Lizzie plays mediator). It too will come to a head, but it’s almost as though Carey’s distracting from it with the more potent flashback material.

It’s an excellent issue and Carey’s successful enough with the characters I’m dreading reading the next one.

The Unwritten 27 (September 2011)

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Carey packs this issue. Maybe not with content–there’s a lot of conversation, then some extraneous stuff in a flashback (Vince Locke nicely inks Gross for those pages)–but with atmosphere. This kind of issue endears a series to the reader and Carey’s able to do it without forcing.

The issue also opens with a muted “Wire” reference, so it’s impossible not to love it.

For the majority of the issue, things are quiet. Carey’s resolution to the previous issue’s cliffhanger is to focus on a different event (smaller to the character, bigger to the world) and its repercussions. The actual cliffhanger gets a quiet resolution a little later.

This issue’s cliffhanger, however, is somewhat distant from Tommy and the gang. It will, undoubtedly, have big repercussions later, but for now it’s incredibly soft.

Carey and Gross’s deliberate pacing makes The Unwritten a special read. It’s always assured and deliberate.

The Unwritten 26 (August 2011)

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Carey manages to be predictable and not. This issue closes off a two-parter and opens up something else… it’s not clear what yet, but definitely something. There’s a lot more action than I expect from Unwritten, maybe because it’s the regular action–guns, guys in body armor and ski masks. Gross handles it all fine.

There’s no big surprise moment, no big revelation. There are hints at future revelations and some little surprises, but Carey is certainly taking his time. He does resolve something from the previous issue, which surprised me a little. I thought he would have drug out the explanation a little longer.

Tom now commonly practices magic in the real world (and a tricky vampire) and that development changes up the norm a little. But Carey always manages to bring the triumvirate in, giving the characters their human moments.

It’s not rip-roaring, but quite good.

The Unwritten 25 (July 2011)

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Creepy business abound this issue. Well, not really. It’s implied at the end. Along with some more backstory into Tommy’s childhood, which Mike Carey has a lot of fun teasing.

The issue opens with Lizzie and Savoy on a what appears to be a comical mission (and stays one until the end) before Tommy appears.

Carey does a talking heads recap–successfully catching up both the reader and the characters–and Peter Gross excels at the talking heads. I forgot how good Gross does with the regular stuff. Unwritten has a lot of fantastical visual elements (not this issue but in general) and Gross does a great job with them, but the regular stuff is somehow more profound. He’s the one who brings humanity to the cast.

Not a lot happens this issue, but Carey and Gross are so good at telling what does happen, it’s impossible to feel slighted.

The Unwritten 24 (June 2011)

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Carey continues Pauly the foulmouthed bunny rabbit’s story, bringing him behind the scenes of fiction. Children’s fiction specifically. Carey visualizes it as an endless staircase with small doors into stories. Pauly escapes from the cellar through one of those doors.

It’s an interesting approach–all of the cast is, once again, pretty dumb (they’re cute little story-time animals after all) and Pauly quickly manipulates them all. Except the weasels. Once gets the feeling the weasels know what’s going on. Carey has a lot of Wind in the Willows references this issue… weasels included.

As usual with these done-in-ones, Carey could probably do a series around them so he has to bring a distinct voice. Here he uses Pauly’s… baby mama (a hippo) who recounts the tale. She’s a reliable narrator, but dumb. Makes for an interesting perspective.

The art is simultaneously precious and ominous. Al Davison does well over Gross’s layouts.

CREDITS

Stairway to Heaven; writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; pencillers, Gross and Al Davison; inker, Davison; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

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