Vertigo Comics revealed the cover to The Unwritten issue #50 today, revealing that the title will cross over with Bill Willingham’s Fables universe. (Or that, specifically, Tommy Taylor from The Unwritten and Bigby Wolf from Fables will interact.) While nothing has been revealed in regards to the story, the crossover makes a certain amount of metafictional sense, since both titles deal with how stories shape the fabric of reality.
Still, it feels a bit…cynical?
(Spoilers for The Unwritten ahead.)
This crossover isn’t the end of the world, or at least it isn’t in the one title where that hasn’t yet occurred, but it dilutes the narrative potency that The Unwritten has been struggling to maintain in the past year. The title started out as an entertainingly incisive look at Harry Potter, genre fiction, fandom, and how we adopt aspects of them into our own mannerisms. It evolved from there to examine how deeply stories and self-awareness are intertwined and has been slowly getting its readers to a point where they can’t see all that much of a difference between a story and the world around them.
It’s this aspect of Mike Carey’s The Unwritten that makes it the Best Comic Book You’re Not Even Reading. (Seriously, it’s like if you ignored Sandman when it was coming out in single issues.) But the story has been very wobbly as of late and is only now showing signs of regaining its momentum. One also gets the impression that The Unwritten is making tentative steps towards its endgame, so why, at this point, would you derail any of that for a crossover with another fictional universe?
It should be noted that any crossover of any sort actually makes sense within the story context of The Unwritten. Tommy Taylor has the ability to step through stories, and a litany of characters from a variety of stories often end up in worlds for which they were not written. (A recent issue found the Bennet women in a bleak wasteland, under the command of Baron von Munchausen, assisting Tommy with finding the gate to the underworld so he can speak with Hades.) So having a noted Fable like the Big Bad Wolf pop up during Tommy’s travels is actually not all that crazy a notion.
And it might be this is what issue #50 will entail: Tommy visiting a bunch of worlds, including Fabletown, while en route to his actual destination. It’s just being played up as a big deal because Bill Willingham’s Fables universe is precisely that for the Vertigo imprint: a big deal. I am probably overreacting. Good talk, me.
But it’s hard to shake the impression that this crossover was prompted by editorial at Vertigo, especially considering that The Unwritten is by far the lowest-selling title in their line-up, and would have been cancelled if the collected trades weren’t selling so well and Mike Carey wasn’t such a respected writer. (Deservedly so.) “Hey Mikey,” my mind totally conjectures an editor saying, “if you have an opening for a Fables character you just let me know. I’ll get Bill on the horn and we’ll work it out.” In my imagination this fake editor is also horking down antacid tablets and telling Iris that he’ll be late to the opera tonight. So.
A crossover between Fables and The Unwritten is easy, perhaps even necessary, but that doesn’t prove that it’s a good idea. Will I buy the issue? Absolutely. Will I enjoy it? Very likely. But I remain a little worried, nonetheless. The Unwritten is hinting towards a complex and emotional final act and I would hate it to see it flounder in the same way that Fables did after it concluded its overarching war story.
Fables + The Unwritten = a tiny bit of dread. How about you?
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and would burst into a puddle of letters if he could.