Unwritten, Vol. 2: Inside Man
written by Mike Carey
illustrated by Peter Gross
Collecting issues #6-12, Inside Man follows Tom Taylor's arrest for the brutal murders at the conclusion of the previous volume and focuses primarily upon his incarceration for these crimes. Although in some ways less magical than the prior installment, the series matures as a result of the day-to-day, real life exploration Carey and Gross undertake. In fact, the magic is far more subtle and woven into the plot as the "Jud Süss" and "Eliza Mae Hertford's Willowbank Tales" episodes illustrate. As a result, the paranormal effect is reinforced and the surreal made all the more tangible.
Inside Man is also a study in character. Not only do audiences learn more about the central figures of Tom and Lexie, as well as become acquainted with the third member of the team, Richie Savoy, but they are also introduced to the familial dynamics of auxiliary individuals involved and linked to the prison through its administrator, Governor Claude-Luis Chadron. While volume one cast an air of fantasy about the roles of Tom and Lexie, Carey and Gross ground the protagonists in this collection without losing any features that connected them with the audience. Readers learn that Tom is much more than a spoiled or distant child riding on the coattails of his father's fame and success; instead, the protagonist displays an uncharacteristically powerful command of real world survival skills and traits as he engages with fellow prisoners and defends himself from assault.
The central theme of volume two is one of fictional creations and the power and significance audiences attach to them. For example, Tom's own process of self-awareness and actualization is juxtaposed alongside a conversation with Frankenstein, a recurring mentor sequence throughout the series. Although Tom battles to distinguish and differentiate the blurred lines and barriers between fiction and reality as he fights against the continued signs which challenge his perceptions—the winged cat, the tattoo upon his left hand, Frankenstein, and the spectral Sir Roland visiting him outside his cell—the reverse is explored through the children of Governor Chadron, Leon and Cosi, and their own tragic, personal associations with Tom and Tommy Taylor.
In an already emotionally heavy work, Carey returns to the innovation that marked and shaped the Kipling, Twain, and Wilde sequence from the premier volume with the two-part "Jud Süss" story arc. Referencing the 1940s anti-Semitic film produced by Josef Goebbels and the Nazis, Carey utilizes Goebbels and the movie as a prime example of stories controlled and manipulated by the Cabal organization targeting Wilson and Tom and the damaging effects that ensue. Identified as a Canker by Lexie, the story was inverted by the Nazis as propaganda against the Jews and thus has become an uncontrollable danger to the heroes. Carey reveals, for the first time, Tom's greater role in the unfolding mystery as he directly interfaces with the unwieldy story entity.
While profanity in Vertigo titles is nothing new or shocking, its appearance in the context of an Alice in Wonderland-like sequence is quite disjointing and yet extremely humorous. Mr. Bun, the nom de plume for Pauly Bruckner, is a lone white rabbit caught in a mix of anthropomorphic beings straight out of the Hundred Acre Woods. Possibly an ode to the influence of Christopher Milne on the series, Carey utilizes this final story as a companion to "Jud Süss" in that it also focuses attention on the life within fictional narratives and the interplay with reality. Here, audiences learn that villains are not the only ones who can manipulate stories to serve their purposes, and the revelation about Wilson's use of the "Willowbank Tales" is a beautiful bookend to "How the Whale Became" from volume one.
Although the stand-alone pedagogical qualities of Inside Man are not as strong as Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, educators would still be hard pressed to divorce the two volumes from each other. Audiences who enjoyed the first volume will find little to criticize or lament in the second, as Carey and Gross provide another solid contribution to Vertigo's publishing line.