Posted by: Graeme McMillan on August 21, 2009
I realized, while reading the most recent issue of THE UNWRITTEN, what it is I miss about Y: The Last Man: Endings. I’m not talking about Brian K. Vaughan’s almost unparalleled skill at managing to close each issue with a cliffhanger that was guaranteed to bring you back next month – although, really, that was something to see, and be jealous of – but instead, the idea that each trade collection would have some kind of ending, even as it continued the over-arcing story.
(For those who get concerned, yes, this continues after the jump.)
I’ve been enjoying The Unwritten in my own quiet way these past few months. Yes, it’s not as smart as it thinks it is or really wants to be, and yes, the Harry Potter analogs are a little too unsubtle perhaps, but it’s a fun book and there’s something interesting to me in the greater story that it admittedly seems a little too content to hint at instead of actually, you know, explore (If I was reviewing it properly, I’d probably go with Okay; it’s not wowed me at any point, but it’s an entertaining, if occasionally frustratingly slow, ride so far). But the latest issue, #4, ended on such a sour note for me that I found myself thinking the kind of meta- thoughts that never go anywhere good.
What bothered me so much was that the last page of the story identifies itself as “Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity – Conclusion” despite the fact that nothing in the story had actually come to any conclusion. It’s not even as if the story had come to a clear act close or anything, either; there was nothing particularly final about the issue, or anything to differentiate it from any other issue (Other than a sudden lurch toward slasher movie-dom, but that’s not necessarily a good thing)… It clearly just meant that this would be the end of the first trade paperback, an arbitrary breaking point without much meaning.
And, thinking about it, I realized that Unwritten wasn’t the only series that suffered from this problem. As much as I like it – and I really do – Matt Sturges’ House of Mystery doesn’t do story-arcs as much as just continuing on with the same uber-plot surrounding each issue’s one-off, and in that title, too, the titles of story-arcs denote future collections instead of any sense of beginning, middle, end. Air, too, tells one larger story without break, leading to an ending to the first collection that seems as much like they ran out of paper as a planned break point.
I’m not sure how I feel about this, or who to blame (If there’s blame to be given); I like stories with long-term goals, after all, and there’s something to be said for being able to tell one, massive, story over a number of years. But there’s also something to be said for being more aware of, and writing towards, the formats your story is appearing in, and part of that (I feel) is making the collections of individual issues have more… consequence? point? shape? than these series currently have. Vertigo as a line has gained a lot from trade collections, and it’s been commented more than once that the TP format is the stories’ true home. If that’s true, it’d be nice if the books themselves reflected that thinking, and treated their collections with more respect every now and again.