Unwritten 2: pulse-pounding graphic novel shows the grim and selfish ways that people use stories

One of the strongest graphic novel debuts I read in 2010 was the first collection of The Unwritten, a story that peeks into the secret life of narrative and the blood and teeth lurking beneath our fantasies and fairy tales.

Now, The Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside Man, author Mike Carey and illustrator Peter Gross continue to work their magic, in a fast paced adventure story that delves more explicitly into the ways that humans manipulate story to their own ends.

Tom Taylor is the namesake of Tommy Taylor, a globally beloved fantasy character in the mold of Harry Potter from a series of books written by his father, who mysteriously disappeared years before. A Z-list celebrity, Tom ekes out a meager living signing copies of his father's books at conventions until a grad student publicly challenges him with evidence that he is an impostor (news to Tom!).

A pariah, Tom flees angry mobs of disillusioned fans, finally coming to the very castle where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, where a group of famous (and insufferable) writers have gathered. Then, amid revelations about an ancient conspiracy of story and storytelling (encompassing Twain and Kipling), the writers are murdered in most grisly fashion, leaving Tom to take the blame.

Book 2 picks up with Tom in jail in France, the subject of worldwide resentment and hate, in a prison built on the site memorialized in the ballad of Sir Roland's famous rout by the Saracens. Now all the stories are coming together: the ancient ballads, the Tommy Taylor novels, the gossip blogs that follow Taylor's every move — and now Tom is in more danger than ever.

If you like Willingham's Fables and the way that an adventure story can explore story itself, The Unwritten continues to satisfy. Highly recommended.

The Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside Man