The Unknown #1 Review
Not that Mark Waid needs to prove himself anymore. Long ago he elevated himself into superstar status but since leaving The Big Two, and taking up residency with BOOM! Studios, the writer has varied his output considerably. Moving away from his mastery of superheroes (though he still has something to say on the topic, as can be seen in the astonishing Irredeemable), he seems to be embracing every genre he can get his hands on, from crime in Potter’s Field, to kid-friendly adventure in The Incredibles and now to the mysteries of science in his latest series.
The Unkown is a 4 ish mini that follows Catherine Allingham. Apparently she’s a very smart woman – the world’s smartest person in fact, though we are only given hints as to why. The take charge private eye only has 6 months to live, thanks to an incurable, and growing, brain tumour. She seems very confident and as focused as a laser beam, assumedly because of her limited time left on this earth, but perhaps she was like that before her death sentence.
The first few pages aren’t a flattering start. They’re staged quite awkwardly, with page transitions that need to be re-read to get a sense of time. Catherine wakes up to a hallucination (that occurs again, twice) of a creepy Frankenstein lookalike, before making it disappear thanks to some pills. She’s then called into a murder scene and deduces the culprit almost immediately before heading home. On the way she meets James Doyle, a perceptive bouncer. Before Doyle knows it, he’s teaming up with the famous detective and on a plane with her to Vienna. It is there that the new partners find twin scientists working on a huge machine. The Faderbauer brothers claim they are victims of the world’s first quantum crime, while Catherine discovers what their machine is capable of measuring.
This left me unimpressed. It’s a great premise, to be sure. The world’s best investigator chasing down the world’s last mystery – life after death. Well, this mission isn’t stated in this story, but that’s what the promos tell us. Presumably, Catherine is on a quest to grasp what has eluded mankind since it first discovered death – what happens next. Motivated by the tumour that’s robbing her remaining days, she’s in a hurry. That makes sense and is intriguing. The problem here is that we not given any real glimpse into who Catherine is. Hopefully that will come in future issues, but I found myself wanting to know more about Doyle than her. The way Waid handles Catherine kind of reminded me of how some writers handle Batman. To prove his proficiency, they make him always appear to be the smartest person in the room. He easily solves dilemmas and dashes to the next one, leaving those in his wake appear helpless. Catherine is not so much a character as a force of nature, merely a blur of multi-tasking self-reliance. Now that can work, but there’s no anchor to her humanity. She’s not aggressive, or rude or cocky, which in the hands of a lesser writer she easily could have been. It’s just that there’s no awareness of her as a real person.
Minck Oosterveer’s art is great though. Similar to John Paul Leon, with his use of blacks and muted textures, he can draw pretty much anything. It all looks real and never awkward. Felipe Martin’s colouring is perhaps too restrained however, though it does add a noir feel with the use of shadows and silhouettes.
I’d be a foolish man to give up on Waid. He knows what he’s doing and BOOM! has had a superb recent history with strong female characters, such as with Hexed. Hopefully Catherine Allingham can be one more, but it’s not immediately obvious just yet.