The Irrknowiblowns

Yesterday's post discussed Mark Waid's current crop of titles for Boom! Studios and took an in-depth look at Irredeemable. Today the other two in the triumvirate get their due.

Cover B of The Unknown #1, illustrated by Erik Jones, © 2009 Boom! Studios.

The Unknown is a detective series, begun last May, with a possibly supernatural twist. Whether I say "possibly" just to avoid spoilers or because the explanation of certain events is still genuinely debatable after six issues is for you to discover — and (if you can afford it) it's a journey of discovery worth taking.

A 5-page
preview of The Unknown #1 is available at the Boom! website. It opens with a woman in bed, staring at a ghoul who sits by the window, an unauthorized biography of famed investigator Catherine Allingham on her night table; she pops some pills, the ghoul disappears, and her cell phone rings. She is Catherine Allingham. By the end of the first miniseries' first chapter, a murder has been solved in short order and the rest of the premise has fallen into place.

The first two pages of The Unknown #1. Script: Mark Waid. Pencils, Inks: Minck
Oosterveer. Colors: Fellipe Martins. Letters: Marshall Dillon. Images © 2009 Boom! Studios.

Catherine has six months to live, she tells new assistant James Doyle, thanks to a brain tumor. Since she can't always believe her own eyes — the tumor is causing hallucinations — Doyle's duty is to keep pace with her mentally and physically as she tries to solve perhaps the greatest mystery of all: What really happens to us when we die? Allingham seems to need an explanation that is empirical rather than based on spirituality or even scientific theory, which is why she and Doyle travel across Europe for a case involving the theft of a machine built to measure the human soul.

If it's a little unbelievable that Allingham "figured out Stonehenge and found D.B. Cooper" (slightly different degrees of difficulty there, one would think, or at least different intellectual disciplines), it's still, frankly, fun. Also enjoyable is her fashion sense, to a degree — I like the mix of sensible sneakers and signature red scarf, but her constant, extreme
décolletage strikes me as a gratuitous eye-grabber rather than a statement of self-confidence. Erik Jones's covers to #1 and #2, in particular, use the scarf to great effect, and all are visually arresting; I'd love to see what he and a dozen other artists who spring to mind as good fits for the material would do in an Unknown anthology.

The interior art from Minck Oosterveer, colored mostly by Fellipe Martins in the first miniseries and Andres Lozano in the next, subtitled
The Devil Made Flesh, is unfortunately as inconsistent as Irredeemable's. It strikes me as European, somehow — not unusual, since Oosterveer is Dutch, but also strange to say since the continent is home to illustrators as diverse as Lewis Trondheim, Milo Manara, and the multifaceted Jean "Moebius" Giraud — and perhaps in that cultural context what I perceive as shortcomings would instead merely be style. Yet while the layouts are accomplished and the machines are impressive, proportions vary wildly and characters are often identifiable from panel to panel only by their trappings, as if the price paid for the appealingly casual ink lines in folds of clothing was a loss of precision and consistency in facial features. And although the palette is appropriate, the color rendering in the first miniseries especially is too showy by a mile, often directly at odds with Oosterveer's expertly placed blacks. Perhaps worst of all, the recurring ghoul of Catherine's visions is only barely more creepy than goofy, resembling a wizened Herman Munster with the grin of the Grinch.

Primary covers of The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 and #2,
illustrated by Erik Jones, © 2009 Boom! Studios.

The Unknown appears to detour midway through straight into Mike Mignola's Hellboy — one of my Favorite Comics Ever — but Allingham has Sherlock Holmes's deductive mind and The X-Files' Dana Scully's ardent skepticism poured into Jennifer's Body's Jennifer's body. She explains away what Doyle calls "the magic ghost ninja guard whose touch turns people to dust" as a hired killer who uses "high-decibel ultrasonics" or "a weaponized high-speed necrotic disease". That still places her in a world that's a mite fantastic, granted; thankfully, Waid has at once grounded the characters successfully in the brilliant-sleuth tradition and primed the reader from Page One for potentially eerie forces at work, so at least for my money the twists have more balls than gall.

I won't pretend that it was easy for me to plunk down that money, $3.99 each (less my discount at the comics shop, plus tax) for the four issues of
The Unknown and two more to date of The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh. At least Irredeemable's first collected edition came in the form of a $9.99 trade paperback, whereas The Unknown #1-4 — all sold out from the publisher, but possibly still available from retailers — were collected in hardcover at a steep $24.99 [ISBN 978-1-93450-697-4]; no softcover is in sight, although one may yet be announced before the release of the DMF hardcover next year. Even if it's among my last flings with periodical comics, though, there's no way I'm not devouring the last two issues of Devil Made Flesh as soon as they hit the racks. I wasn't sure how Catherine Allingham would be reintroduced, but the surprises in the second series have nearly given me whiplash.

Covers A-D of The Incredibles: Family Matters #1 assembled, drawn by
Michael Avon Oeming and colored by Nick Filardi, © 2009 Disney/Pixar.

Boom! wisely keeps cover prices on its all-ages titles, including The Incredibles, at $2.99. That's still ten times what comics cost me 30 years ago, but at least it's a buck below what may be the industry standard in the near future, and I can't see parents or kids shelling out any more for what's usually going to be just one chapter in a multi-part story. I hope that Boom!'s release of its first Incredibles miniseries, Family Matters, in simultaneous $18.99 hardcover [ISBN 978-1-60886-525-3] and $9.99 softcover [ISBN 978-1-93450-683-7] collections proved a worthwhile experiment for both the publisher and purchasers.

When the Boom! Kids line was inaugurated in March with projects based on the Muppets and Disney/Pixar films, it made perfect sense that Mark Waid — who can do character interplay and domestic-superhero situations with the best of them — would be writing The Incredibles. As a fan of Mark's work, of the Incredibles movie, and of comics that can be freely shared with the next generation, I subscribed right away.

Left: Mr. Incredible talking his problems over with Frozone from The Incredibles:
Family Matters #2. Right: One man and a baby trying to save the day as the rest of
the family fight for their lives in #4. Script: Mark Waid. Pencils, Inks: Marcio Takara.
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse. Letters: José Macasocol Jr. Images © 2009 Disney/Pixar.

Despite my not getting the Mignola edition of Family Matters #1 that I asked for (the first time in memory I've ever requested a special variant cover) and somehow missing #2, the miniseries was satisfying. Lacking the second issue and discovering that I could still follow the action was a good thing, in fact, as it was another reassurance that the ongoing Incredibles series and other Boom! Kids titles could do well in newsstand distribution; spinner racks are far from the cornerstone of the industry they once were, but it still holds true that every issue could be somebody's first.

Family Matters finds Bob Parr, alias Mr. Incredible, at a loss to explain the disappearance of his powers, meaning greater demands on Helen's time just as the family has finally clicked with new "civilian" neighbors — including a romantic interest for Violet. Artist Marcio Takara and colorist Andrew Dalhouse interpret the computer-animated cast perfectly on the page, bringing them full circle to the medium that inspired the film; the lettering looks slightly too perfect (always a hazard when using prepared fonts instead of working by hand), but the size of the type and the generous white space in the balloons should help younger readers. The softcover collection is a fabulous deal, offering a complete story plus the plethora of variant covers, which include lovely work from Sean Galloway and nifty Jack Kirby homages from Tom Scioli.

Cover A of The Incredibles: Family Matters #4, illustrated by
Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, © 2009 Disney/Pixar.

If you do want to give a kid in your life a single issue, either as a stand-alone treat or to kick off a collection, July's The Incredibles #0 is perfect. It's subtitled City of Incredibles in the indicia because it sets up the storyline of that name just concluded in the ongoing, monthly Incredibles series — of which a collected edition is already on its way [ISBN 978-1-60886-503-1]. Yet it also acts as a prequel to Brad Bird's film, with Bob and Helen Parr scrambling to get to Doc Sunbright's clinic in time to deliver Jack-Jack. The former and future Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl haven't yet come out of retirement, but that doesn't prevent them, Violet, and Dash from participating in a battle royale with such inventive bad guys as Dr. Pixel, Tronosaurus, and Cap'n Mummy.

Takara and Dalhouse are back for #0 and the ongoing series, with Waid joined by Landry Walker, of the stellar (and soon-to-be-reviewed here) Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, as co-writer. I plan to keep up with Incredibles in softcover for reasons of both economy and durability; my young nieces enjoy their comics fiercely and repeatedly, so a sturdier all-in-one package just makes sense.

Walker's addition to the Incredibles team and the fact that another round of Unknown has yet to be announced may be due in part to next month's debut of a companion title to Irredeemable, also written by Waid, who besides serving as Boom!'s editor-in-chief has been writing The Amazing Spider-Man for Marvel. Incorruptible is set in Irredeemable's universe and centers on a supervillain who's reformed in the wake of the terrible turn taken by the world's greatest superhero. Mark Waid + adjectival noun = choice comics: Chances are good that the equation will hold.

Primary covers of Irredeemable #7, drawn by Gene Ha and colored by Stephen Downer,
and Incorruptible #1, drawn by John Cassaday and colored by Laura Martin, © 2009 Boom! Studios.


Arben said...

Art doesn't matter as much to me as it does to you, I think.
I'd love to see what he and a dozen other artists who spring to mind as good fits for the material would do in an Unknown anthology.
Such as...? I'll play if you will.

Blam said...

Such as...?
I didn't really keep a list of who went through my mind when that was written, but I'll try to find a dozen off the top of my head — without resorting to total superstars (in the sense of comics-reader awareness) like, say, Bruce Timm.
Jordi Bernet
Amanda Conner
Guy Davis
Paul Grist
Paul Guinan
Matt Kindt
John Paul Leon
Linda Medley
Phil Noto
Stephane Roux
Nicola Scott
Jill Thompson

I almost threw in Darwyn Cooke, but disqualified him on account of his relative celebrity in mainstream comics these days, although I'm not honestly sure if he's better known that some of the above. Milo Manara, whom I mentioned in the review, was tempting, as was Angelo Stano, who kind-of has a better-looking version of the style used on the series now. I'd also throw in a stylistic curveball if I were actually putting together the anthology, like Dan Parent, Chynna Clugston, or even Sergio Aragonés.

Arben said...

Amazingly diverse list, there, without just throwing up all your favorite artists, which is probably my own tendency...