It’s that time of the month again. I’d like to say that the arrival of The Unexpected is… unexpected. But it isn’t. I’d also like to say that my unanticipated enthusiasm for the title that started with issue 1 and quickly faded with the subsequent two issues has been magically rekindled and that issue 4 is exciting, intriguing and, perhaps most important of all, coherent. But it isn’t. So, in an attempt to provide something genuinely unexpected for those hardy readers who have stuck with the series up to now, I’m going to present this review as an inner (now outer, I suppose) dialogue between the naïve somewhat innocent me who kind of likes Orlando and can see what he’s trying to do and the cynical more analytical me who thinks that it’s no good having grand ideas if you can’t execute them properly and that Orlando’s hackery is a stain on the collective good name of DC Comics (not that, at this point in their history, it’s otherwise exactly spotless). If nothing else, it should at least provide an interesting insight into the tortured divided soul of this long-time comic book fan and sometime reviewer.
Here we go…
So, that cover, eh?
Yes. Yanick Pacquette. Very tasty.
The Huntress. Gotham City. All very dramatic…
I’m detecting some reservations here. Come on. You’ve been wanting the New Age of Heroes books to become more embedded in the wider DC universe. What better way to do that than visit Gotham City and…?
Bump into Huntress and The Signal? That’s probably answered your question right there. Not that either of those two characters is terrible, but the resulting confrontation between them and our two heroes Neon and Firebrand is. At least part of this is down to the dialogue and little but significant things like Orlando’s decision to have Huntress already know about Firebrand’s heart and her need to fight once a day to keep herself alive, which deprives the new reader (if there are any) of the opportunity to find out about it for himself naturally. Instead, we end up with a silly fight in which Firebrand and Huntress throw around oblique references to the conflict engine while they’re throwing punches. The same thing happens with the ludicrous Nth metal isotope, which we are told, is “volatile” (who, by the way, ever finishes someone else’s sentences with the word ‘volatile’?) and “a dirty bomb” that implicitly threatens the entire city. Which it does, but Orlando’s still horribly vague about how exactly it works. Neon can’t transform the actual isotope, but he can transform the radiation it emits, apparently. (Why can’t he transform the surrounding atmosphere to contain the radiation and render it impervious to the effects of Firebrand and Huntress’ “aggression”? Why am I even asking this?) And control it to such an extent that he can direct it at Firebrand to strike her and end the fight. Which is fine, I guess. But then Orlando has her punch Huntress one last time just for the hell of it, despite the whole point of her stopping the fight being to prevent the isotope exploding and destroying the whole of Gotham. Or the world. Or this reality. I can’t remember which. It’s ridiculous!
You’re ranting. Orlando’s just doing that whole heroes meet each other and punch one another thing. It’s cool.
No, it’s not. It’s ludicrously overblown and terribly written. “I’m not here to fight.” “She was… and I am, whether I want to or not! Don’t you get it? I don’t have the luxury of that choice, because of how you people handle things!” Here Orlando’s trying to get across that Firebrand bears a grudge against the crimefighters of Gotham for the fact that she died and was resurrected during the crisis. Which is fair enough, but it’s all so unsubtle and… out there… that it doesn’t really have any impact. And also… “you people”. Oh, dear.
You’re being picky. Anyway, what about that double-page, eh? You know the one I mean.
To be fair, it’s very good and…
Nix Uotan. Yep. Now, here I’m really torn so…
It’s a reference to Multiversity. Yippeeeeeeee!!!
Alright, alright. Calm down. Yes, it is. It’s just… is Orlando good enough to play in Morrison’s toybox?
Well, it’s DC’s toybox, really, isn’t it?
I suppose. Anyway, the vision the Signal has is pretty impressive. Nix and the Bad Samaritan battling for the fate of Earth -1927… Earth -1927? What the hell?
Oh, don’t start. It’s great and so is the Bat Cove.
The Bat Cove is great, but the scene that takes place in it is more of the poorly manufactured pontificating and posturing of which we’ve really had too much already this issue. Plus, Orlando’s done it again. He’s having his characters wonder about the fate of a character that the reader saw resurrected two issues ago. Can you say, “No intrigue whatsoever”? I think you can. Ditto the mystery of who Quench works for. We’re just given that information. Neon just knows it. I just don’t…
Hey, what happened to the art?
Oh, you noticed that, did you? Not only did Ryan Sook bail after two-thirds of an issue but now, Cary Nord’s left half-way through this one. I’m sensing a pattern here… Yvel Guichet’s not bad, actually. There’s a bit of a Walt Simonson vibe here, which is always nice, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at the portrayal of Neon when the Bat Cove gets flooded.
Bingo. The hair which, even though Neon’s floating underwater, still manages to obscure his eyes. In a comic already full of silly moments, that one particularly stands out.
What about that last page reveal, though?
Oh, no. You are not doing that.
Ignoring the ridiculous and pointless battle with Onnimar Synn.
He’s not very good, is he?
He’s a terrible one-dimensional villain with a singular motivation and no subtlety to his characterisation whatsoever. He clearly appears here solely to push our heroic duo forward to their next scheduled meeting with a more established (and interesting) member of the DC universe. He is doing pretty much exactly what he did last issue and the issue before that. He’s boring as anything and no amount of splattering his troops all over the wilds of Canada will change that. (A shame about Phayde, though. I liked her.)
You like anything female and tentacular.
Next issue… Hawkman!
Yeah. Great. I’ve been enjoying Hawkman and really don’t want the character to turn up in this train wreck of a book, but…
Roll on next issue!
See you next month!
Not if I see you first.
For a comic titled The Unexpected, this issue feels unfeasibly familiar with Onnimar Synn turning up half way through to do pretty much exactly what he did last issue. The scenes between Neon, Firebrand, Huntress and the Signal are unsubtle and shouty, hyper-dramatic dialogue slathered on so thickly that the notion we’re dealing with three-dimensional characters is almost entirely lost in a frenzy of emotionally incontinent posturing. The art change half-way through is jarring and the overall purpose and trajectory of the story remain vague, possibly because the creative team is making it up as they go along. Links to the wider DC universe (and multiverse) are cool, but a story in which I’m encouraged to get emotionally invested would be cooler.
(This review/self-help session first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.)