'The Unexpected'

Cover to ‘The Unexpected’ #1. Art by Ryan Sook/DC Comics

By Jarrod Jones. When we first meet Janet Fals, she’s busy putting Killer Croc to sleep minus three or four fanged teeth. She’s Firebrand, a new DC Comics hero with a familiar name, an all-new power set and one hell of a hook: This former paramedic’s a survivor of the Dark Multiverse invasion, but only just — there’s a new heart in her chest, and with it comes a new mission. To survive, Janet has to fuel the Conflict Engine, both a killer sobriquet and the reason why she’s been scrapping with every C-list baddie that’s come her way. See, if she doesn’t fuel the engine with violence every twenty-four hours, Janet, Firebrand — she’s kaput. (There’s a fire burning in Janet Fals’ heart, DC exclaimed in its press materials, before cheekily tacking on the obvious: Literally.)

The story of Firebrand — who she is and how she came to be — are the strongest parts of The Unexpected #1. They resonate on a visceral level courtesy of Steve Orlando and Ryan Sook, two lively artists who have carefully excavated the deeper caverns of the DCU for material to conjure this, seemingly the last in the DC New Age of Heroes line. Both The Unexpected and The Terrifics have boasted the brand’s strongest debuts, and it’s no wonder — peel away all that murky, messy Metal ornament and what remains is pure DC derring-do, even with New Age’s rather brazen Marvel-y subtext. I loved the introduction of this new Firebrand, not just because she’s a ferocity of angst, duty, and self-respect, but because she’s the first hero among this new batch of DC heroes I can see popping up in the Hall of Justice with little fuss.

The Unexpected is off-beat and off-the-rails. It’s in the name. Orlando, whose Midnighter run remains a highlight of DC’s past seven years, seems to be having a riot crafting a corner of this universe to call his very own. While the writer is riffing from the aftermath of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Metal — a summer event that was just as ambitious as it was completely silly — he’s hollowed out his own crater to more ably cradle the fallout. There are bits in here that reminded me of Grant Morrison’s work, though that almost seems by design: Sook, who worked on the Seven Soldiers: Zatanna book with Morrison, shrewdly reforges nigh-forgotten DC characters and paints them in a new planet-scorching context, and the issue’s villain, the Bad Samaritan, arrives with the squiggly, scummy veneer of a Frank Quitely collaboration with the Scottish writer.

'The Unexpected'

Interior page from ‘The Unexpected’ #1. Art by Ryan Sook, Mick Gray, FCO Plascencia, and Carlos M. Mangual/DC Comics

The Unexpected shifts artistic gears in its debut issue. Sook, the co-creator of the book and the marquee artist when the series was announced at last year’s New York Comic Con, collaborates with an expanded art team here. This series appears to have already fallen under the peculiar publishing schedule that has caused hiccups in DC’s new superhero line since the very beginning (could the artist’s spot on Brian Michael Bendis’ The Man of Steel be the culprit? One wonders). The “Master Class” — as artists such as Sook, Ivan Reis, Tony Daniel, Jim Lee and others were touted when New Age of Heroes was still called “Dark Matter” — has back-up, artists who have either offered a solid pinch-hit when deadlines neared or, in some cases, have taken over certain books entirely. It makes you wonder why the publisher so loudly trumpeted the artist-focused line in the beginning when the breaking of deadlines, and then the subsequent jettisoning of talent, almost seemed an inevitability.

We’re not meant to suffer, though. Cary Nord lends his strengths to the issue along with inkers Wade von Grawbadger and the inimitable Mick Gray, who all acquit themselves beautifully in a story that involves Dark Monitors, world forges, and a nasty bit of business decked out in white sequined cowboy garb. Nord has stepped up for New Age before in Tony Daniel’s Damage, whose central muscle-bound hero gets a name-drop in this issue. His artwork, which glides from Sook’s about halfway through the issue, compliments the book thanks to an aesthetic through-line provided by Von Grawbadger & Gray, colorist FCO Plascencia and letterer Carlos M. Mangual. The same arresting vitality from The Unexpected‘s boffo opening sequence endures throughout, especially in a sequence where Bad Samaritan seizes the upper hand.

These strengths reveal themselves to be the central thrust behind The Unexpected. We meet new versions of Neon the Unknown (here a blind artist who bleeds in Lisa Frank rainbow hues) and Viking Judge (a spin on Kanigher and Kubert’s Viking Prince who recalls Brienne of Tarth). There’s innovation here, too, in the form of all-new character Ascendant, a loyal orc festooned in heraldry and swings a mean Kirby-esque power rod. As a debut, The Unexpected #1 excels. It anchors the Morrisonian psycho-savagery with a heart that doesn’t beat so much as thunders. The Conflict Engine churning under its pages begs for the next round of action. You will, too.

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Steve Orlando.

Pencils by Ryan Sook and Cary Nord.

Inks by Mick Gray and Wade von Grawbadger.

Colors by FCO Plascencia. 

Letters by Carlos M. Mangual. 

8.5 out of 10

Check out this four-page preview of ‘The Unexpected’ #1, courtesy of DC Comics!