THIS REVIEW OF ‘THE UNEXPECTED’ #2 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Brendan F. Hodgdon. The DC Universe has become a weird and wild place lately. Between Dark Nights: Metal, the new Justice League titles and the New Age of DC Heroes line, there is a real sense of “throw everything at the Source Wall and see what sticks” to the proceedings. And perhaps no series encapsulates this better than The Unexpected, as further proven by its second issue. With these exciting new characters Steve Orlando and Cary Nord barrel down the road least traveled. And already there’s a lot of fun to be had.
So far the element that earns The Unexpected its title is the surprising deaths of two of its supposed stars, Ascendent and Viking Judge, who were struck down at the end of the debut issue. And while you never want to say never when it comes to superhero deaths (because comics), we are told very early in #2 that their passing is apparently permanent. It’s shocking to see that this expected team title is really a buddy adventure, but it comes with the welcome realization that there’s more room to explore the backstories and partnership of Neon the Unknown and Firebrand. Orlando, Nord, and Ryan Sook (who designed the characters and helped create the series) have crafted two very intriguing heroes, and together they make for a very compelling duo.
There’s a glimpse into Neon’s backstory in this issue that is just as efficient and impactful as Firebrand’s exposition last month. Through this backstory, and the pair’s back and forth throughout the issue, we get a clear picture of their dynamic. While Firebrand had her powers forced upon her, Neon willfully chased after his; while she had her sense of self corrupted, his was painfully expanded. These contrasts should certainly create conflict as the series progresses, but in this issue the primary source of friction is Neon’s cosmic concerns versus Firebrand’s more grounded mentality. Regardless of the specifics, Orlando’s writing and Nord’s depictions nail every relevant angle of these heroes, and provide some important human identity to this multiversal mayhem.
It’s the Morrisonian worldbuilding that makes up the other half of The Unexpected’s particular appeal. The journey upon which Firebrand and Neon embark has a great deal of DC history in its bones, stretching from recent blockbuster events back through the decades. Orlando weaves these details and allusions in a deft way that sells the weight of the universe and conveys the significance of this story. From utilizing Onimar Synn as a villain to taking a trip to Blackhawk Island, this adventure leaves no stone unturned, and is all the richer for it.
In the early going, Synn is the closest thing to a weak link that the series has, if only because it seems to rely more on knowledge of his past exploits to inspire the requisite dread. Orlando writes him well enough (his bitter monologue about how one of his victims is dying in the most useless way is good, petty villain stuff) but he feels the most generic and interchangeable out of everything else in the story. Compared to the distinct, scuzzy charms of the Bad Samaritan in the first issue, Synn seems a bit basic here. Hopefully he and his cabal will get some further exploration in future issues, to take full advantage of the character’s history.
While it is disappointing that Ryan Sook was unable to contribute his talents to this issue at all (and doesn’t seem slated to return anytime soon), you won’t be let down by Cary Nord’s work here. His clean, unassuming style comfortably juggles the absurd and human, and keeps the story moving along with efficient panel layouts. Aided by some measured work by Wade von Grawbadger and Jeromy Cox, this is a nice reminder of Nord’s level of talent. The Unexpected is a great showcase for a great art team.
The New Age of DC Heroes has produced some solid books thus far, but it feels like The Unexpected is the most “DC” of them all; the entire DC Universe is open for the book’s characters to explore, with space enough for its reality-bending action. It feels closer to Orlando’s work on his Midnighter books than anything else he’s done, and it allows Nord to exercise the distinct artistic muscles he used for Conan and Iron Man at the same time. While Justice League and Batman might (understandably) grab the lion’s share of DC news these days, it’s books like The Unexpected that make DC what it is. And we should thank the New Gods for that.
Written by Steve Orlando.
Pencils by Cary Nord.
Inks by Wade von Grawbadger.
Colors by Jeromy Cox.
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual.
8.5 out of 10