As I’ve mentioned in the past, Chip Mosher of Boom! Studios is nice enough to send out .pdf files of his company’s weekly releases, and I usually don’t review them. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that time usually catches up to me. I do have a little bit of a life, you know – mostly as a chauffeur for my two children, but at least it’s something! This week, however, Boom! has two books coming out that I already ordered, so I figured I could check them out before Wednesday arrives, and maybe you’ll be on the lookout for them if they sound like something you’d dig!
First up is The Unknown by Mark Waid and Minck Oosterveer, who’s an “international superstar,” according to Boom!’s web site. I had no interest in Waid’s other recent offering, Irredeemable, because “superhero goes bad” is not something I can see going differently than every other time it’s been tried, but The Unknown is a detective story, and detective stories can go any which way, and if they’re by good writers (which Waid is), they can be endlessly fun.
The Unknown introduces us to Cat Allingham, a tough-as-nails, witty private investigator who’s smarter and hotter than you are (the solicit text says she’s the smartest person alive – even smarter than Reed Richards!). Yes, we’ve seen female tough-as-nails, witty private investigators who are smarter and hotter than you are quite often in fiction, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. In this issue, we don’t get a whole heck of a lot about Cat except she’s really smart and she has a malignant tumor in her brain that’s going to kill her in six months. That’s fine, because this is mostly about the plot, and Waid does a nice job with that. Cat solves two mysteries in the first half of the book, and then she arrives in Vienna for the main case, which is an extremely odd one. I’m not sure how Cat makes the leap on the final page to what the case is really about, but she’s smarter than I am, so I’ll have to trust her.
Waid keeps things moving along nicely, introducing a sidekick to stand in for the readers and writing some crisp dialogue between Cat and James, plus there’s a creepy hallucination that she keeps seeing. Oosterveer does a nice job with the art – the laboratory where the case begins is sufficiently sci-fi and impressive, and Cat’s hallucination is weird and off-putting. Cat might be a bit too cheesecakey, but that’s comics, man!
This is a nifty comic, and we can probably trust Waid to do a good job with it. I’m looking forward to the rest of it.
Up next is Unthinkable, a new book by Mark Sable and Julian Totino Tedesco. I haven’t read a ton of stuff by Sable, but the concept – a think tank comes up with horrible situations to figure out how to combat them and then they start happening – is pretty keen.
This isn’t quite as good as The Unknown, but not for lack of ambition. Sable begins in 1999 with Alan and Steven Ripley, one of whom (Alan) is a novelist in the vein of Tom Clancy, writing action/adventure/espionage books, and the other of whom is an ex-soldier who begins a private security force before dying in the September 11th attacks. Alan gets recruited by the Think Tank – they don’t need a name, damn it! – made up of experts in various fields – an evangelical, apocalyptic Christian, a microbiologist, an attorney, an environmentalist – who get together and come up with what Al Qaida would do next. They discuss various things, Alan hooks up with the microbiologist, their discussions are classified, and the Think Tank is decommissioned. Eight years later, all the things they discussed start to happen. Alan, as you might expect, is a bit freaked out.
The book looks quite nice – Tedesco does a good job with the many characters, and has a flair for action – and while Sable does a good job setting up the concept, but the book speeds along a bit too much. There’s a LOT going on here, and Sable isn’t quite good enough to make it all compelling. You know you’re in a bit of trouble when you resort to long third-person narration rather abruptly just to dump information. The narration is a bit stitled, too, so it works even less. Sable zips through Alan and Steven’s relationship and the creation and destruction of the Think Tank, and it’s a bit frustrating, because it seems like Steven, for instance, is unimportant to the story. Yes, he founds the mercenary group that later is about to take over the country, but it seems like Alan and Steven’s relationship ought to be more important. I get that Sable wants to get to the country falling apart and a police state being established, but he does so, it feels, to the detriment of the not only characterization, but some of the plotting as well. The important stuff happens at the end, of course, but that doesn’t mean the beginning should be rushed. It appears that it’s a three-issue mini-series, but maybe four issues would be a bit better? [Edit: Chip Mosher sent me an e-mail to let me know that it’s five issues. That makes Sable’s speed even odder, as he probably has a bit of room to flex his characterization muscles. Oh well. We’ll see.]
I’d whole-heartedly recommend The Unknown, and while I’m going to stick with Unthinkable because there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, I can’t recommend it unequivocably. With Waid’s comic, the first issue does a nice job setting everything up. With Unthinkable, we might have to wait to see the entire picture. But that’s just another reason to release things as entire graphic novels, right?