Hearing Mark Waid talk about "Unknown" is more interesting and entertaining that the first issue reads. Don't you just hate it when that happens? Granted, Waid is an entertaining guy and listening to him speak about anything he's passionate about is going to keep you interested, but "Unknown" #1 doesn't really reach the potential that Waid has talked about.
Catherine Allingham, a famous detective, is dying of a brain tumor and, along with new assistant James Doyle, wants to solve the mystery of what happens after we die. Boiled down, that's the core concept of this series, except everything after 'James Doyle' isn't actually addressed in this issue. Don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything since that one sentence pitch is delivered anytime Waid discusses "Unknown," so it's a little surprising that this issue doesn't quite address it head on.
If you ignore that flaw, "Unknown" #1 is a solid first issue that introduces Allingham and Doyle well, and establishes who they are, where they're going, and, partly, what this book is all about. Allingham is set up as one of the best detectives in the world (if not the best) and Waid demonstrates that by having her solve the murder of seeming suicide in mere minutes. We're also given a brief glimpse of one of her past cases, showing that she's not afraid to put herself on the line to solve a mystery. However, both cases are rather dull and rather typical 'police procedural show' fare -- the case Allingham undertakes in the second half of the issue, though, is far more interesting.
James Doyle is a bouncer with the ability to read people, shown through his catching a fellow bouncer stealing from other staff members solely through a tell. Doyle seems like a good assistant for Allingham with his imposing stature and keen mind.
The real surprise of this issue is how good Minck Oosterveer's art is. Take a look at the preview pages and see for yourself how talented he is. His cartooning skills are very developed as he uses light and shadow effectively. While in a realistic vein, he's not afraid to exaggerate physical attributes to give the character a clearer presence. Doyle, for example, is clearly drawn in a more imposing and large manner that any real person, but it works against Allingham's smaller stature. Some very good artistic shorthand here that adds visual clues for the reader.
"Unknown" #1 may not lay out the complete concept of the series, but it's a solid start that ends with an intriguing mystery. What Waid and Oosterveer do so well here is establish the two lead characters, allowing the rest of this series to show how they tackle the mystery of what lies beyond this life.