Review: The Unexpected: Call of the Unknown trade paperback (DC Comics)

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The back cover of Unexpected: Call of the Unknown bills it as a "high-stakes supernatural adventure." That’s true enough, though in the midst of it what Unexpected is or is trying to be gets muddled. I give writer Steve Orlando credit for a book that tries to shuck genres, ranging from Gotham vigilantes to the wilds of Final Crisis, but the result is murky. In dealing with a lot of mystic esoterica, Orlando loses some of the human emotion to make us care about these characters; often we’re told and not shown what the characters are supposed to mean to us. Appealing cameos abound, but rarely again does the story stand still often enough to build real emotion from them. It’s unfortunate, because Unexpected offers a lot of connective tissue such that one could see it being the base from which to launch a "New Age of Heroes" crossover — but as it turns out, neither the done-in-one Unexpected nor many of its compatriots were strong enough for this to matter.

[Review contains spoilers]

Notably, as late as Unexpected’s fifth issue, characters Viking Judge and Ascendant are still appearing on the covers of the issues — even though both die at the end of the first chapter. That the two are also prominently mentioned on the back cover even suggests perhaps something changed with the book, but still it remains that in many ways the book that Unexpected seems to be is not ultimately the book that Unexpected is.

Instead of a team book, as it might appear, Unexpected mainly consists of frenemies Firebrand and Neon the Unknown traveling from place to place trying to disarm an apparently very unstable Nth metal isotope. That Unexpected is a "buddy comedy" rather than a team book is not bad per se — matter of fact, it helps distinguish Unexpected from the similar New Challengers and Immortal Men — but Unexpected doesn’t seem totally sold on its own concept; Firebrand and Neon often seem to be working beside one another, not with one another, and the book’s finale suggests they may not even still be partners. Some emotion in the early middle of the book is supposed to come from the loss of Ascendant given what a transcendental being he is (an "orck," we’re told), but it’s hard to feel that, and feel for Neon’s loss, with barely any direct experience with Ascendant at all.

At the end of the second chapter, Orlando brings in June Robbins, one of the original Challengers of the Unknown; at the end of the fourth, he brings in the Huntress, and then Signal Duke Thomas and Hawkman and one of Sideways’ Fuginauts. Villains include the Thanagarian Onimar Synn (late of JSA and etc.) and Final Crisis’ Mandrakk. That’s a big range and I give Orlando credit for employing such a range, but oftentimes characters come and go without doing much more than sending Firebrand and Neon on their way to their next stop, nor would it be tough in many cases to substitute these guest stars for others (both are particularly true with the Gotham crew).

In essence, Unexpected is a lot of Firebrand and Neon wandering around and bickering (with each other or whomever they encounter). Given such a small main cast, there’s almost nothing here in the way of subplots; maybe Orlando would have gotten to it eventually after the first arc, but there’s not much Neon and Firebrand are doing or that they’re about other than the mission at hand. (The final intimation that Neon will now become something of a celebrity superhero is, when it’s too late, about the most interesting he does the whole time.) Their goal is to mitigate this powerful isotope that, the audience is told almost constantly, could explode at any moment, but at some point the continued pronouncement of distress about this MacGuffin grows tiring.

The art starts out by Ryan Sook, who brings a mature, gritty look to Firebrand and such villains as the Bad Samaritan (another whom we find out more about in absentia than in person). Cary Nord soon takes over, however, and while the art is still attractive, Nord’s looser and more animated style mitigates some of the seriousness. For a brief moment Yvel Guichet comes in, hearkening back to Sook, before Ronan Cliquet arrives to finish the book out. At that point, with Hawkman all but having joined the Unexpected "team," Cliquet’s traditional house-type style (akin to Paul Pelletier) seems appropriate, and it is well done, but having come all the way from Sook it does feel as though something has been lost.

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Unexpected: Call of the Unknown includes references to Sideways, to New Challengers, to Hawkman, to the Bleed and Nth metal and the Monitors and the Multiverse — again, one can really see where Steve Orlando’s Unexpected could have been the glue that tied the "New Age of Heroes" and the DC Universe’s post-Dark Nights: Metal status quo together. DC might’ve been wise to follow a model like the Impact Comics of old (or the Marvel Netflix shows of recent), moving the individual series very clearly toward a crossover or team book, perhaps to keep some of the audience coming back that apparently ducked out, given the book’s cancellation. For me Unexpected is among the least successful of the "New Age" titles; I admire the ambition but what was being attempted never seemed to get off the ground here.

[Includes original covers and triptych cover image, character sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
The Unexpected: Call of the Unknown
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 1 )

  1. You are far more forgiving of this than I was. I found it to be uninvolving and borderline incomprehensible. Like Metal, Totality etc it's just a bunch of characters fighting until they stop with words from quantum physics sprinkled in to make us think it's clever.


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