Spinning out of The Dark Nights: Metal, The Unexpected #1 features obscure DC Comics heroes and villains, multiversal threats, exploding innards, and lots of violence. Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and Steve Orlando start the story out strong by telling the origin of the new Firebrand, Janet Fals, who was a paramedic that was experimented on and given the Conflict Engine. Thanks to the Conflict Engine, she must fight every 24 hours, or she will die. It’s a cool concept and connects well to Janet’s character because she wants to help and heal people, not beat them up. However, this origin is derailed by interesting a flurry of new characters, who are then mostly killed off in the middle of the story. Luckily, Sook, Nord, and Orlando cast an almost saving throw with a theatrical villain, who may not be the biggest fish in the pond, er, dark multiverse.
By the time it finds its footing, The Unexpected strikes a balance between Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad with Greg Capullo inspired artwork as a garnish. Getting Batman colorist FCO Plascencia to go full heavy metal garish with his palette helps with this last bit, and inkers Mick Gray and Wade von Grawbadger help with the clarity of storytelling and some of the details on character designs and costumes. Sook and Nord do make a few poor blocking choices like awkward cuts being long and close up when Firebrand meets her possible girlfriend, Joy, at the hospital. Orlando’s dialogue is fun and flirty, but there is no chemistry in their body language or facial expressions. Sook and Nord also cut away from the death scenes of the two redshirt members of The Unexpected lessening the impact of a sequence that barely registers because we barely know who Viking Judge and Elligh are besides that they have cool, magic fighting things and were introduced in other comics. Subpar storytelling aside, Sook and Nord’s art styles have a kind of 1990s loose cannon, anarchic energy with better anatomy while keeping a sense of bloodthirstiness.
The Unexpected”s main issue is that Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and Steve Orlando are unsure if it is a solo, team, or buddy book and tries out all three takes to varying success. Even if Firebrand is a relatively obscure DC hero (Janet is the 5th iteration), she has a fairly compelling origin story as an ordinary human, who tries to help people in the midst of multiple apocalypses and sci-fi experimentation. She is a fugitive from scary organizations and folks, but still works as a pro bono paramedic for the good of her conscience. Plus she’s snarky as hell, isn’t the greatest at relationships, and Sook and Nord get a real kick out of drawing her no holds barred brawls even though she is constantly trying to avoid collateral damage. This is a seed of a great story that immediately gets sidelined when the lineup of The Unexpected shows up and starts rattling cages. All three members spout exposition about their backstories and various MacGuffins while the reptilian cowboy Bad Samaritan kicks their asses. He meets his end in the issue too, but has more personality than the not so golden trio combined. At least, Neon the Unknown has the whole mystery mage vibe going for him as Orlando sets up a possible sage mentor/violent newbie dynamic for them going forward.
The Unexpected #1 is a bonkers journey into the weirder side of The Dark Nights Metal and has a potential breakout character in Firebrand plus some cool double page spreads from Ryan Sook and Cary Nord and a crackling color palette from FCO Plascencia. However, it sidelines its momentum to turn into a failed attempt at a Doom Patrol/Challengers of the Unknown time team book until someone remembered that DC was already publishing these books and course corrects into a not so dynamic duo taking on very high level threat book. The Unexpected #1 is a mixed bag of a comic, but the series itself has potential mostly thanks to Steve Orlando’s three dimensional writing of Firebrand.
Storytellers: Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and Steve Orlando Inks: Mick Gray and Wade von Grawbadger
Colors: FCO Plascencia Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Story: 6.5 Art: 7 Overall: 6.8 Recommendation: Read
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review