Unknown #1-2

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Minck Oosterveer
32 pages, color
Published by Boom! Studios

I remember when Mark Waid wrote the mystery series Ruse back in the day. It was a fun shift into a genre that few English-language titles have explored, even as it does well in other countries. When I heard that The Unknown was in some ways a return to that genre from Waid, I was looking forward to it. What I didn’t expect to find, though, was a very different sort of mystery waiting to be told.

Cat Allingham is a bit of a minor celebrity in crime circles. She’s the one who not only cracked the new Zodiac Killer’s code, but confronted the murderer on her own with the police refused to listen. Now she’s on call for just about every sort of case imaginable, from missing objects to mysterious deaths. When a box mysteriously vanishes from the center of a quantum experiment gone haywire, even Cat’s new assistant Doyle knows that Cat seems unusually interested in recovering the missing equipment. It looks like Cat has one mystery of her own that she’s depending on the box to solve, not herself…

The idea of an investigator with a terminal illness who desperately wants to know if there’s an afterlife is certainly a strong hook for a story. Once that idea is revealed in the first issue, it suddenly puts the basic premise (as well as the title) for The Unknown in a different light. It’s certainly not a normal mystery story at that point, if only because the solution being looked for is in many ways a one-way ticket towards discovery. It’s a "big issue" sort of story, and I’ll be honest that I do worry that The Unknown almost can’t live up to the high bar it’s set for itself when it comes to a conclusion. With the introduction of what looks like supernatural elements in the second issue, The Unknown seems to be veering into a way that I’m not entirely sure will be as compelling as that initial concept. On the other hand, Waid is smartly keeping the question of an afterlife from being the sole driving force of this mini-series. In addition to the missing box, there are lots of other little mysteries, observations, and discoveries lurking in the nooks and crannies of this comic. I think that’s where The Unknown really succeeds, as we follow Cat and Doyle along their path of observation and deduction. This isn’t the sort of classic mystery where the reader is encouraged/expected to try and solve the puzzles (if that is what you’re looking for, The Kindaichi Case Files series might be right up your alley), but rather one where the characters reveal their reasoning and logic jumps along the way. It’s a fun story, and Waid never has their discovers be too out-there or unbelievable.

I have to give Minck Oosterveer credit that I think he’s growing more into this comic with each issue, and we’re only two issues in. I think he’s at his best when he draws Cat, who manages to look attractive without ever seeming overly sexualized or out of control beautiful. She’s got just the right level of sass in her body language, someone who is extremely confident in her abilities and doesn’t take no for an answer. I’m a little less crazy about his drawings of Doyle, who seems so overly muscled and inflated that he almost doesn’t seem to fit into the (mostly) real world setting that Waid and Oosterveer have created for The Unknown. He just seems a little too much the stereotypical corn-fed hulking jock, although I think Oosterveer has already sharpened and finessed the general look for Doyle in the second issue. Oosterveer’s definitely good at an action sequence, though; when the characters end up in a fight on a train in the second issue, there’s a nice amount of tension that builds up, as well as a good visual flow from one moment to the next.

The Unknown is shaping up to be a fun mini-series, although I do feel like with its high ambitions that I have to hold back slightly until I see how the conclusion plays out. There’s definitely a real potential here for a good conclusion, though, and I’m going to keep my hopes up high that it hits them. What’s also nice about The Unknown is that it feels like a story that could lend itself to a sequel, or come to a definitive conclusion after just two more issues. The fact that I find myself happy with either possibility says to me that it’s succeeding in its goal to entertain. Definitely take a look.

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