The Unknown (#1 – 4) – Mark Waid

2 out of 5

Here’s a new term for you: Waidy.  The Unknown is very Waidy.

1.       Read an article or two about something that interests you, then skim enough extra resources to fake a surface understanding of the concept

2.       Have a character in your comic have a snarky, offhand manner of speaking to people, and also have them be an expert in the topic from #1, using dialogue featuring that faked surface understanding

3.       Have them get involved in an event that directly requires their surface level knowledge, but have the event unravel such that it contradicts that knowledge

4.       End issues on cliffhangers that imply that there’s more to the story

5.       Sprinkle lead character with some kind of progressive taint because you are socially aware

There is no more to your story.  The surface level knowledge you’ve espoused doesn’t actually impact the plot.  …But you’ve hooked readers by flirting with smart topics they also have surface knowledge on, and have given them the snarky, progressive lead role they all think they are / wish they knew.  Plus: There’s more to the story!  (…Again, there’s not, but you just have to play this out for at least a trade’s worth of issues so you can bring the crowds in until they forget what hooked ’em in the first place.)

We can hereafter let this type of setup be known as: Waidy.

Now let me add: Mark Waid is very good at what he does.  He writes accessible, fun popcorn comics that put (via the methods mentioned above) an intelligent gloss on things to help ‘elevate’ them above spandex antics.  Headier works like Kingdom Come follow aspects of this, but he does it with more zing when there’s humor involved, a la his popular Daredevil reboot from some years back.  So when he does it well and I enjoy the read – even though, overall, I generally feel his writing is fairly hollow – I’d praise that.  …But Unknown, narrowed down to four issues, eschews some of the banter and subplotty distractions with which Waid will generally populate the moments inbetween the Waidy points stipulated above, and bereft of that, the general MacGuffin of the material is all too clear.

Catherine is a world class detective, debunking myths with her encyclopaedic knowledge and eagle-eyed detail spotting, putting local polices to shame.  The jocular scene in which this would be introduced happens between panels, uncomfortably cutting to introduce us to bouncer James Doyle, who also has detail-spotting abilities that Catherine decides to recruit for her next case: debunking the human soul!  …Or proving it exists, because Catherine also has a tumor that’s killing her, and something something she has to know the truth because truth, and tumors and Waid doesn’t seem all that clear on the ‘why,’ because these character details form the fudged ‘there’s more to the story’ hook, and in the “all filler” Unknown, that mostly falls flat while the story flounders from one forced twist to the next.

Again, I’d like to reiterate: Mark is generally pretty good at this stuff.  Unknown, in isolated momenta, is interesting, and when I read it month to month, I was swayed by the supernatural debunkery.  But reread in a sitting, its lack of material beneath its surface later way destabilizes it.

Artist Minck Oosterveer has a nice, stylized moodiness and inking style that marries the Frazier Irving’s dark style to expressive, slightly cartoonish character models a la Cameron Stewart.  Alas, there’s one thing that made me loathe turning the pages, and affected my rating as well: That our heroine, in rain or snow, goes bra-less, and wear a revealing shirt that continually loses buttons throughout the series.  Waid is normally, at least, somewhat conscious of this kind of stuff, so I was half expecting a bullshit “I dress this way to purposefully distract people excuse,’ but it’s never mentioned in any way.  So maybe it was all Oosterveer’s doing.  Hopefully Waid’s character description didn’t call for it.

And the boys went wild for a second series!  Weeee