Pullbox Reviews: The Unknown – Two great creators, one Awesome title!

Catherine Allingham has it all. Beauty. Wealth. Staggering intellect. An inoperable brain tumor that’s given her six months to live. Already a world famous private investigator, Catherine makes the choice to spend her remaining days attempting to solve the greatest mystery of all: What comes next? Believing in science, hard facts, beyond all other considerations, she’s convinced that there has to be something beyond death, even citing the first law of thermodynamics: If a soul is defined as the whole of our consciousness- thought, knowledge, etc- then it would exist as energy, which doesn’t simply cease to exist but can only be transferred or transformed. Partnering with James Doyle, equal parts bodyguard and profiler, Catherine travels the globe to take on unsolvable cases with a common thread: each could provide a piece of the puzzle, bringing her closer to the answers she’s after.

And the clock is ticking…

In all honesty, Mark Waid could just coast. Seriously, he’s got nothing left to prove, having provided readers with critically acclaimed runs on obscure titles like Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, Superman, & Justice League, as well as a seldom heard of mini-series you’ve probably never heard of called Kingdom Come. He’s written superheroes to death (and back), so what else could he possibly have to write about?

The answer to that question is found in the pages of The Unknown, a supernatural detective whodunit that’s as entertaining and layered as anything else out there. As a protagonist, Catherine Allingham can stand up against the likes of Sherlock Holmes in regards to both intellect & arrogance. Her partner in crime-fighting, James Doyle, is an interesting contradiction of the big scrappy guy who relies more on his ability to read people, picking up on involuntary tells and ticks to piece together the truth behind their lies, than he does his brawn. As the two become involved in increasingly dangerous cases, they prove to be a crime-fighting force to be reckoned with.

I just blazed through this two-hundred page omnibus in two days (it would’ve been one, but sleep happens from time to time). That doesn’t happen very often, and I gotta say that in this case it flew by. Mark Waid has put together a fantastic story that’s so far outside of his normal work that I was asking myself “where the hell did this come from?” No stranger at all to his writing on pretty much every major superhero title there is, I came into The Unknown with mixed expectations. I like Waid’s work, but I wasn’t sure how he’d handle this kind of supernatural pulp detective mystery story… Thankfully, I told my doubting mind to sit down and shut up, because this turned out to be a great read.

The art in this kind of comic could break even the best writing, bog it down in over the top design, wooden characters, or conversely plain old uninteresting visuals. None of that is a concern here, as Minck Oosterveer has put together a damn fine looking piece of work. He gives the characters just enough detail to make them each stand out in their own way. I don’t think there were any superfluous players lurking around in the background as filler or fluff, and everyone was drawn with an eye toward making them come out as living, breathing people (except of course for the people who weren’t… living and breathing, I mean). And character… it’s actually a rare artist who’s able to invest as much personality in his drawings as the writer is able to put into words. Oosterveer has taken the complex character of Catherine and given her every quirk that could and should go along with her sarcastic, often caustic nature. It came through in everything from facial features and expressions to stance and posture. This was a book that had me reading a page, and then going back just to look at everything that was happening visually in the panels.

A host of colorists have added their own personal ingredients into this awesome cake. Felipe Martins, Renato Faccini, & Andres Lozano put the finishing touches to Oosterveer’s illustrations for the first story arc. Taking on the second arc, Andres Lozano & Javier Suppa maintained the level of excellence demanded of them. Finally, the lettering by Marshall Dillon strikes the right tone throughout, giving him the distinction of being an excellent letterer with an awesome name.

Not a new title at all, The Unknown was originally published by Boom! Studios in two separate story arcs back in 2009 & 2010. I have to say that as quickly as I was sucked in, and as reluctant as I was to stop reading, this omnibus is an essential addition to the bookshelf and quite possibly the very best way to read this story. Start to finish, this one’s a winner.

Final Score: 10+

After I’d written this review, I found out that Minck Oosterveer passed away back in 2011, after an accident. I didn’t know the man, and am sad to say that I hadn’t caught on to his work before now. What I can say is that after reading The Unknown, I think it really is a shame that readers won’t have more of his work out there to enjoy. A huge nod of respect to the man, and condolences to any family and friends out there who happen to read this article.

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