Friday, December 7, 2018

The Unexpected #7 Review and Spoilers

Penultimate Peril, Prosaically Purveyed

Written by: Steve Orlando
Art by: Ronan Cliquet
Colours by: Jeromy Cox
Letters by: Carlos M Mangual
Published by: DC Comics
Cover price: $2.99

Well, here we are. The penultimate issue of The Unexpected. Usually, a reviewer will start a review like this with a quick recap of what's happened in the series so far, but that's not going to happen, partly because Neon and Firebrand's breakneck journey across the DC Universe would essentially be a list of place names followed by "and then they fight…" followed by either the word "Quench" or the words "Onnimar Synn". Or the name of whichever guest star du jour was unlucky enough to be pulled out of the psychedelic Stetson that particular month. And partly it's because this review's already late, I've already done a Martian Manhunter review for the site this week and there really is only so much nonsense a man can take. Let's just get on with it, shall we? Alright, then.
This issue is basically one big fight. It's essentially a battle between Mandrakk (I keep on wanting to write 'the Magician' after that) and blind sorcerer Neon, angry woman Firebrand and Hawkman who has his own book now, hasn't (as far as I know) visited Sanctuary and is therefore extremely unlikely not to survive this encounter. Then Alden (Bad Samaritan) Quench shows up to mix things up. Nice.

This being an Orlando book, the fight is bold, dramatic and peppered with the kind of dialogue for which, its silliness and overblown posturing notwithstanding, I've developed a certain amount of wry affection. The opening page is as good an example as any – a full-length triptych of close-ups on our three heroes reacting to Mandrakk handily explaining the plot and his own personal history to them. ("Superman cast me from Nil through the Overvoid to Barbatos' feet, Firebrand. Surrounded by dark matter like seawater… unable to feed, starving.") Not for the first time, I am reminded that Orlando's ideas are good but his expression of them, most of the time, does not match their grandeur or sophistication. The idea of a 'sea' of 'dark matter' is actually quite nice, but the simile here lacks subtlety, finesse and the sense of poetry for which Orlando is so obviously striving. And "… unable to feed, starving" is horribly overdone. I don't know. Mandrakk's got an audience here and he's obviously got a penchant for the grandiose. A rhetorical question or two wouldn't go amiss, perhaps. As it stands, the dialogue is so obviously here just to provide background information for the reader that it's painfully embarrassing.

And here's some more… "And you face no mere devil! I am the anti-god, the great poison in the back of a billion, trillion minds…" A 'billion, trillion' you say? Gosh. That's a lot. What does it mean? Whose minds are you referring to here? If it's the whole multiverse, a trillion isn't very much at all, really. What about an unvigintillion? Or a trigintillion? Do you know why Orlando didn't reach for Wikipedia to find the names of really big numbers? Because it sounds silly. But so does what we get here. Because "billion trillion" sounds like a child trying to impress their friends on the playground. What Orlando has given us is a cosmic vampire who doesn't have the imagination to think of numbers bigger than 1 000 000 000 000, who wants to devour the multiverse but doesn't seem to have much of an idea of what exactly that will mean, who proclaims himself the "anti-God" and "the great poison" (and both of those are fine) but can't think up a suitable metaphor to describe his all-pervasive presence in the minds of all creation and opts for the crushingly prosaic "in the back of" instead. You'll forgive me if I'm underwhelmed.

The fight is structured reasonably well. Quench's introduction is actually handled pretty effectively, if you can look past the extraordinarily odd monologue that accompanies it and that, once again, suffers for having to convey plot details to a 'new' reader who, surely at this point, only exists in the writer's mind. Again, there are some interesting ideas. Neon/creation opposing Quench/destruction could work if the symbolism wasn't so obvious and if the reader had been encouraged to care about either character sufficiently. As it is, their combat is just noise – two men shouting nonsense at each other with the fate of an entire multiverse, that seems utterly indifferent to them, hanging in the balance.

There are two 'grand' moments of Mandrakk biting someone (cosmic vampire, don't you know?) including one that ends the issue, but, without sufficient context and the sense of some sort of emotional connection between characters and reader, it's all just blood spurts and pain and garish self-parodying horror. Next issue promises "An Unknown Gambit". Well, that's something to look forward to. If I can figure out what it even means.

A word about Ronan Cliquet's art. I hope he's enjoying himself. He looks like he is. His stuff is bold and dynamic, although I can't help but feel that something moodier and less colourful would have been better here. Not that I can blame him for not being Arthur Ranson (look him up!) or Jae Lee. In a sense, the art is an appropriate expression of the script – brash, somewhat exaggerated, melodramatic, action-packed but with little regard for background detail. Some of Carlos M Mangual's lettering is nifty, mind you.

Bits and Pieces:

The Unexpected continues to try, with increasing desperation, to be consequential and 'epic' but, with the action confined to a limited cast of characters and a world that few people have heard of and with the same mix of awkward trash-talking and histrionic exposition we've had throughout the run, it feels small and irrelevant. I'm afraid I just want it to end. Next issue I'll get my wish.


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