BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE UNKNOWN by Mark Waid and Minck Oosterveer

Mark Waid seems to get more press for the things he’s done with colorfully clad superheroes. He rewrote Superman’s future in Kingdom Come and set a lot of plot lines into play that writers jockeyed with for years (and some still do), and he had an absolutely sterling run on Captain America that fans still talk about today. But he’s always had a turn toward mystery and the supernatural that fit better in the “real” world – of course, he shows his “pulp” roots while spinning those stories.

In The Unknown, the first Catherine Allingham story arc, Mark Waid introduces his audience to a compelling, troubled character. Catherine is an internationally known private detective, one that has no peer when it comes to unraveling the tangled skeins of murder. However, she’s dying. Her particular form of cancer has left her six months to live and she knows it. What she does not know is what will happen to her after she dies.

Unable to wait on that Great Mystery, Catherine desperately turns her attentions to cases that touch on learning what that Unknown holds for her in a few short months.

The introductory sequence is chilling. As part of her affliction, Catherine has started seeing things that aren’t real. One of them is a particularly gruesome specter that hangs around her and pops up at stressful times. Minck Oosterveer (the artist) has created a terribly effective image that haunted me even after I finished the graphic novel. In fact, Oosterveer drew a multitude of images that stand out in my mind. The pulse-pounding race through the train as bodies explode around Catherine, the terrors barely restrained in the sanitarium, and the horrors behind the Big Door are right there at my fingertips.

During the introductory case that sets up how smart Catherine is at her chosen vocation, she also takes on a protégé, a bouncer named James Doyle. While being a large and capable man, Doyle is also incredibly observant, and it’s this skill that draws Catherine to him. Now that she can no longer completely trust what she herself is seeing, she wants someone around her that can keep her from jumping at grim-faced shadows.

Unfortunately, and even more creepy, Doyle isn’t completely immune to those specters. I have to admit that this is a twist I hadn’t seen coming, and I’m not really happy that it wasn’t explained in this first arc. I’m completely sold on the second arc when it comes out, though. I’ll be first in line to pick it up. That arc is coming out in monthly comics now, but I hate having to wait as cliffhanger follows cliffhanger.

I love Catherine’s character, and Doyle is a fantastic partner for her, but I don’t know what his ultimate game plan is, or whether I should completely trust him even though I want to. Mysteries pile on mysteries in this first edition.

The mix of straight mystery, a plucky heroine up against the ropes, and the supernatural combine to create a dizzying confection of rapid-paced adventure. Oosterveer’s brilliant artwork provides a beautiful garnish that brings the story to macabre and mysterious life.

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