The Unexpected by Steve Orlando, Ryan Sook, and Cary Nord is the eighth and final book of the New Age of DC Heroes line, and—to be direct—it is also the best.
More on New Age of Heroes later, but first let’s talk about what works for this debut. Strength one is the seamless efficiency with which the book familiarizes readers with an entirely new hero, one whose meta-human situation is (improbably) a somewhat fresh concept. Without giving too much away, our protagonist has a condition in which she must physically fight every 24 hours, lest her heart shut down. Our protagonist also happens to be a fearless nurse, one who has treated bystanders in a number of recent DCU mega events (Darkseid Wars, Black Lanterns, Crime Syndicate, etc.). This creates an interesting dichotomy between her meta-human self—who must be violent to live—and her alter-ego, who is dedicated to healing.
This is all made clear within three pages via an intro and killer two-page spread. With questions answered about who the hero is and why readers should care, the creative team then goes full bore into putting its hero to the test with challenges and twists, and ho man are there ever twists. In fact, The Unexpected’s second major strength is how quickly and confidently it subverts reader expectations, going to an—ahem—unexpected and darker place than previews suggested.
And that’s the third major strength: pacing. There is a confidence to this Orlando, Sook, and Nord story that keeps the pages turning like an action movie with well-realized stakes, freeing Orlando to dispense killer, quintessential anti-hero lines like, “I fight to live and I’m undefeated,” lines he honed during his run on Midnighter (2015) and seems thrilled to be writing again. Sook and Nord’s art, brought to life by inkers Mike Gray and Wade von Grawbadger and colorist FCO Plascencia, is also top tier. Sook’s character designs are especially impressive, creating original aesthetics for a previously-unseen batch of superheroes, all of which are unique while also fitting into the DC Universe...which brings us back to discussing the New Age of DC Heroes.
I’m reading and enjoying many of the line's titles (shout outs to Sideways and The Terrifics). One knock, however, has been that the books were marketed as driven by big name artists, yet many of the biggest names left after early issues. As it applies to The Unexpected, Sook seemingly departed at the start to draw Man of Steel #3 (perhaps contributing to this book’s tardy debut), but Cord’s work is strong. Essentially, it remains to be seen if artist turnover will be a problem here, given that this first issue was such a collaboration.
Spare Thoughts: The Bad Samaritan has one of the best villain designs I’ve ever seen, and whoever came up with that name for the bad guy should be proud.
This book ties into Metal in multiple interesting ways, giving it the most direct connection to the event of any in the line.
Overall: Unexpected #1 is the best debut of the New Age of DC Heroes line, delivering a compelling protagonist with conflicting priorities that pit her needs versus her desires. Add a confident, intriguing twist that subverts expectations, and The Unexpected could very well be DC’s best new original book since New Super-Man. 9.3/10
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.