Inside Look: Unthinkable #3

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When novelist ALAN RIPLEY’S brother was killed on 9/11, he joined a government THINK TANK.  His task: to imagine the same worst-case terrorist scenarios that fueled his novels.  

Eight years later, THE UNTHINKABLE happened.  Someone started carrying out the terror attacks that Ripley imagined.  The destruction of The U.S. Capitol, the release of bio-weapons in our malls, and most devastating of all – the release of a genetically engineered oil-eating microbe that has destroyed almost the entire world’s supply of fossil fuels.

Falling short of the heroes he writes about, Ripley and his fellow Think Tank members have been unable to stop the attacks.  At first laughed off by former FBI Counter Terror Chief DANIEL SKELLY, they are now in the custody of THE OPERATOR, a CIA official who believes Ripley and his cohorts are the ones responsible for these attacks. 

The attacks have led to war with Iran abroad, and the deployment of private military contractors like THE WOLFPACK at home.  Founded by Ripley’s brother and now run by his father, The Wolfpack has helped enforce the government’s mandatory vaccinations against bio-terror. 

We’re living in a police state.  Of course, not EVERYONE sees it that way…”

That’s not just my way of catching you up with the events of UNTHINKABLE as we begin the Director’s Commentary on Issue 3.  Those are the exact words that alarmed agents of the TSA as I was about to fly from Los Angeles to New York.  As chronicled elsewhere, I was given the “full Kafka” - detained and questioned as they read through the script.  You’ll see the irony as you read the first few pages of Issue 3.


This page is designed to catch the reader up on how the world has changed since the events of the first two issues.  What I think is worth paying attention to here is that while all these horrible terrorist scenarios have taken place, the U.S. is arguably in better shape because of what it’s gone through. 

In part, this came from my own feeling that we squandered opportunities as a nation after 9/11 because we got distracted by Iraq.  We missed the opportunity to get Bin Laden, to rethink our Mideast and policy, to become energy independent etc.  Most of all, I think our leadership missed the opportunity to get the American people what had been united by all this to sacrifice.  Other than the victims of 9/11 and our men and women in the armed forces, it’s almost like there isn’t a war going on.

But more than a political point, this page is a clue to the motivation behind the bad guy behind all the attacks, who isn’t revealed until the end of issue 4.


This page makes for a great contrast with Page One.  Bright shiny optimism on the surface, and this is what’s underneath – our protagonist being held in a secret CIA black site.  Are doing things like this necessary for the greater good?

I asked artist Julian Tedesco to have the layout of this page directly mirror Page One of Issue One.  In that issue, one of Ripley’s fictional protagonists is torturing a Muslim terrorist in order to stop a doomsday plot (as part of the movie-within-the-comic, “Y2K: The Movie”.  Now, Ripley finds himself in that position.

He’s gone from being ridiculed by the FBI for saying he predicted the terrorist attacks in Unthinkable to being accused by the CIA of being them.

To me, Unthinkable is less about the terror attacks than it is about Ripley’s journey.  He’s a thriller writer forced to play the role of one of the action heroes he writes about.  Along the way he learns that just about everything he thought he knew about what it takes to stop terror is wrong.


Here we introduce the other (surviving) members of the Think Tank as they are being tortured.  The way in which they are tortured reflects upon who they are as characters.

First we have NUISANCE, an attorney, being water boarded.  It’s something he’s sued the government over but has never really experienced.

Then we have The Prophet, also an author, but unlike Ripley, his thrillers are about The End Times (much like the “Left Behind” novels).  I decided the worst thing that could happen to him would be a riff on what actually happened to Muslim prisoners at Gitmo.  Instead of a Koran being torn up, it’s a Holy Bible.  I think it might be the second most controversial image in the series so far, just barely beat out by the cover depicting The Dome of The Rock being blown up.

The Editor – who looks a cross between Harry Knowles and Hurley from Lost, is a hacker.  He’s getting electroshock treatments from an X-Box 360.  Anybody whose ever had an Xbox die on them recognizes the red ring of death.

Finally we have Isomer, who is not only a nuclear physicist, but a Holocaust survivor.  Here is one panel that I wish I could have done over.  Originally, he didn’t say “You think you could do better than the GESTAPO”?  That dialogue is a bit on the nose for me, but I felt that the concentration camp numbers on his arm were not noticeable enough.  I’d rather have something over-explained than have a reader miss it.


I thought just showing the first five or six pages would spoil one of the most intense scenes in the book.  So you’ll have to pick up the issue to find out how Ripley got out of the situation.  We now learn they were being held in Egypt.  In real life, that’s one of the countries we’ve used for extraordinary rendition, where suspected terrorists are taken to countries who don’t have laws against torture.


We also learn that there are three doomsday terror scenarios Ripley and the Think Tank have predicted that haven’t come true.  This sets our heroes goal for the second half of the second act.

The word “Armageddon” here has multiple meanings.  The doomsday scenarios would mean Armageddon.  But Ripley believes one of them involves trying to create Biblical Armageddon.  The word itself is derived from Meggido, a real place in Israel where the bible predicts the last battle will be fought.


Here Ripley is caught at the Israeli border, where one of the border guards recognizes both he and The Prophet.  It’s a bit of comic relief.  The ideology behind their books couldn’t be more different, and it’s absurd to Ripley that a Jew could enjoy a book about the Christian End Times where Jews either have to covert or go to Hell.

But on a human level, it’s funny to me that despite escaping torture and a harrowing trip across the desert, they are concerned with who has more readers.  I love the banter between the two characters, and it makes what happens at the end of the issue even more shocking and poignant.


The argument between Ripley and The Prophet gets more heated as Ripley starts blaming the next attack on The Prophet, since he’s the one who imagined it.

And here, the first of the three doomsday scenarios is revealed.  Someone is plotting to destroy The Temple Mount, which is sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews.  All of whom I’m likely to offend by the end of this issue.  But as long as no one declares a fatwa against me, I should be fine.  After all, religious folk have a good sense of humor about cartoons, don’t they?

BOOM! Editor in Chief Mark Waid said that this issue is really where I "hit my stride" and found the characters voices.  This is definitely the most intense issue yet.  There's two big deaths in this issue...and still two more issues and doomsday terror scenarios to go.

The Unthinkable #4 goes on sale Wednesday, August 19.

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