Unknown #1


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Unknown #1


  • Words: Mark Waid
  • Art: Mink Oosterveer
  • Colors: Fellipe Martins
  • Publisher: BOOM! Studios
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: May 13, 2009

Catherine Allingham is a modern day Sherlock Holmes.  She has solved the DB Cooper Case and the mystery of Stonehenge.  She begs her local law enforcement to look at a file she has generated on the Black Dahlia.  In fact, she is a celebrity.  She is called in like Castle to consult on cases the cops can’t quite figure out and she has fanboys who know her every case.  All that is well and good, but besides making the detective a woman, how do you update the standard mystery story for the 21st century?

God love Mark Waid.  He knows how to tell an interesting yarn.  There are moments here of sheer storytelling genius.  From Cat’s hiring of a clever bouncer fanboy as her Watson to an obvious dramatic manipulation through an inoperable brain tumor, he sets up some interesting characters here.  The bouncer assistant, Doyle (how’s that for homage), is a lighted hearted and smart giant of a man. There is also enough mystery given in Allingham to make her an intriguing read.  The duo are steeped in cliche, but somehow through the art and their interaction, they become a joy to read about.

Waid also sets up a tech mystery that could happen now.  The problem is that the conceit here is that the clients don’t call the cops for some reason and when the reason is uncovered by our sleuth, it doesn’t make sense for them to have been keeping secrets.  And that is where this mystery falls apart.  No less than four mysteries are solved in this 22 page story and all too easily. Even worse, none of them are the kind of parlor room scene that one would expect to open up the book and show us the protagonist’s brilliant deductive skills.  They are all solved without thought even, sometimes inexplicably.

Her  logic is a mystery to the reader and that is a problem.  It seems the whole sleuthing bit is just set dressing for the character piece.  That would be fine if one were lead to believe that the characters were the main thrust of the story, but it is obvious that this new case is the plot of this story.  Why show our P.I. easily handling decades old cases to go solve an unsolvable case involving future tech?  Would it not have been an easier story set up to have set the book in the near future?  Would we have needed a whole issue showing her solving crimes where she did not even need to be at the crime scene?  All that can possibly be left is procedural mystery and there is none of that on display in the myriad of cases she solves here.

The art by Oosterveer has a certain charm to itself.  For anyone familiar with Boom’s books, they normally have a style about them that identify them as Boom books.  This one is no exception, but there is playfulness to the character designs that is at once oddly misplaced for the thematics of the story, but is also humanizing to the characters.  They feel a little more emotionally resonant than the words on the page would dictate.  That is what graphic storytelling is all about, enhancing the work at hand.  Between Oosterveer’s ability to bring some depth to the otherwise cardboard cut out characters and Martins’ moody coloring, the art may actually be a step above the script.

There is a mystery here, but it is unsure if it is the one Allingham is pursuing or one for the reader to divine.  The recent Sherlock Holmes #1 from Dynamite does more for the genre with all its Victorian elegance and there is no doubt that with the current Crime revival in comics, detective stories will be in vogue shortly enough.  Is Waid merely jumping on the band wagon as it leaves the station or is there more meat to this story?  Unfortunately for this debut issue it is not an issue that is resolved.

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  • Tonya Crawford

    Tonya Crawford May 15, 2009 at 2:54pm

    Couple of things Lee:

    1) The original solicit for this book states that Allingham is pursuing the "greatest mystery of all: What Happens when you die" -- ergo, presumably, the techno-mystery presented will have a bearing because it ties into that conceit (without spoiling too much here).

    2) Holmes is not the ONLY creator possibly homaged here -- Allingham shares her last name with British mystery writer Margery Allingham, most famous for her series of mysteries starring the character of Albert Campion.

  • Lee Newman

    Lee Newman May 15, 2009 at 3:45pm

    Yeah, the conceit definitely ties into that, my problem is that it seems like the only thing she will have a tough time with is technology...

    Cool... I love knowing the easter eggs.

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