REVIEW: The Unexpected #2 by Steve Orlando, Cary Nord, Wade von Grawbadger, Jeromy Cox, and Carlos M. Mangual

In  The Unexpected #2 , we get Neon the Unknown's origin story.

In The Unexpected #2, we get Neon the Unknown's origin story.

By Zack Quaintance — The Unexpected #2 builds well on its predecessor, deepening the book’s characters while remaining true to its title by continuing the first issue’s fantastic plot twist. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read it, but The Unexpected #1’s cover seemed to advertise a team book starring four characters...but then killed two of them, also axing its presumed antagonist.

It was incredibly well-executed misdirection, justified well enough by virtue of being—for lack of more elegant language—pretty freaking awesome. This second issue, however, goes past pretty freaking awesome to give the twist significance, extrapolating impressive character development for one of The Unexpected’s dual leads, the blind Doctor Strange analog, Neon the Unknown.

The loss of Neon’s team, it turns out, evokes nigh-crippling thoughts of past trauma connected to his origin, expertly told here in a concise two-page spread same as the other lead’s was last issue. The book then trampolines off that trauma to start building a compelling dynamic between Neon and its other lead, Firebrand. Without going into too much detail (ahem spoilers), Neon is a tortured artist so riven by guilt he fails to truly embrace his powers. Firebrand, meanwhile, is a paramedic saddled with a powerful heart that requires her to fight (and likely harm) someone every 24 hours. Neon is on a self-tortured redemption arc, while Firebrand is a no-nonsense practical hero with agency. She needs his expertise and he needs her tough motivation. It’s great.

Orlando’s script just does so much here while remaining tight. It gives Dark Nights Metal continued significance by incorporating key concepts from that event—Nth Metal and the World Forge—it nods to larger DC continuity via June Robbins and the God Garden, and it has the badass swagger of Orlando’s best work, including Midnighter (2015) and his Image Comics creator-owned revenge story Crude.   

Orlando and Nord are building Firebrand into one of the DCU's best original characters in recent memory.

The lone knock on The Unexpected is its prospect for longevity, which is harmed by it being part of the New Age of Heroes, which some fans have (rightly) criticized for being branded as artist-centric before quickly swapping out artists on nearly every book. Will Orlando and Nord get to play out their full vision? It’s unclear. I do, however, think Firebrand is one of the strongest new Big 2 superheros in recent memory, cut in the mold of Midnighter, but whereas Midnighter was a weapon with little memory of normalcy, Firebrand juggles a dual life as a human weapon and a nurturing paramedic. Surely, DC Comics will always have a place for a character battling such a poignant contradiction.

Overall: The Unexpected #2 is a strong follow-up to the best debut of any New Age of DC Heroes title. It invests well in many of the key qualities of strong superhero comics — action, absurdity, character development, continuity nods, and plot twists. Put simply, this series is one of the more exciting original properties at either Big 2 publisher in recent years. 9.0/10

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.