Anthology books are a crapshoot, especially in comics. Short stories are so rarely published and creators so rarely geared towards even writing single-issue stories that an anthology featuring seven eight-page stories and one six-pager doesn’t inspire confidence. Nor is it surprising when the results are lackluster like they are in “The Unexpected” #1. Where it succeeds is as an art sampler for the likes of Dave Gibbons, Jill Thompson, Denys Cowan, Farel Dalrymple, and more talented artists. The Rafael Grampá cover sets the tone: good art is to be found in this comic.
Almost all of the stories either involve a strange premise or a ‘twist’ ending that’s never as surprising as anyone involved would like it to be. With such limited space, there isn’t room to tell a compelling story. Most of the stories are smart in focusing on one idea or concept. However, none do anything with their idea or concept that’s much more than mildly amusing. In one story, dogs take over a small town because the people are horrible and that’s meant to say what? That dogs are better than humans? That people shouldn’t be so horrible? Or, there’s a story where a woman zombie does her best to look alive, which is a clever idea that goes nowhere. A monster kills a boy and the Mexican groundskeeper is blamed immediately, because everyone is racist, but, ha ha ha, they all get killed by the monster, too. Nothing of value is said and, in the process, little entertainment is had.
The most successful story is Brian Wood and Emily Carroll’s “Americana” and it’s not strictly a narrative story. It’s more a mood piece, maybe even the comic version of a poem. Over four two-page sequences, we’re shown the life of a woman as America collapses and reconstructs itself in various stages. It could be read as the skeleton of an epic story, but, here, it’s sweet and succinct, producing impressions more than anything. In giving us fleeting, transitory moments, the story suggests far more than it contains, actually spurring thought beyond its eight pages. Carroll’s art is simple, capturing the feeling of what’s happening in only a few panels, and giving a clear image of what each particular time is meant to be.
The art is uniformly strong throughout the comic. Even when the stories are simple or disappointing, the art usually makes it worth it somehow. “Alone” is an utterly mundane and uninspired story, but Rahsan Ekedal’s art is visually inventive with a man’s ghost pixilated and trapped in a house. Farel Dalrymple’s art looks so classical and beautiful, like it’s carved out of wood, and David Lapham captures the monstrous, ugly nature of the story he illustrates. Jill Thompson painted the story she provided the art for and that made it better with the paints working somewhat against the zombie plot; her style is also perfectly suited for a zombie woman trying to vamp it up.
Like the preview of “Spaceman” in Vertigo’s last anthology, this one features a preview of the upcoming “Voodoo Child” with great art from Denys Cowan and writing that I had to force my way through. That Vertigo uses these anthologies to preview upcoming titles is a great idea, but this was an instance where the preview did absolutely nothing for me.
Fans of great art will find “The Unexpected” a treat even if the stories are mostly obvious twists and poorly constructed.