When COVID-19 brought the comics industry to a screeching halt, my colleague Tony Thornley and I decided to dive deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you a new Comicon feature called New To You Comics.
Comics are on their way back, but we had so much fun with this thing, we decided to keep going.
Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. I tend to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.
We’re here to break up that pattern a little. Tony’s throwing some of his favorites my way, and I’m sending him some of mine. Every title we cover is brand new to one of us, and every stinking one of them is available on digital and mail order platforms, in case your local shop is still closed.
This week, we’re kicking around BOOM! Studios’ The Unsound, by Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole. Here’s what BOOM! Has to say about the book:
‘Cullen Bunn is joined by brilliant newcomer artist Jack T. Cole to present a surreal psychological horror series that will have you questioning what it is to truly be crazy…
Ever since she was little, all Ashli wanted was to help people. It’s why she went to nursing school, and it’s why she signed up for the vacant position at Saint Cascia, despite the psychiatric hospital’s less-than-sterling reputation.
But when strange occurrences begin in the midst of her very first day on the job, Ashli is forced to escape through the labyrinthine bowels of the asylum to not only help her fellow nurses, but to save herself.’
Brendan Allen: All right. This one actually hit a lot closer to home than most for me. My wife is a nurse and I remember the days when she first graduated her BSN program and got licensed. The biggest challenge she faced at that time was finding a position within a reputable healthcare system with nothing but her license in hand.
More often than not, new grads have to suck it up and put in their dues, working the worst shifts at the worst hospitals in order to gain experience and tenure that they can leverage into better jobs. That’s where Ashli is in The Unsound, a new grad nurse who actually sought out a position that no one else wanted, except she’s young, naïve, and altruistic enough to believe she can make a real difference in a broken system.
And then shit goes sideways.
Tony Thornley: I don’t have the personal connection that you do here, but good grief that’s an effective set-up. You really feel for Ashli right away. If this had been just a story of a young idealistic nurse getting drawn into the horror of an overwhelmed and broken system, it would have been satisfying.
Brendan: Cullen Bunn flexes his horror muscles in this one. No shocker if you’ve read much of his work. The story begins as a slightly uncomfortable walk through a creepy old building and steadily builds tension with each chapter through a series of increasingly disturbing reveals.
Run-down and abandoned buildings, hospitals and asylums in particular, are nothing new in horror. Bunn takes a well-worn trope and ups the ante with layers of unease, paranoia, and insanity.
Part of what makes this story so effective is trying to peel back Ashli’s biases and the patients’ perception to sort out what’s actually happening at any given point. There’s really no clear indication whose perspective the tale is being told from. It could all be a psychotropic drug induced hallucination.
Tony: It definitely keeps you on your toes. There’s at least four different points where it’s clear things are not as they appear. It’s really effective in the twists and turns.
I do like how much Bunn establishes the characters as well. Ashli is really the only character we get to know in depth, but everyone else gives us enough that we care deeply about their fates. So when each of the other characters meets their end, it has an impact and a weight on the story at large.
Brendan: This was one of Jack T. Cole’s first books, and he does an amazing job with Bunn’s script. I honestly wasn’t a hundred percent sold on the deceptively simple linework and bright color, but I ended up coming around by the second chapter or so.
The light visual tone is disarming and sucks you into a false sense of security. It’s not an aesthetic normally associated with such disturbing material, and that’s what makes it work so well. It’s a cerebral move that leans into the general sense of disquiet.
Tony: I really like Cole’s style. He has a good sense of the macabre. He depicts weird creatures. He gives us unsettling violence. He goes fantastic and gives us a wonderfully rendered fantasy land of madness. The scares for me came from Cole’s art, without a doubt.
Brendan: It’s deeply unsettling for sure. I honestly wouldn’t have picked that style for this story, but in retrospect, I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well with anyone else.
Tony: Right. And here’s the thing about this one for me. I didn’t dislike it. I thought it was a well written and excellently drawn comic. However, surreal cosmic horror doesn’t ever seem to work for me as it’s intended. It’s not just this story either. Most Lovecraftian/cosmic horror lands the same way. It was an effective story, but for me it felt more like a fantasy story with some horrific and unsettling elements.
Brendan: And that’s fair. We’ve been here before. I’m usually on the other side, but I’ll be the first to admit a comic can be beautifully executed and it still won’t land with every reader. I love this book. It caught me off guard and kicked me around a little bit. That’s the stuff I look for.
Tony: I think that’s the interesting thing about genre too, though. We’re drawn to what we like for certain reasons.
Brendan: Absolutely. And that’s why we do this thing in the first place. Every once in a while, we throw something out that really works for the other guy, and it opens up a new lane. It doesn’t always work that way. It’s actually pretty rare. It does happen, though. I swear.
Tony: It’s a discussion we’ve had before. For example, I don’t do horror movies at all, and the horror comics I read tend to be stuff like supernatural ghosts and spooks. But a fantasy story or science fiction I latch right onto. However, cosmic horror just never seems to work for me the way it’s intended. Some, like this one, are well constructed, unsettling fantasy stories. Others just don’t work at all.
Brendan: Okay. All right. From what you just said, I think you’re really going to like one of the other Bunn books I have on queue for next month.
What do you have up for us next week?
Tony: We’re taking a radical adventure through time and space! Just probably not the one you pictured when I said that- we’re going to take a look at Valiant’s Ivar, Timewalker Volume 1!
Brendan: Dammit. You can’t throw me ONE Doctor Who book?
Tony: Just you wait. You’re going to like this one.
Some of your local shops have re-opened. As always, we’d like to ask that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.
If your local comic store is still closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a digital copy at Comixology for $10. If you have the ComixologyUnlimited service, each individual chapter is included for free.