New Age of DC Heroes: What to Expect from The Unexpected
By Meg Downey
The New Age of DC Heroes is marching forward with the latest addition to the lineup, THE UNEXPECTED by Ryan Sook and Steve Orlando, telling the story of a group of unlikely heroes who, because of the events of DARK NIGHTS: METAL, are called to action across the Multiverse.
Featuring Neon the Unknown, Ascendant, Viking Judge and Firebrand, The Unexpected is primed to be your onramp to all the crazy, weird, wonderful corners of the DC Universe. But don’t take my word for it. Let Sook and Orlando speak for themselves.
Cover for THE UNEXPECTED #1
So, to kick things off, let’s give our readers a little explanation of just what the Unexpected actually is. Steve, you’ve explained it as Seven Samurai meets The Dark Tower, what does that mean? In other words, what should we expect from The Unexpected?
Steve Orlando: The villain of this book, Alden Quench, is really a citizen of the Multiverse, the same way that [The Dark Tower‘s] Randall Flagg was. This is a book that is instantly in play with the events of Metal and the Dark Multiverse, the pre-existing Multiverse, and maybe things that you didn’t even know were happening in the fabric of the DCU—realities that have been destroyed as far back as CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS or INFINITE CRISIS.
As someone who has walked between the multiversal raindrops, Quench is someone who immediately brings that level of scale to The Unexpected. And then there’s the other side—the narrative side. We’re pulling together a lot of different stories, we’re not just picking up on Metal, we’re picking up on the massive architecture of things like FINAL CRISIS. You’ll see as the book goes on that some of the biggest events in the DC Universe are woven together here, through Quench and through his opposite: Neon the Unknown.
We want this book to act as a unifier for the DCU. Just look at the tagline, “To Prevent Crisis, Expect the Unexpected.” These are the people who stop these massive would-be crossover event books before they even happen and we don’t even know it. We don’t know who they are. So, this story is really about finding out what happens, finding out what comes next, uncovering the mysteries that have been seeded in these stories, even beyond Metal and Final Crisis—things you may have not even noticed for the past ten, twenty years, all coming to root.
You just mentioned Neon the Unknown, which is a name some fans might ping as familiar, and that might go for some of the other members of this team as well. But these are new incarnations, yeah? Tell me about this lineup.
Orlando: They’re four all-new characters, much in the way in the other New Age of DC Heroes books are handling it. Some of these names are carrying on DC tradition. Actually, even in the case of Firebrand, there was an unrelated Firebrand in the ’90s with, like, fire armor. It’s all like how Barry Allen, at the very beginning, didn’t actually have a connection to Jay Garrick other than reading about his adventures in comic books.
So, these are names that you might recognize, but there are new faces to go with them. These are heroes with new histories. Characters like Ascendant and Viking Judge have been here for a long time, and they both have reasons for not revealing themselves until now. So, when you say “are they new?” The answer is really “no.” They each have extensive backstories, they each open a whole world unto themselves. They’re coming together to solve the mystery of The Unexpected, but they have worlds and relationships that are all a gateway to their own corner of the universe.
This is a book about discovery, we couldn’t have spun out of Metal and not been about discovery, that’s really what the heart of that book is. So, hopefully every time you turn the page here, there’s something new about these characters that you just can’t wait to investigate.
Ryan, can you walk us through your process designing this book?
Ryan Sook: My approach at first was just to take the short, introductory descriptions that Steve developed and sent over, I took those and ran with them. I did a few designs of each character and sent them over to the guys at DC, but then immediately scrapped everything (laughs).
No, no, the one character we got right, right off the bat was Firebrand. She really came to life right away, so that design hasn’t changed from day one. All of the other characters went through several incarnations, first to just get a feel for what these characters might look like and then it was about going back and fine tuning every detail.
What I was really hoping to do was give the characters a lasting visual impact, something that will look new and unique but at the same time have the familiar characteristics that you’ll be drawn to in a superhero team comic.
Now, you’ve mentioned Final Crisis and the last ten years of DC history as something you’re drawing from for this book. What would you say to someone who has maybe never come into contact with those stories? Can The Unexpected be your first foray into the DCU?
Orlando: Absolutely. There aren’t any real prerequisites for this book, and there really shouldn’t be. I bring up those big pillars of the DCU because I want people to know that this book is important, I want people to know that it’s going to live in the beating heart of the DC Universe. But at the same time, because these characters themselves are discovering the true heart of the DCU, the true fabric of the multiverse, the lore at the center of things, they’re learning at the same time as the reader.
So, while I’m never going to say don’t go back and read old stories, you don’t absolutely need them for this to make sense. The Unexpected is going to show you why these stories matter, show you why these events were so huge.
On the opposite side of that, give me a couple books you would recommend for a fan who is really eager to brush up on their history before The Unexpected comes out.
Orlando: Definitely Metal and Final Crisis. Those are the two big ones. Alternatively, there’s an art book called The Blind Photographer that myself and Ryan are using to gain a better appreciation for Neon the Unknown’s point of view. He himself is blind, he was blinded in the accident that gave him powers, and The Blind Photographer is a collection of photographs taken by blind artists. It’s all about how they feel and connect with the world, and it’s important for me in the case of Neon that he doesn’t have a cheat, you know? There’s no radar sense here. He has these immense powers of creation, he can mold reality and mold matter like we would paint or clay, but he can never see the work he’s creating.
So, if I’m allowed to recommend something that isn’t a comic, it would definitely be that book.
Some of Sook’s Firebrand sketches
We’ve talked a bit about Firebrand, a woman who has to get into a fight every 24 hours or she’ll literally die. That’s a fascinating idea. Can you tell us more about her?
Orlando: Firebrand, next to Neon, in many ways is one of the most exciting new heroes in the book. She’s so fun. She’s a paramedic, she’s dedicated her whole life to helping and taking care of people, and then to save her life, they have to put something in her heart that runs on aggression, it runs on violence. So now, after she’s built her whole life around peace and health and helping people, she has to pick fights, she has to push envelopes, or her heart will stop beating. She’ll drop dead.
So, every day, she has that sacrifice and that tension that the best heroes have. She’s got this pull between her good and bad angels, the conflict between the desires and her needs. As you open up the book, word is getting around about her. The DC Universe is starting to notice that there’s this woman whose skin is like flint and if you hit her, you spark, and we’ve heard that she has to get into a fight every 24 hours, and we’ve also heard that she’s never lost. So, as you open up the book, you’ll see that now she’s becoming a thing. It’s the age of YouTube and the age of camera phones and the tough guys of the DC Universe are coming for Firebrand, because they want a shot at the title.
So another character we’ve got in the mix here is Viking Judge, who you’ve mentioned. Steve, you’ve described her as “Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth in the body of someone from the show Girls.” Ryan, how does that translate onto the page?
Sook: It’s all rolled up into this character who has a really unique and beautiful style. Designing her street clothes was actually the easy part. The hard part was trying to make her into Thor (laughs), because when you take a normal, sort of glam girl from New York City and turn her into this Viking terror, you want to bridge the gap. You have to design that character in both iterations, so she’s a Viking Judge, but her Viking gear has some of that fashion glam to it as well.
What do you hope readers take away from this book? Why this story, why now?
Sook: I hope people will tap into what I think Steve and I are tapped into, which is a whole lot of potential in something we haven’t seen in the DC Universe before. This has the familiar elements for anybody who likes a superhero team book, but we’re not really locked into continuity here. This thing was birthed out of continuity, but that’s the blessing of it—it’s a totally open landscape for us to develop these characters in ways that really live up to the title. I think it’ll surprise readers, and I think it’ll keep them interested. After the first issue, if they’re not chomping at the bit for more, I’d be seriously surprised. That’s my hope, I want this book to open the door for a long running, long lasting development of these characters.
Upper cover for THE UNEXPECTED #1
Orlando: I would completely agree. The phrases “birthed out of continuity” and “open canvas” are really what is so exciting about this book. It’s a book where anything can happen, it’s vital to the continuation of the DC Universe, but at the same time, it’s an entry point. Because you’re meeting them at the same time they’re meeting the DCU, it’s a total in-road to all the wonder that has made people love DC for the past 80-plus years.
Just look at the title. We have to surprise you, we have to go places that you weren’t ready for, we have to do things that you didn’t think would be coming in this book. It’s an opportunity. This is the biggest book I’ve ever done, but The Unexpected is even bigger. We’re experiencing parts of the DCU that I’ve never had a chance to write, that Ryan has never had a chance to draw, and we’re building on it. That’s really the biggest part of not just The Unexpected, but the New Age of DC Heroes.
This is an onramp for the DC Universe, plain and simple.
Sook: Exactly. When you’re working with characters like Superman or Batman, you get to handle them with a ton of love and care, but you also have to approach them with a level of caution. There’s a fanbase, there’s continuity, there’s an audience. What I love about The Unexpected, and this group of characters, is that right off the bat, we don’t have to be careful. We don’t have to pull any punches. Steve and I kick back and forth the craziest ideas you could possibly come up with and it’s always like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” There’s no one saying we can’t.
Look for THE UNEXPECTED #1 by Ryan Sook and Steve Orlando in stores and digital retailers in June, 2018.