A few months back, I reviewed another anthology of short stories by Vertigo: Strange Adventures. And while I found the book to be something of a failure, it had nothing to do with the format, but with the stories. Only Peter Milligan and Sylvain Savoia’s “Partners” was a truly great short story, while most other creators seemed to be grappling with some difficulty in telling a coherent story using such a small page count. I’m happy to say, The Unexpected #1 has solved that problem thoroughly, introducing a series of fun, memorable short stories from a variety of star creators.
It is impossible to state up front how profoundly strange some of these stories are. Joshua Dysart’s excellent, melancholy story “The Land” features, for example, a scene in which the protagonist listens to a conversation between two cows to solve a mystery, while G. Willow Wilson’s “Dogs” takes an even stranger turn that I won’t spoil here. But even without the weirdness, stories like Mat Johnson and David Lapham’s dark “Family First”, Alex Grecian and Jill Thompson’s fantastically creepy zombie story “Look Alive”, and Dave Gibbons’ measured, tragic “The Great Karlini” are solid short stories, dark little bits of pop culture ephemera that will stick with you long after you put the book down.
The book runs out of steam as it continues. By the time you hit “A Most Delicate Monster” at the half-way point, you’ve passed the best the issue has to offer. Only “Family First”, Mat Johnson and David Lapham’s chilling post-apocalyptic tale, makes much of an impression afterwards. The book concludes, like Strange Adventures before it, on a preview for an upcoming Vertigo series, this time Selwyn Seyfu Hinds Voodoo Child, but their prelude is outshone by four or five other outstanding stories.
Clocking in at 74 full color pages with very few ads, the $7.99 price tag seems more reasonable. And I’m a big fan of the anthology format – it’s one I wish Marvel and DC would do more often, and not just because I’d love to try and write one. As stories get bigger and bigger, the ability to write small seems to be getting lost. I like seeing how each creative team goes about creating their tiny worlds in 8 pages or less, how visually distinct each story is. There is some top notch art in the book, and very few duds. Anyone who enjoys dark sci-fi and fantasy with bizarre twists and gorgeous art owes it to themselves to pick this up.