By: Matthias Wolf (writer), Carlos Gomez (artist), Simon Bork & Teodoro Gonzalez (colorists)
The Story: He’s met Joan of Arc, Achilles, William Tell…and they all want to kill him. He may not be a people person.
The Review: The graphic novel presents a very different reading format than your typical episodic comic book. It invites a longer investment of time and attention, so you come in expecting more substantial and fully-realized storylines. Unlike monthlies, which can get away with just immersing you in the moment by gripping drama one issue and wild action the next, graphic novels have to balance all these things throughout.
Unbeatable succeeds on this point—somewhat. The entire first volume works essentially as a prelude, a very long setup to protagonist Heimen Dale’s true, mythic role. This probably wouldn’t have worked very well read on an issue by issue basis: the early parts of the story move fairly slowly and even when the pace jacks into high-gear, you still end up with a very limited sense of how this world works, which, at an estimated 150 pages, feels too little.
At least when run together, pacing becomes less of an issue. The straightforward narration allows for quick reading through the chatty, innocent period of Dale’s life. But once you get to the real juicy parts of the story, you start to realize how unchallenging the plot really is. There’s a certain repetitiveness to Wolf’s storytelling and to the way the novel’s different sequences work, so it’s a cinch to predict the next twist and what the aftermath will be.
It doesn’t help that nothing seen so far strikes you as outstandingly new. The series’ primo concept—living through one’s many deaths to overcome pain and become a weapon of war—comes across interesting, but not mind-blowing. There is also a lot of material, which feel poached from other works: the weakling turned invincible, the pure, teenage romance, the lost father, the fine line between the supernatural and insanity.
The most obviously familiar plot elements involve the Norse mythological connections. Now, Marvel does not have a monopoly on that sphere of myth (after all, both the Big Two write different versions of the Greek pantheon). But even if you can set the more famous adaptation aside, Wolf’s conception works as a decent modernization attempt, but a little too corny: the punny names, the contemporary outfits—it all feels very Percy Jackson & The Olympians.
It would’ve helped if Wolf revealed more about how the order of things works in this world in a substantial way, instead of the eye-patched general explaining everything in three pages. I’m not sure if this is the most effective way of securing interest for the next volume.
Gomez’s art has a very kinetic, out-of-proportion look, which comes across very youthful, which works really well for the more innocent portions of Dale’s life. But it’s also pointedly cartoony, which sort of defeats the moments of attempted intensity Wolf goes for in the later parts of his script, in the midst of Dale’s breakdown. Basically, when the story feels lighthearted, the art is a perfect fit; when the story goes for drama, the art is a distraction.
Conclusion: The series isn’t groundbreaking, though fairly enjoyable. It takes a bit too long to get someplace really interesting, and suffers from predictability. Much depends on how Wolf expands his world in the next volume.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – When Miyamoto slashes Dale in the chest the first time, the expression on Dale’s face reminded me of someone. Now I know: Tycho of Penny Arcade.
– It’s amazing how a black-ops military outfit can make anyone look that much more badass.