Indie Comics Review: THE UNBELIEVABLE UNTEENS #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Tyler Crook
Colours: Tyler Crook
Letters: Tyler Crook
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
The Unbelievable Unteens #1: After signing at a comic book convention, Unbelievable Unteens artist Jane Ito finds herself visited by one of the characters from her own creation–but was it her own creation? Were the Unteens an actual school of teenaged misfit superheroes who battled supervillains under the lead of the mysterious Dr. Miles Moniker? And if so, who wiped their memories and why? As Jane’s world is turned upside down and she learns the true nature of her identity she discovers a sinister plot leading her to assemble a team she had suspected was purely fictional.
A lot of characters and groups in Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer Universe are pastiches of archetypal DC or Marvel properties – at least in part. Lemire adds differences and takes their stories in different, and often surprising, directions. So, Lemire is not simply ripping off the more established superheroes. But it’s not hard to spot the inspirations he draws on.
The Unbelievble Unteens seems to be inspired by the early X-Men comics. This is evident right in the book’s title. “Unbelievable” is synonymous with the adjective used in The Uncanny X-Men. However, I do detect more than a hint of the Doom Patrol in Lemire’s group. This makes sense considering the many similarities between both teams in their earliest incarnations. They were a small group of powered individuals that were shunned by society. And they were both gathered together by a wheelchair-bound leader.
Lemire has been working on this story for a while. In Dark Horse’s Free Comic Book Day 2019 special Jack Sabbath discovers the final issue of The Incredible Unteens with himself featured on the cover. The book is dated 1985, suggesting a past that Jack doesn’t remember. This was followed by a short entry that named the rest of the heroes and included a brief synopsis of their origin. And it ended with the foreboding sentence: “But all good things must come to an end, and, for the Unbelievable Unteens, it did not end well…”.
Oddly, The Incredible Unteens #1 takes place in 1997, years after that 1985 final issue would have come out. But when we are introduced to Jane Ito, it’s revealed that she is still writing and drawing the title. Is her book a new volume of that old comic from 1985? Or is it the comic that theoretically would have come out in our world in 1985 and depicting events that actually happened in Spiral City at that time?
The latter seems rather likely, as Jane discovers that her supposedly fictional character Jack Sabbath actually exists in the real world. Moreover, she discovers that she’s actually another Unteen. Somehow she has forgotten her life as Strobe, but has been unconsciously retelling the adventures she lived through in her comic.
The title is hinting that something tragic happened to the team that left Jack a wandering ghost, and erasing their memories. It appears that they will be piecing together what happened in that final adventure and revealing the fates that befell their teammates. Lemire is presenting us with a tantalizing mystery here, and I anticipate that the exploration of it will prove fascinating.
Jack Sabbath seems to be based on an interesting combination of inspirations. His original form as shown in the comics was as a “kid occultist” with supernatural powers. Almost as if John Constantine had decided to don a spandex costume and joined a superhero team. But after dying, he has become a wandering spirit akin to Deadman or the Spectre.
Also, I have to wonder if the manage to regain their memories and reform the Unteens, wouldn’t the presence of superheroes on Earth upset the balance of forces and trigger the reappearance of Anti-God? Were the Unteens erased from history due to the same reason that Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Barbalien, and the rest were exiled to another reality? I expect that we will find out the answers in the upcoming issues.
I also like that Lemire chose to make Jane a writer/artist of a comic. They say that you should write what you know. Lemire may not be drawing this series, but he is an artist as well as being a writer. The actual in this title is provided by Tyler Crook, who is no stranger to the Black Hammer universe, having done a stellar job illustrating Colonel Weird: Cosmagog. He beautifully captures the dark, gloomy feel of the present day (well 1997, actually), but the flashbacks shown in comic form show a more colourful and world . Those sequences are full of the vibrancy and energy that was typical of the period. Crook is the perfect choice for this series.
It’s hard to see exactly how this fits into Lemire’s overall continuity. But I’m sure that Lemire has it all figured out and will reveal all in the upcoming issues. His earlier Black Hammer series have taught me to trust that Lemire knows what he’s doing.
The Unbelievable Unteens #1 introduces us to another fascinating Black Hammer title. It has an eerie tone that feels a bit different than previous titles. But Lemire has built a rich universe with room for different styles of stories. And I am sure that this title will every bit as great as his other Black Hammer books.