The Unsound #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Jack T. Cole
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
A review by Anelise Farris
Having recently reviewed the new horror comic Regression #1, written by Cullen Bunn, I was super excited to have another horror comic in my hands written by Bunn—a writer who clearly knows the familiar horror genre tropes but manages to add a sophistication and originality to his work.
The Unsound #1 involves a female protagonist named Ashli, a newly hired nurse at Saint Cascia Psychiatric Hospital. Yes, I know what you are probably thinking: psychiatric hospital and a new employee has all the makings of classic horror. This is true, but, as I was hoping, Bunn achieves the unexpected by infusing the comic with strong character development and plenty of unnerving revelations that come with a strong dose of dark magic and unethical science.
Saint Cascia Psychiatric Hospital is not your average psychiatric hospital—if there ever was such a thing. It was built in the 19th century, closed in the 1980s due to funding issues, and has only been reopened for a few years. It is overpopulated and understaffed, and Ashli’s first day is anything but uneventful: administrative figures are milling about; razor blades are littered around the hospital and dismissed as a prank; and, Ashli quickly realizes that she needs to keep her pepper spray handy. Although not a lot is revealed about Ashli in this first issue, she already comes across as a fully realized character: strong and compassionate, yet I’m excited to see how her story unfolds. What drew her to accepting a job at Saint Cascia Psychiatric Hospital in the first place?
For a first issue, The Unsound #1 moves along at surprisingly fast pace. Bunn does not waste time giving us a lot of backstory about Ashli’s character or the hospital. The details are sprinkled sparingly here and there in this first issue—a wise move that will bring readers eagerly back for subsequent issues. As far as the horror-aspect goes, the scares definitely increase as the comic progresses, and, by the comic’s final page, the reader is confronted with full on grotesque and unsettling images. Having read the comic twice and been away from it for a few hours, I am still haunted by one character in particular: Xerxes, who has a creepy paper-plate like mask and is a total “John Doe,” as the story says.
The art of The Unsound #1 is unexpectedly colorful and youthful for a horror comic; this confused me at first but I soon came to realize that the art by Jack T. Cole actually works to elevate the “unsoundness” of the comic as a whole. With a loose, cartoon-like style that feels, for lack of a better word, “unhinged,” The Unsound #1 is a comic that is startling in all the right ways.
Buy it! With The Unsound #1, don’t expect to find a comic that screams horror from the first page—other than of course the presence of the psychiatric hospital. The horror is unveiled slowly in this first issue, but it definitely delivers by the story’s end. The surprising aesthetic of the comic, though perhaps initially confusing, works to further unnerve the reader. The Unsound #1 will appeal to a whole group of readers, from those who like conventional horror, to those looking for a good mystery, as well as to those who just enjoy weird science.