Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Uniques: Season One Review

The web-based superhero comic, The Uniques, by Comfort Love and Adam Withers recently wrapped up its “first season” with its 9th issue. Today, I’m looking back at the full run of this character-focused and action-packed series that is definitely flying under the radar of way too many readers. Hit the jump to find out more!

Written by Comfort Love and Adam Withers
Art by Comfort Love and Adam Withers with the Fighting Flatsmen
Letters by Various
Covers by Comfort Love and Adam Withers

One of the drawbacks of the comic book industry today is the fact that it is dominated by superhero titles and that the vast majority of these superhero titles are published by only two companies. If you start stepping back and looking at the industry as a whole, superhero comics start looking frighteningly similar after a while as character patterns start emerging and plots start recycling. This makes it extremely difficult for notably new superhero stories to be told, especially outside of DC and Marvel. I say difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Enter The Uniques by the husband-and-wife duo of Adam Withers and Comfort Love, a character-focused web-based superhero series that pays homage to, but does not repeat, the superhero stories that generations have grown up with. Like Dynamo 5, Noble Causes, and Invincible before it, The Uniques strives for a storytelling approach that favors character developments over big action and, as such, sets itself apart from the vast majority of superhero comics being published today.

[To be fair and clear, I should point out that I’m talking about some pretty high-altitude big picture ideas here and that my comments above should not be considered an attack on superhero comics in general or those created by DC and Marvel. Anyone who reads my weekly reviews will know that I’m as big of a superhero junkie as the next person!]

The Uniques follows Hope “Telepath” Sage, the last hero on Earth with mental powers, as she puts together a team of young heroes in the wake of a vicious killer who murders her parents, as well as all other powered individuals with mental abilities, and put her in a coma for two years. She is joined by various other legacy heroes who suffered losses during the attack, as well as unattached teen crime fighters.

Hope’s world is not without other heroes and villains, as she and her team (who go unnamed for the vast majority of the nine issue super-arc) interact with characters of various abilities and alignments, many of which are analogous to Marvel and DC’s characters, including Batman, Captain America, Superman, Killer Croc, etc.

What sets The Uniques apart, however, are the genuine personalities of the characters and the richness of the world that they inhabit. Hope Sage is a strong “every woman” POV character, whose two year absence from the world is the perfect starting point for establishing the world around her. Hope is optimistic and strong-willed, which makes her instantly likable and relatable. Her characteristics are just general enough that most readers can latch onto her with ease, but bold enough to keep her interactions with other characters from being bland.

The core group is then filled with characters rooted in superhero archetypes that make them instantly recognizable, but through their interactions with one another become considerably more well-rounded than your average superhero. For example, there is Singe, a hot-headed anti-authoritarian with the ability to manipulate flames. As with other characters of his power, he's prone to abrasiveness, but the writers put a spin on this by providing him with a tortured past and powers that are self-destructive. Singe transcends the archetype that gave us characters like Marvel’s Pyro to give us an angry and confused young man that is torn between a desire to be accepted and an instinctive drive to be seen as a rebellious loner.

Perhaps the most interesting character, though, is Scout, who is an analogue to DC’s Robin. Scout balances his time with Hope’s team against his nightly patrols with The Ghost, an enigmatic hero who operates from the shadows and, to most, is more myth than reality. Scout is by far the most skilled member of the team despite having no super powers, which makes him the de facto leader in the field. Unfortunately, his role as Ghost’s sidekick means that he cannot be publicly seen with the group and has the hardest time socializing with his teammates. His responsibility to justice from the shadows is constantly at war with his own desires to be a regular teen hero. When romance begins to blossom with one of his teammates, the speedster Katie, his subtextual neuroses come to light as this dilemma becomes more apparent. It’s incredibly intriguing and engaging.

While The Uniques is most certainly character-focused, that should not lead you to believe that it's not also full of big action and strong plotting. From the first issue, the seeds are planted for a massive conspiracy centering on the world’s more prominent heroes, which has ties to Hope’s team through their heroic legacies. This leads to the arc’s exciting action-packed finale, which could easily hold its own against your average Avengers battle any day.

Along the way, the team also finds themselves against a variety of other villains, including a dead anthropomorphic crocodile and a group of super-powered goth teens. The latter not only features some of the best action (with amazing fight choreography), but also one of the more disturbing and shocking moments in the series that certainly ups the ante for the book when compared to most teen hero titles.

Thematically, the strong mix of character work and action opens the series up for the writers to tackle a number of issues through the development of the team and the battles that they fight. Everything from prejudice to the government’s role in national security to gender politics and even adolescent sexuality are explored through the course of the series. There are a lot of issues bubbling under the surface of this series, which makes it far more “real” than most superhero titles, especially when you take into consideration the realistic tone of the character’s voices (because let’s face it, teens cuss a lot more often than they dish out battle cries!).

While the writing and character work is simply superb, the art does leave a bit to be desired. The character designs aren’t terribly exciting or original, but considering the fact that we’ve had 70+ years of superheroes, the chances of seeing an original design are pretty slim these days. Love and Withers aren’t terribly consistent at times, with their loose style definitely needing some polish, especially in the early issues.

That being said, the expressions are very strong and the storytelling choices are consistently solid. It may not be the most refined art style but it fits perfectly with the tone of the series and plays just as large a part in the development of the series as the writing does. By the time you hit the third or fourth issue, you really can’t imagine the art being done in any other way.

Verdict: Buy It. The Uniques is truly a labor of love for its creators, which shows on every single page. This is a project of hard work, passion, and dedication, which is well-deserving of your time and cash. The strength of the character work will rival almost any comic that you’d find on the shelves of your local comic book store. This may be flying under the radar of most readers, which is unfortunate, as it is a highly satisfying and addictive read. You shouldn’t miss it.
The Uniques is available through its official website, The first issue is available for free download, with additional issues available as value-priced PDF files or as print-on-demand hardcopies. An omnibus will be available later this month that includes all nine issues plus a slew of extras.

Related Posts


Anonymous said...

Looks really good, will be giving it a chance.

Ivan said...

Downloading the first issue right now. If I like it, I'm getting the omnibus when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

I met Adam & Comfort at Heroescon in 2008 and have been following this book since then. It's better than half the stuff the big two put out. I disAgree about the art, I think it's amazing but to each his own.

Ivan said...

I've read the first issue now and I kind of agree with you on the art, plus I think the dialogue lacks some polish. I didn't really paid attention to the credits and I don't know if there's an editor who is not one of the creators, but it feels like there isn't. I'm still interested, but now I'm digitally purshasing issue 2 to see if I like where it's going.

Post a Comment

Thanks for checking out the Weekly Crisis - Comic Book Review Blog. Comments are always appreciated. You can sign in and comment with any Google, Wordpress, Live Journal, AIM, OpenID or TypePad account.