The Unsound #1 (BOOM! Studios)
There is a darkness that lives in Cullen Bunn’s soul. It’s not surprising if you’ve read his work before – everything from the Sixth Gun to the Damned to Hellbreak to Magneto has walked a fine line over an endless and howling abyss. As a writer, he plays hopscotch on the edges of madness and brings back honest tales of the nightmares he plays with, a macabre dance of wordplay and slowly dissolving characters.
He’s not playing around this time. There’s that old thing about how cracks let the light in, but sometimes the light is the corrupted rotting heart that ends worlds. That’s what the Unsound is about, people that saw the shattering edge of some unknowable thing and now have to live with.
Artist Jack Cole is in on the game. The architecture and paneling are subtle and hostile, littered with ambient dread that starts with clean light and moves into a cluttered overwhelming morass and it fits the story perfectly. Our story follows a nurse at a mental hospital on her first day, the slow journey there and the quick push over the edge and into an unknowable horror.
If you’ve lived or worked in a mental hospital you know what Cullen is talking about: the preciousness of socks and prayers for quiet, but only a certain kind of quiet. The sterility that isn’t, the thin veneer of enforced calm that pushes back a lingering storm where reality ends and something else begins.
There’s a horror that comes with being called crazy: everything you are and every decision you’ve ever made is suddenly suspect. Your opinions, your agency, your memory and identity all get called into question. You can’t be trusted and even if you recover people will never let you forget that you once fell apart.
We’re introduced to one of the hospitals that was closed due to a lack of funding, pushing insanity onto the streets until people that care come back into power and allowed the place to reopen, but the damage has been done: the funding is cut and these places are understaffed and underpaid and undermaintained.
Some of the crazies came drifting back in but who can say where the other ones went? Some of them died and some of them vanished and someone of them were taken, but the ones that came back came back different. The ones that are cracked can always find more cracks, more light to let in.
Of course, this is a Cullen Bunn story, so there is something wrong with this hospital – black suited authorities who are not what they seem, whispering training dummies, abandoned razor blades, patients with hidden faces and unblinking eyes, all the subtle monsters that make a mind doubt itself.
If your palette runs towards the macabre this will do nicely. Pleasant dreams.