By Daniel Vlasaty
For a few months last year, I worked as a counselor on an inpatient psych ward. We dealt with patients with a combination of mental health and substance abuse issues. It was a new unit. We started it in place of one that closed a few years prior due to funding issues. Our facility made it about four or five months before we closed due to what I’ll call political reasons. When we first opened, I didn’t know what to expect. I had gone through all the trainings and taken classes on non-violent de-escalation and also how to safely and quickly restrain a violent or unruly patient. I think I was expecting something along the lines of this book. I think I was expected to be scared and creeped out and always on edge. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was just people who needed help that they couldn’t get out in the real world. It was mostly just hanging out and watching movies on the shitty TV in the day room and playing board games and occasionally having break up fights or restrain a patient, mostly for their own safety. And once because one of the patients attacked a nurse. I worked with the violent male population, and it was mostly a baby-sitting gig. Anyway, that’s my long-winded introduction to my review of The Unsound, a new book written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by Jack T. Cole that takes place in a psychiatric hospital.
I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. Cullen Bunn writes so many fucking books. Seriously I think he’s got a new one coming out just about every month. And like anything, with so many books there are bound to be some good ones and some bad ones too. I’m going to come right out and say that The Unsound probably falls somewhere in the middle. It’s a good book but it left me wanting.
Without getting into too many details about the plot, The Unsound follows Ashli, a nurse on her first day working at a psychiatric hospital. She spends most of her first shift meeting the patients and getting talked down to by the old, tough-as-nails, seen-it-all-done-it-all nurse. This older nurse is rough and tumble and she don’t take no shit. You now the type. She’s the type of character either the good guy or the bad guy and sometimes those words will be interchangeable, I’m sure. And in contrast, Ashli is kind of meek and quiet. But as her day goes on, Ashli starts to see things and experience things and she just gets a bad feeling about the place.
The Unsound is without a doubt going to be a horror book. But I’m going to call it more of a slow-burning suspense story. It’s nothing new or original but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. There have been countless movies and books and comics and TV shoes, etc., that take place in a setting like this, so I can imagine places this story will take us already. I just hope that the plot doesn’t get too clichéd with the coming issues.
Honestly, my favorite part of the story is the pacing. I think it keeps it slow enough that it really builds the suspense, but still fast enough to keep it interesting. The pacing never drags or gets bogged down. And this allows us to get acquainted with both the main characters as well as the setting. And I have a feeling that the setting is going to become a character of its own, so to speak.
As far as Jack T. Cole’s art goes, I’m not really sure what to say about it. I feel like it was a little too loose and inconsistent for my tastes. I think the backgrounds were great and full of fine details and layering. But the characters felt flat to me. There weren’t a lot of details given to the characters, which made them feel conflicting to the backgrounds. They stood out too much. Sometimes they were just shapes and colors. It’s an odd juxtaposition. The colors, though, are great. The do a fine job of defining the setting. Everything inside the hospital has that pastel-y, washed-out look that you can only get, well, inside of a hospital. I just wish the art had been better to get the full effect of the color work.
I did enjoy The Unsound, but this is only the first issues and it’s mostly set-up. I think Cullen Bunn has a good premise here to work with. But it’s definitely a wait-and-see kind of book. I can see going either way. I’ll probably check out the next issue but I will go in not expecting much. If nothing else, what I’m going to take away from The Unsound is being reminded of a really weird time in my life when I got to meet and work with some really interesting patients. And I can’t help but wonder what’s happened to some of them since we closed our doors. Hmm…
The Unsound #1