"Doc Unknown: Volume 1 – The Secret of Gate City" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Believe In Comics
Written by Fabian Rangel Jr
Illustrated by Ryan Cody
2013, 129 Pages
Evil beware! The citizens of Gate City are protected by the masked vigilante known as Doc Unknown. Whether you're a reptilian mob boss, a Nazi cyborg, or a vampire assassin, villains should think twice before committing crime in his fair city. Creator Fabian Rangel Jr has brought forth a new breed of pulp hero and he's kind of a badass.
The first volume of Doc Unknown, entitled The Secret of Gate City, includes four stand-alone stories that are connected by a plot thread flowing from beginning to end. Rangel Jr jumps right into the action with the vigilante fighting the fearsome Boss Snake with a mysterious map on the line. He can't let this artifact fall into the wrong hands. This map becomes the maguffin for the comic as several parties are looking to attain it for the power it holds.
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Doc Unknown builds up from a basic mobster fight to a battle with a league of assassins ruled by a vampire to an epic clash with the fate of Gate City at stake. Our hero's past comes back to haunt him in a big way as his origin story (told in chapter two, “Shadow of Evil”) weaves into the present. He was chosen to become the champion of invisible knowledge by a group of monks who took him in after his plane crash-landed near their temple. This resulted in some other folks getting jealous as they were passed by and they sought out other means of power to take their revenge. Rangel Jr works this in very naturally, creating some pretty impressive villains for Doc Unknown to face off against that have a personal vendetta with the hero. He’s not just some crazy guy looking to get rich quick.
Doc Unknown's costume isn't much really. He wears a suit and a pair of goggles and he combs his hair a little differently. This becomes a joke in the comic when another character points out that she obviously knows who he really is under that mask. It's not that hard to tell. Although the book has loads of action and adventure, it has a healthy dose of humor to it. It's not all doom and gloom, nor does it take itself too seriously.
Artist Ryan Cody runs the gamut on emotion in Doc Unknown, providing everything from joy to sheer terror. His work reminds me of Michael Avon Oeming and Mike Mignola, which is certainly great company. His designs elicit a kind of cool that can only be reached by pulp heroes. You can't help but fall in love with the characters and the world of Gate City. It's not quite as dark as Gotham, but there's a level of danger and excitement flowing through its streets.
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Speaking of excitement, there are some pretty awesome fight scenes in The Secret of Gate City. Whether Doc Unknown is swinging through a window to take on some bad guys or battling a dragon across the rooftops, this book is filled to the brim with action. Every battle is easy to follow and thrilling to read. They often put the main character in mortal danger to the point where you're not sure how – or if – he'll make it out alive.
Creator Fabian Rangel Jr lists Batman: The Animated Series as a major influence on his work and it shows in the look and feel of Doc Unknown. This is definitely not a bad thing, as there are far worse things to pay homage to in this world. Rangel Jr succeeds in creating a pulp hero that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Lobster Johnson and the Black Beetle. This first volume outlines the ground rules for this world and quickly establishes Doc Unknown as a hero to be reckoned with.