Saturday, October 10, 2009

Underground: think "comics" not "comix"

Underground is a new five-issue limited series from Image written by Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas, Interman) and Steve Lieber (Whiteout). Parker's previous creator-owned title, Mysterius the Unfathomable, did not do great business despite being simply wonderful; hopefully better things await Underground.

While at San Diego, I bought the black & white preview copy of issue #1 from Lieber. Consequently, I approached issue #1 with some trepidation. I had placed Underground on my file so I was obliged to buy it, but what did I need with two copies of issue #1? What could the full-sized color version add?

As it turns out, a fair bit. There were minor art alterations, but I was genuinely impressed with the colors from Ron Chan. Check out this panel from the preview:

Compare to the finished copy:

Also, note the brilliant colors in the scenes set above ground:

Then, note the sepia-like tones for scenes set underground:

And in some panels, full color mixes with the browns:

I would say that the book was incomplete without the colors; this was a fine black & white comic as it was run in the preview edition, but it was meant to be experienced in color. Colorists are locked in a constant battle with letterers as the least-appreciated people in comics; for my part, I give a nod of approval to Ron Chan for his work on Underground.

What else is there?

Oh yeah...the story. So, it seems that the small town of Marion has some spectacular caverns which one entrepreneur would like to see opened up as a tourist attraction. The local rangers, notably Wesley Fischer, are against the maneuver. Complicating matters are a pair of illegal dynamiters setting off charges in the caverns for their employer.

I don't believe that I've ever visited an underground cavern, but Parker seems to write about it with familiarity. Likewise, Lieber's pencils bring the underground scenes into believable life.

It's a little refreshing that Underground doesn't seem to have a Big Hollywood-style premise attached to it, instead bringing the feel of an independent film, which is what one would hope from an independent publication (the two-page ad for Image United in the back is for the Big Hollywood fans). Also, having come off a recent Frank Capra binge (mentioned yesterday) I came to recognize his use of straw man antagonists, which makes me appreciate that while Wesley is something of an everyman (everywoman?), the conflict is not immediately one-sided; the townspeople of Marion have a legitimate desire to see the caverns renovated into a tourist site because they need the additional income it would bring.

Based on Underground#1, I don't know what exactly to expect from the story; however, based on Parker & Lieber's track record, I expect great things.

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