Who knew a fight over a cave would be so entertaining and engrossing? I will admit that when I saw the concept for “Underground,” I scoffed a little, wondering why on Earth I would want to read a comic about an argument over a cave, but a great marketing promotion by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber got me to read the first issue and it was impressive, something the second issue follows up on well.
With Park Ranger Seth Ridge possibly dead after cave saboteurs set off explosives last issue, fellow Ranger Wesley Fischer investigates and discovers him. Meanwhile, the men representing Barefoot, the local businessman who wants to open the caves to tourists, prepare to clean up the mess they left behind, leading to a chase through the caves. It’s an exciting issue, but the tension isn’t as great as it should be until you reach the end.
The first issue did a great job of setting up the situation of one group wanting to open the caves to tourists and the other wanting to preserve them in order to study and learn from them and, then, focusing on establishing the characters. This issue is much more plot-driven and suffers a little for it. The plot is good, but after the first issue’s strong character work, moving away from that is invariably going to be a step down in quality. And, as I said, a chase through dark, dangerous caverns should be more thrilling than this.
Some tension is established, but it never really gets beyond a fun little chase rather than something that involves life and death. It comes off as a little goofy and campy to be taken too seriously. Steve Lieber illustrates is gorgeously, though, along with Ron Chan’s moody, wonderful colors. There’s a double-page spread of this massive cave deep down that you could spend hours just looking at. It is one of the most beautiful drawings I’ve seen in a comic all year, a perfect interplay of light and shadow, and capturing of the natural beauty that happens in caves, and would make a fantastic print to hang on a wall.
As good as Lieber and Chan handle the natural aspects of the comic, they depict the characters just as well. An issue that takes place mostly in a dark, enclosed space requires artists that really know how to use light and shadow to great effect, and have a very good understanding of how those elements work, and Lieber and Chan do. They work with each limited source of light to create realistic and, yet, still moody visuals. Combining the dramatic requirements of the story with the real properties of light is a challenge, one that they more than live up to.
While not as engaging as the first issue, “Underground” continues to be a very good read as the issue ends on a cliffhanger and the art knocks my socks off.