This Comic Is Good - Underground

I thought I'd take this opportunity to do a little write-up on the very cool mini-series that Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber have out right now from Image Comics called Underground. The first three issues are out now and #4 is due out on December 16th.

This is an impressive comic, especially when it comes to the design and layout of the book, which starts strong and only gets better as the story goes on...

The basic conceit of the book is simple, Park Ranger Wesley Fischer is the resident cave expert at Stillwater Cave in Kentucky. The people of the town (particularly a local businessman) are pushing for the cave to be turned into the sort of cave that visitors can come into, and Fischer is fighting against that, as she thinks the cave is more important being preserved as it is.

Parker does a nice job of not making the people who want to turn the cave into a tourist attraction seem like villains. Most of them, even the head "bad guy," have what they think is the town's best interest in mind (okay, the businessman is probably thinking more about how this will make him wealthier, but you still get the sense that he feels that him getting wealthier could also help the town).

Well, the businessman hires a couple of goons to blow up parts of the cave so that it appears more viable as a tourist attraction. And while I'm sure Fischer is appalled at such a scenario, we're not talking about a major deal here - however, when Wesley's partner (and love interest - the book opens up with a delightful bit where she practices what to say to him when he wakes up after they had spent the night together for the first time), Seth, gets caught in the blast (he is not significantly hurt, though), the goons naturally freak out.

They contact their supervisor and what happens is a spiral of Murphy's law. What they did was not exceptionally wrong, but they know that they just can't get caught doing it - so through an almost comedy of errors (a tragic one, though), they end up having Wesley (who showed up at the cave to help Seth) and Wesley believing that they are trying to kill them.

This leads to a chase in the cave, and here is where the book REALLY gets good, as all the set-up that Parker and Lieber have been waiting for has come and gone and now they can just fully explore the dramatic avenue that the cave gives them. Lieber stopped by the blog last week to note that Parker and he collaborated in the design of the cave sequences, so I should give them both credit, but whoever deserves the credit, the credit is certainly deserved, as the cave sequences are designed beautifully. I would say that they enfold cinematically, but I think that almost does a disservice to the quality of artwork we see in the underground scenes.

Here's a few sample pages to give you an idea...

First off, see what I mean by how things escalate through the different characters misunderstanding the situation? The "bad" guys think that the Rangers just threw a bomb at them! So of course they are going to react differently than they would under normal circumstances.

But forgetting the plot for a sec, wasn't that some memorable artwork by Lieber? Lieber is always good, of course, but here he outshines even his standard work with the page layouts (his character work, which usually tends to be extremely realistic, feels a bit loosened up here - it almost reminds me of Paul Smith's great character work on Leave it to Chance).

Like a snowball gathering momentum (and mass) as it rolls down the hill, so, too, does the pace of Underground get more frenetic as the series continues (that would probably be the biggest downside of Underground - after the very cute opening, there's a whole middle sequence in #1 that drags a bit as the exposition is established), and that is particularly evident in #4, which comes out in two weeks.

Here's the cover...

I think that that cover should give you an idea of what to expect inside, and boy do Parker and Lieber deliver - it's one of the most gripping pieces of action that I can recall recently, mostly in the way that they really make you feel the tightening of the cave around the characters - as their air gets tighter, you almost feel YOUR air getting tighter - there's rarely a better compliment than noting that a comic book made you practically share the experience of the characters in the book, but that's exactly the reaction I had in #4, which I found to be the strongest issue of the series yet.

By the by, how awesome are the covers for the book?!

#3 is my favorite, but then again, you folks should know by now that I am a negative space junkie.

It's always fun to see notable creators like Parker and Lieber doing something brand-new on their own, so I'm glad that they came up with an engaging story to share with us. I can't wait to read #5!

Recommended (the whole "This Comic Is Good" might give that away, but I can't help but re-iterate it).

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