Written by: Joey Esposito, Special to CC2K
Coming in September from Image is a new five issue mini-series from the team of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber, the first issue of which I've had the privilege of experiencing a bit early. What I found in Underground was a breed of adventure comic that I did not expect, set in a very real world with characters you are very likely surrounded by day after day. Thus far, the story follows everyday Jane park ranger Wesley Fischer on her quest to prevent the Stillwater Cave in her community from becoming a tourist attraction, putting the entire ecosystem of the cave at risk. Her opposition comes in the form of what seems to be the entire town, as they urge the shady Mayor Barefoot to open the gates for an economic push. While it doesn't sound like the most high octane adventure on the shelves, the steady pace of Underground #1 is laced with a surreal sense of forboding that will lure readers right in.
Though the first issue was almost entirely setup of the series' plot, Parker makes quick use of the 22 pages and tells you more about his main characters and their relationships with one another than some writers do with multiple issues. Using deceptively revealing dialog, he is able to establish the innerworkings of a small time Kentucky community, including a work/play relationship between Wesley and her co-worker Seth, and the not-so-righteous mayor and his deception of the people. Though the story moves birskly, the emphasis on character through dialog lets the reader feel more clued in on the lives of these characters, rather than feeling they are jumping on a moving train just to be taken to the next stop.
Coming from a small town with similar natural attractions, I was instantly engaged by the familiarty of the initial plot. During tough economic times, it is easy for a small town with little tourism to offer to exploit its natural surroundings for profit – in this case, a cave. It is equally easy for such an action to cause a relatively tight knit community into a squabbling forum. It might only be personal experience, but the notions explored through Fischer's desire to save the Stillwater Cave from being disrupted is highly relatable, in a way that typical comic book situations are not. Judging by the first issue, Underground, though certain to be filled with its fair amount of thrills, is a down to Earth story that takes place within a very real world.
Of course, characterization means almost nothing in comicdom if the artist is unwilling or unable to offer the writer support, and as expected, Steve Lieber's work does the job admirably. His cartooning style is full of expression, where body language and facial features do most of the work, in comparison to the action within the panel or word-heavy dialog. Though there are plenty of pages laced with word balloons, there are a fair amount of panels that let the art along do the talking. Lieber puts much of the expression of his characters into their eyes, and the rest of their features seem to stem from there. Lieber gets an assist from colorist Ron Chan, who is able to shift Lieber's work from vibrant and cheerful during an all too familiar post-coitus morning, to a dreadful and dim wash inside of the cave.
Underground #1 doesn't hit shelves until September 23, but you can steal a sneak peek right now over at the Underground website .