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February 16, 2010

Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber Present: Underground

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Underground
Publisher: Image Comics
Author: Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas, Fall of the Hulks)
Artist: Steve Lieber (Gotham Central, Whiteout)
Colors: Ron Chan (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
Issue(s): This 5-issue mini-series started in September 2009, and will wrap up with the final issue this March (scheduled for the week of March 3rd).  I was generously provided with a preview of the entire run to review, so this isn’t a review of a specific issue.
Price: Each issue is about 32 full color pages for $3.50.

From Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber comes a creative story about a pair of park rangers from Kentucky, who are attempting to protect an old cave in the mountains from an ambitious entrepreneur named Winston Barefoot.  I didn’t know spelunking could be this exciting.  If you think this is just going to be some boring cave exploration, environmental thing, you’re totally wrong.  Imagine if you will, fighting in a cavern, suspended above the ground, with nothing but darkness beneath you and all around you.  A little rope is all that’s holding you there, and a bunch of big guys are hanging around you, trying to cut your lifeline.  Somebody fires off a gun, and the methane from the surrounding bat guano lights up like a bomb.  You’re running for your life in the pitch black darkness of the underground, squeezing between mounds of rock that have been growing for thousands and thousands of years.  The underground water freezes your bones as you swim through passages, hoping for an air pocket to appear.  That sounds pretty exciting to me.  This ain’t no cushy tourist attraction.

Local business owner Winston Barefoot would love to open up the Stillwater caves to the public and turn an ancient cavern system into a tourist attraction.  The small Kentucky town that is home to Stillwater, suffering from economic woes, is inclined to agree with Mr. Barefoot.  But park ranger and expert spelunker Wesley Fischer is dead set against the endeavor, particularly since the kind of touristy place Winston has in mind would likely cause a lot of damage to the rock formations in the cave.  But  it’s not up to her; a parks commissioner will be visiting the town to look over the area.  Winston is going to do everything in his power to make his case as appealing as possible, including setting off explosives within the cave to artificially widen the space inside, allowing for easier accessibility to tourists.

Of course, Winston isn’t going to do the dirty work himself.  He’s got a group of goons to do it for him.  He’s even got an inside man – one of the park rangers, Billy.  Billy’s job is to keep the rangers away from the area while Winston’s people set off the explosives.  Billy didn’t do his job very well however, as fellow ranger Seth has decided to do the rounds around the cave today.  Seth finds much more than he bargained for, when he runs into Winston’s team and is caught in an explosion.  Fortunately Wesley is nearby and hears the dynamite go off, and Seth is well on his way to being rescued by a totally kick ass, intelligent, and sexy woman.

The rescue gets rather complicated when the team of blasters, led by a man named Harden, return to the cave to hide the evidence, including what they assume to be Seth’s dead body.  What follows is a surprisingly exciting and thrilling chase through the vast underground caverns of Stillwater.  Wesley must use all her spelunking skill and knowledge of Stillwater to get her and Seth out of the caves alive, and it won’t be any easier with Harden and his desperate men cutting them off at every turn.

If you’re used to super-powered metahumans, don’t let the setting for Underground turn you away!  Park rangers can be superheroes too!  I’ve been to caverns that were open to the public, but there was a very minimal impact to the natural formations.  The sort of attraction they want to create in Stillwater would clearly damage the cave (and they’re already damaging it to begin with).   So it’s easy to see why these particular rangers are so against opening up this cavern to the public.  They may not have superpowers, or be fighting against mad scientists, but they’re no less important.  And a lack of crazy powers doesn’t make them kick any less ass.

Now let’s get technical.  I don’t like the choice they made for the text font.  The characters are squashed together and it’s a little hard to read sometimes.  There are a small handful of editing mistakes scattered around, but it’s not a big deal.  Art is great (and check out those sweet covers, for issues 1 and 3).  Colors are great.  Love the muted colors when they’re deep within the cave, with only a flashlight or a headlamp to light the space.  Fantastic shadowing as well.  It’s a great contrast to the sunny, green, outside areas.  I mean, just check out this double spread from the second issue, it’s lovely.  Plenty of detail there, too.

Wesley drops a flare to show Seth The Ballroom in Stillwater, in issue 2 of Underground.

The entire story plays out very well.  I think it’s just long enough to cover everything and avoid any drag.  The pacing is fantastic; just when you think Wesley and Seth have made it, danger rears its head once again.  Wesley is a great character for female or male readers.  She’s pleasing to look at, and she’s strong and intelligent.  Seth is pretty much in total awe of how she handles every situation, though he’s no wallflower.  It’s not every man that can do some butt whooping while dangling from a rope by his foot, suspended above a dark pit.

You can check out a preview of the comic on the Underground official website.  The entire first issue is available there, in black and white.  Expect a trade to come out soon as well.

Kris
kristin@comicattack.net

Review materials provided by the creators of Underground.  Banner image from the cover of issue 3.

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6 Comments


  1. Eli

    I’m sold, I’ll be looking for these. I love those covers, simple, yet powerful, makes me want to see what’s inside.


  2. Kristin

    Yeah, the covers are great. Everything inside is great too. Steve Lieber and Ron Chan made a pretty good team.



  3. I’ve been considering picking this book up as I’m a huge fan of Jeff Parker. A glowing review coming from you Kristin speaks volumes, so I’m sold.



  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by girlg33k_Kris: ‘Morning! New review: Jeff Parker’s Underground http://comicattack.net/2010/02/imagecomicsunderground/ #comics…


  5. billy

    I’ll have to check this out. I’m definitely a Parker fan too.



  6. […] I’ve done a lot of manga reviews since then, and some comic book reviews as well.  Like this one, for Image Comics’ Underground mini-series, and this one, for Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy […]



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