Notes On A Trade Paperback: Underground

Underground #1–5 by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber

This book is perhaps more famous for the piracy/sales incident (see this Robot 6 piece or this Comics Alliance piece for more information) when somebody posted scans of the whole book on 4chan but Lieber interacted with the pirate and then saw a spike in the sales of the book (although how large is still not clear), so it’s easy to forget that there was an actual comic book involved. [You can read the book online for free (payment on an honour system), because Lieber has put the whole thing on the official site; I preferred to buy it.]

The basis for the book was a short story written and drawn by Lieber to see if the cave interior setting would work over the course of a full book (the short story is included in the back of the trade). When it came to the full story, Lieber brought in his old friend Parker to write the script. Set in Marion, Kentucky, the story is about two park rangers, a young woman called Wesley Fischer and a young man called Set Ridge, and Stillwater Cave, ancient caves with fragile formations that is closed to the public but which are in the sights of a local entrepreneur called Winston Barefoot, who wants to open them up as a tourist attraction. He is so eager to advance this that he sends some men into the cave illegally with dynamite to blow the entrance wider, to help sell his endeavour. Seth is on duty and investigates when he hears the explosion, but gets into trouble; fortunately, Wesley finds him, and her knowledge of the caves is needed when the dynamiters bring back others to help clear up the mess.

This is a smart thriller with a strong hook (Lieber likes his artistic challenges, e.g. Whiteout) – the cave setting is an unusual setting, claustrophobic and unpredictable, even with Wesley’s knowledge to aid in the escape from the men chasing them, and the tension is maintained throughout as the pages change between the darkness of the caves and the colour of the daylight above as the other rangers try to control the situation on the surface. The two lead characters are a great pair and Parker and Lieber make you feel for them as people.

Parker and Lieber do a great job on this book, with Lieber really making the cave scenes work, which is a tough job with all the shadows; he’s got a nice, loose style, a mix of a realistic approach with a cartoony edge. Apart from the cave scenes, Lieber is really good with little details that make the story tick along – there’s a look between Barefoot and a ranger in the fourth issue that speaks volumes, and there is a soulful look in Seth’s face near the end that says more than a word balloon ever could, just two of several moments throughout the book. This is a really good story that puts you in the action and has you rooting for a happy ending.

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