By Ray Fawkes
Underwinter is the new supernatural comic from the mind of Ray Fawkes (Gotham at Midnight, Justice League Dark, Constantine, Batman Eternal). In search of much needed work and exposure, a quartet of musicians take a gig at an event for upscale clientele (think Eyes Wide Shut). When they arrive, they are given specific instructions and attire by the unnerving butler of the estate. Specifically, they are to remain blindfolded during the whole performance and are unable to take breaks. It’s not until the final full-page shot that one of the musicians starts to truly understand what they’ve become involved in…
Fawkes is no stranger to supernatural stories, so this material is definitely within his wheelhouse. He bookends the comic with nightmarish, disturbing content, while the bulk of the issue is establishing the quartet and depicting everyday life. It’s a great juxtaposition. The opening pages give readers cause for unease and that never leaves one’s mind, even when reading comedic moments. Fawkes lets the audience in on the secret that there is something eerie beneath these seemingly normal events literally and figuratively. The one real criticism is that musicians aren’t really interesting characters. They have no real agency and serve as just plot fodder. If they are to be more than narrative sacrificial lambs, they need to become more than generic character stereotypes. A reader should be able to remember a character’s name after reading a single comic, sadly I couldn’t name a single one from this book. The cliffhanger though, is an absolute doozey worth readers’ time, so avoid spoilers at all costs.
Ray Fawkes channels his inner Bill Sienkiewicz with this title. From the initial water colored panel, it’s impossible not to make the comparison. Fawkes’ artwork adds another layer of otherworldliness and tension. It may be hard to make out some of the action/storytelling taking place on a page, which can be frustrating, but that may be part of the intended experience of Underwinter– to keep readers on edge and force them to engage with what’s to come. Also, the characters are amorphous a majority of the time, which could be viewed as a way illustrate that they are not what’s significant to the overall story. It’s a great example of form matching content, if that is indeed the rationale. Black, red, and violet are the primary colors used to convey an unearthly nature during disconcerting beats. They really highlight the beauty in Fawke’s artwork.
At first glance, this debut issue may be light and somewhat inconsistent, but Ray Fawkes is laying groundwork for what could be an excellent, dark journey into the unknown. The prologue and last page are, hopefully, the real taste of what’s to come in forthcoming issues. Underwinter is worth checking out and allowing it a few issues to find its groove and delve deeper into what Fawkes is truly wanting to share with fans.