I find it harder to review pamphlet comics, since there’s less content to consider, but Underground (Image) is a lively genre piece with a number of promising elements. Here they are:
It’s got a strong creative team. Jeff Parker has established himself as a smart writer of a variety of snappy, satisfying genre comics, even finding fresh approaches to timeworn franchise characters. Steve Lieber has a great way of drawing real-looking characters and evocative settings. Ron Chan provides a solid palette of colors that support the visual environment.
It’s set in Appalachia. There aren’t all that many comics that consider rural environments without condescension, and Underground looks like it will be one of those. It’s Appalachia without the menacing banjo soundtrack.
It’s got interesting, setting-specific undertones. The driving conflict is between environmental protection and economic development which, again, isn’t normal narrative territory for comics. Park ranger Wesley Fischer wants to protect the fragile ecosystem of a massive cave. Locals want to make the cave more accessible to tourists, boosting the town’s economy. Self-serving mogul Winston Barefoot may be the most public face of the development side, but that doesn’t mean the effort is entirely unsavory. It’s the kind of issue faced by lots of Appalachian communities, and Parker doesn’t minimize or simplify the conflict any more than he can avoid.
It’s got a strong woman protagonist. Ranger Fischer has principles and the force of personality to act on them. At the same time, she isn’t insensitive to opposing points of view. (Her likely love interest is both a local and a ranger.) She seems more than layered enough to carry the series.
On the down side, the socioeconomic underpinnings seem likely to take a back seat to cave-bound risk and rescue. I don’t imagine they’ll vanish entirely, though, as the creators have demonstrated the ability to juggle various narrative elements.
On the nitpick side, there seem to have been some proofreading lapses in the production process. Some dialogue just doesn’t scan, no matter how you try to read it.
On the whole, it’s a solid first issue of a series with engaging characters and interesting ideas. I’ll stick around to see where things go.