UNDERWINTER #1 Review (Image Comics)

Underwinter #1 is moody and strange, with Fawkes' stylish watercolor artwork and penchant for surrealist tendencies. This is much more readable than his previous Intersect, however, with an intriguing storyline about pain in art.
The Good
Watercolor artwork adds a nice, murky surrealism
Intriguing concept about pain in art and music
The Bad
Focuses a lot on generic setup
Very Good

Last time Ray Fawkes tried his hand acting as both author and artist, Image Comics’ 6-issue release Intersect, the result was somewhat disappointing. It was in part because Intersect was too overly stylized and conceptual, but also because it lacked a cohesiveness to keep the whole mystery together. Fawkes returns to writing with Underwinter, a new monthly horror series that retains his signature watercolor art style while eliminating the more abstract storytelling that made Intersect so difficult to parse. The result is a far better premiere for this series, a moody story that follows a band of musicians as they head to a mysterious manse to play for an unknown musicophile.

All of this seems rather straightforward, and in Underwinter #1‘s case, the overarching idea of “Symphony”is pretty cut-and-dry. A group of struggling musicians take on a gig that could pay them lots of money, and they do it at the expense of safety – traveling out to the middle of nowhere, following the rules and regulations of their client which feature oddities like playing for over two hours without bathroom breaks and keeping a blindfold on the entire time.

A lot of “Symphony”‘s first issue is setup, but with Fawkes’ progression and watercolor artwork Underwinter doesn’t drag. Instead, Fawkes infuses everything with a surreal atmosphere, touching on its central characters ever so slightly without actually developing them. That’s not a criticism, but a compliment: Underwinter gives readers just enough to go on – like Corben’s nightmares, or Kendall’s homosexuality and his penchant for lateness – without diving into their psyches, keeping things interesting and always a little bit strange.

But those moments that aren’t related to exposition, like an opening sequence of panels about the narrator’s dream in which his skin is played with a violin bow, are the most intriguing – a cross between Hellraiser and Hannibal, both beautiful and violent at the same time. Paired with Fawkes’ brushstrokes, these images evoke a haunting appeal that elevates Underwinter from a standard horror comic, even when its main storyline seems familiar.

It’s difficult to say where Underwinter goes from here, at least in “Symphony”‘s case – it seems like Image Comics is marketing this series as an anthology of sorts, with each story broken into issues. In any event, Underwinter #1 is a strong showing for Fawkes’ newest creation, and it’s a story about pain and pleasure that is already resonating after just one issue. Give this one a listen – erm, I mean a read.

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