Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!
Today we take a look at the just-finished mini-series, Underground, by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber…
The basic conceit of the book is simple, Park Ranger Wesley Fischer is the resident cave expert at Stillwater Cave in Kentucky. The people of the town (particularly a local businessman) are pushing for the cave to be turned into the sort of cave that visitors can come into, and Fischer is fighting against that, as she thinks the cave is more important being preserved as it is.
Parker does a nice job of not making the people who want to turn the cave into a tourist attraction seem like villains. Most of them, even the head “bad guy,” have what they think is the town’s best interest in mind (okay, the businessman is probably thinking more about how this will make him wealthier, but you still get the sense that he feels that him getting wealthier could also help the town). However, there is one fellow who works for the businessman that takes things a bit too far.
The businessman hires a couple of goons to blow up parts of the cave so that it appears more viable as a tourist attraction. And while I’m sure Fischer is appalled at such a scenario, we’re not talking about a major deal here – however, when Wesley’s partner (and love interest – the book opens up with a delightful bit where she practices what to say to him when he wakes up after they had spent the night together for the first time), Seth, gets caught in the blast (he is not significantly hurt, though), the goons naturally freak out.
They contact their supervisor and what happens is a spiral of Murphy’s law. What they did was not exceptionally wrong, but they know that they just can’t get caught doing it – so through an almost comedy of errors (a tragic one, though), they end up having Seth and Wesley (who showed up at the cave to help Seth) believing that they are trying to kill them. And it is their supervisor who REALLY keeps things going further than they ever should have gone.
This leads to a chase in the cave, and here is where the book REALLY gets good, as all the set-up that Parker and Lieber have been waiting for has come and gone and now they can just fully explore the dramatic avenue that the cave gives them. Lieber stopped by the blog awhile back to note that Parker and he collaborated in the design of the cave sequences, so I should give them both credit, but whoever deserves the credit, the credit is certainly deserved, as the cave sequences are designed beautifully. I would say that they enfold cinematically, but I think that almost does a disservice to the quality of artwork we see in the underground scenes.
Here’s a few sample pages to give you an idea…
First off, see what I mean by how things escalate through the different characters misunderstanding the situation? The “bad” guys think that the Rangers just threw a bomb at them! So of course they are going to react differently than they would under normal circumstances.
But forgetting the plot for a sec, wasn’t that some memorable artwork by Lieber? Lieber is always good, of course, but here he outshines even his standard work with the page layouts (his character work, which usually tends to be extremely realistic, feels a bit loosened up here – it almost reminds me of Paul Smith’s great character work on Leave it to Chance).
Like a snowball gathering momentum (and mass) as it rolls down the hill, so, too, does the pace of Underground get more frenetic as the series continues (that would probably be the biggest downside of Underground – after the very cute opening, there’s a whole middle sequence in #1 that drags a bit as the exposition is established), and that was particularly evident in #4.
Here’s the cover…
I think that that cover should give you an idea of what to expect inside, and boy do Parker and Lieber deliver – it’s one of the most gripping pieces of action that I can recall recently, mostly in the way that they really make you feel the tightening of the cave around the characters – as their air gets tighter, you almost feel YOUR air getting tighter – there’s rarely a better compliment than noting that a comic book made you practically share the experience of the characters in the book, but that’s exactly the reaction I had in #4, which I found to be the strongest issue of the series yet.
The final issue, #5, was given a difficult task, as it had only one issue to wrap up the whole plot, but Lieber and Parker manage to make it work – particularly through the use of a clever plot device at the end of the issue that helps them get in a whole pile of information in that serves the story.
I really appreciated the opening of issue #5, as the other people of the town slowly come to understand what kind of carnage happened in the cave below. It’s pretty cool to see the other folks follow in the path of Wesley and Seth.
The issue also had a very strong action sequence where Seth and Wesley have to climb up a section of the cave with their backs against each other – it is very cool to see how Lieber and Parker show us the progression of their attempts – at first they don’t succeed and you can see just how HARD it is. Similarly to issue #4, you can really feel their struggle.
Here’s a page of it…
Very impressive, huh?
As is the whole series, really.
By the by, how awesome are the covers for the book?!
#3 is my favorite, but then again, you folks should know by now that I am a negative space junkie.
This was a blast to read and I recommend checking it out when it is collected (or you can just try to buy the five issues, as well – whatever floats your boat!).
(NOTE: I wrote about the earlier issues of Underground before, so I’m re-using those parts of the review – BC)
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