When did graphic novels start getting packaged with critiques in the place of forewords? It seems like such an odd concept, as if the publisher has to justify prefacing their books with an essay justifying why the reader should read the book; and while justifying it, details get spoiled. Don’t spoil the book you’re trying to get someone to read, it defeats the purpose.
Underworld, the latest graphic novel from Renegade Arts Entertainment, is very different to their previous offerings (the splendid Department of Monsterology and Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter) so to an extent I can understand their desire to justify this shift in output, but not the spoilers. Even though they are minor (and I won’t repeat them here, so don’t worry), it does infuriate somewhat because giving away plot details before the reader has had a chance to experience them for themselves is unnecessary. Besides, Renegade’s back catalogue is excellent so their choices of what to publish should speak for themselves at this point.
Underworld is a story that takes on the themes of Homer’s Odyssey and runs with them in a modern setting. It opens with some stunningly atmospheric artwork, courtesy of the award-winning artist GMB Chomichuk. The theme of this book is set from page one, where it opens on a psychiatric hospital rendered in very creepy greyscale with a hint of flame over some of the panels. It’s really effective, the artwork draws you in right from the start.
If you’re a fan of the art styles of Sin City and the covers from 90’s Vertigo comics (Sandman especially) then you’ll know what to expect here, and you’ll love it. I certainly do. There’s an energy here that you don’t often seen in comics, and a wonderful feeling of unreality that helps to sell the themes of the story very well.
The story itself is an epic journey that expertly weaves between the real world and the psychotic delusions of the protagonist. It’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what is going on, and it’s often very confusing even when you can tell what’s happening. There are sudden time skips and the shifts between the real and the unreal can be quite jarring. This is all clearly done on purpose, and the effect is something quite special.
The confusing state of Hector’s delusions are made all the more sympathetic because we, as the reader, are equally at the mercy of his delusional state – we see the world though his eyes and the fractured glimpses of reality the story and art allow us let us experience his mindset first hand.
It’s an amazing, if disturbing, experience – and experience is definitely the right word here. This isn’t just a comic, it’s a glimpse into insanity. I’m impressed, because I didn’t think comics (as much as I love them) could be quite so affecting. This is a story that will stay with me for quite some time, I’m sure of that.
Underworld is available from Renegade Arts Entertainment and I cannot recommend it enough.