‘UNDERWINTER’ Comic Review
Writer & Artist: Ray Fawkes
Publisher: Image Comics
Underwinter is the first time I’ve ever read Ray Fawkes. I’ve had plenty of opportunity: he’s a frequent collaborator with Jeff Lemire, whose titles I read on the regular, yet I’ve never quite intersected with Fawkes’ works. His Image comic Intersect *should’ve* been high on my priorities, as it’s a surreal horror comic with queer perspectives, but Fawkes’ art was a bit of a turn off initially at the time. Now that my appreciation for the sketchier, impressionist styles has grown, I’m glad Fawkes’ has returned to Image with yet more queer-oriented horror in the form of Underwinter.
Where Intersect was body horror with a slightly Lovecraftian angle, Underwinter looks to be eschewing body horror in favor of Giallo-isms. The main character(s) are a quartet of string musicians desperate enough for a gig to agree to some pretty absurd demands made by a very wealthy client. The first issue spends almost its entire run-time to establishing the relationships between the musicians: it’s a very familiar dynamic that anyone who works in a group creatively will immediately recognize. There’s tension but also a sense of inescapable familiarity with these characters. They need each other and there’s enough patience and love there to keep them from totally falling apart but the Fawkes’ does a great job of showing the straining of the cords without making any of the characters seem a caricature.
There’s a killer reveal on the last page of the first issue that establishes that A) this is very much a Weird, with a capital W, comic. I’m strongly reminded of Jodorowsky but there’s such a strong Gothic touch to the visuals that it comes across as a more surreal-minded Dario Argento. I have a theory that the thing that we see in the last page is subjective; what one character sees is not what the other characters are seeing.
Speaking of seeing, Fawkes is also the artist of Underwinter and he brings with him his distinctive and divisive style. He works in what looks like watercolors and colored pencils, though it could just as likely be a digital rendition. It’s very, very unlike traditional comic book art and even more in contrast to horror comic art. But it has far more emotional depth than the usual inked art style and lends itself perfectly to the surrealism of Underwinter. There’s no gore or graphic violence on display in this issue but there’s DEFINITELY a promise of it in the sanguine reds and pinks Fawkes splashes here and there. Letterer Steve Wands, though, does a great job of heightening the horror elements with a few bold choices here and there, particularly a wail early on that does a great job of establishing and promising that this *is* a horror comic.
If I have one complaint, it’s that this issue has a busy feel to it, with scenes cutting in and out, teasing but never quite revealing. If I wasn’t so enthralled by the bold giallo-esque visuals and the very Lovecraftian yarn being spun, I’d have been a little frustrated by it. But Underwinter knows what it is and gives its audience credit enough to savor the build-up. Just like Argento.
I’ve been begging for a queer Giallo comic for years now, and with Underwinter, Ray Fawkes has delivered just that. I am absolutely salivating for the next issue. If you’re a gorehound, this might be too tame for your jaded palate but if you’re a fan of disturbing art ala Clive Barker, Underwinter will please you greatly.