What comes to mind when you think of Jeff Parker comics? A talking gorilla with a machine gun? Harrison Oogar, The Caveman of Wall Street? The entire roster of the Avengers, transformed into a team of M.O.D.O.K.s?
Well Parker’s latest comics work, five-part Image miniseries Underground, doesn’t have any of those things in it, nor is it much of anything like the vast majority of the Parker-written comics you’ve probably read.
That’s not a bad thing.
While his ability to make me laugh is one of the things I admire most about Parker’s writing, there’s nothing wrong with range, and it’s nice to see Parker taking the opportunity to demonstrate his own. Underground has very little humor in it, aside from an early scene in which park ranger Wesley Fischer stares at herself in the bathroom mirror and tries to figure out the best way to say good morning to the sleeping co-worker in her bed, who is now more than a co-worker.
The mode is more straightforward action drama, and Parker has a perfect collaborator for work in the genre—Whiteout artist Steve Lieber, who’s no doubt having a pretty exciting month in general.
Wesley, the aforementioned park ranger, is also an expert caver, and wants to keep Stillwater Cave off-limits to amateur cavers and tourists, who could damage the delicate system. That places her at odds with much of the rest of the small, economically depressed Kentucky town, the residents of which think opening up the cave could prove an economic boon. Leading the charge is local businessman and entrepreneur Winston Barefoot, who may have something to do with guys going ahead with the dynamiting of the cave on their own.
A great deal of this first issue is spent on introducing the characters and conflict before ultimately complicating it, leaving us with an underground cliffhanger promising more action in the unusual, underground setting in future installments.
If the comic seems like a bit of a departure for Parker, whose writing has dealt with some of the more off-beat corners of Marvel’s superhero universe and a colorful magician character fighting demons for DC/WildStorm, Lieber is well within his comfort zone of drawing real people in real places doing realistic things.
Lieber’s a strong designer, storyteller and actor, and makes every page beautiful (if you stop and really look at it), unassuming (if you don’t) and, most admirably, perfectly natural. He’s one of those rare artists who manages to make great art look effortless, so that his panels and pages simply look as they should, making it easy for the reader to be drawn in.
In that respect, it mirrors the issue as a whole—it’s really quite inviting.