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.