Ray Fawkes’ Underwinter has so far developed an interesting Lovecraftian presence that also deals in Hellraiser pain-is-pleasure territory. The emphasis is on the unknowable, the abstract, and the dangers of experiencing something outside of human boundaries. Fawkes has mimicked that idea with his artwork, watercolor spirals that often tend to obscure more than they elaborate. So far, his first two issues have delved into the plot about symphonic performers becoming entangled with a monstrous otherworldly being, but thus far there’s been little within the story to keep the reader motivated to continue.
Unfortunately, Underwinter #3 also mishandles the direction of the story. Actually, Fawkes’ mistake is that this tale rarely has a story, instead following character progression despite the fact that the reader barely knows anything about the protagonists. Issue #3 explores the changes in our main characters, the way their performances for a mysterious listener have affected them – one has grown more outwardly sexual, another has become a drunk who vomits up mirrors, and another has become attracted to random acts of violence.
It’s an intriguing concept, but one that works only if Fawkes has given his audience an idea of who these characters were before their performance. That really hasn’t been established in Underwinter, and this issue seems to presume that the audience recognizes how drastically different the characters have become.
This is problematic in more ways than one, though. In focusing on three distinct characters’ experiences, Underwinter #3 forgets to move the plot along. Ultimately the short story has moved through time quickly, but the impact of that movement – the actual meat of the tale – isn’t clear. Little has been done to establish an overarching motivation for these characters besides their greed and need for the spotlight, and at this point Underwinter feels like it has stagnated attempting to stretch out a story unnecessarily.
With that said, it’s hard to fully break from the series. Fawkes has some good ideas and a knack for interesting, if often hard to follow, storytelling, and there’s always the possibility that Underwinter could come back from this slump. Fawkes’ artwork is mesmerizing in its esotericism, too, and it’s something that keeps me coming back.
But Fawkes has to find a way to move this thing forward; we’re halfway through this short story arc with little to show for it, and there’s got to be something more fleshed out for readers to come back for another Underwinter tale. While I don’t see readers who’ve made it this far dropping the series because of Underwinter #3, it certainly doesn’t have enough content to warrant a six-issue arc and it’s becoming increasingly apparent.