Wherein we creep closer toward the truth, with the emphasis on creep.
As a proposed anthology series, Underwinter has had a problematic first storyline. The previous three issues (the first half, considering the issue arc of “Symphony” spans six books) introduced an intriguing concept that melded pain-as-pleasure Hellraiser themes with artistic surrealism for which Ray Fawkes’ writing has come to be known, but its hangup happens to also be Underwinter‘s biggest attraction: the plot itself is too confusing for most audiences to easily parse, but it’s also a seemingly endless sprawl of ideas that go nowhere. Underwinter #4 attempts to address some of those convolutions, but instead of drawing conclusions, Fawkes simply poses those questions using his characters as stand-ins for the audience, and it provides little in the way of answers.
The issue follows the four main characters, who have made it to February after playing a number of concerts for the mysterious inhabitants of a large manse. All four have experienced changes in their psyches, and this volume expands on the ideas that issue #3 put into play – namely, that meek individuals have become extraordinarily extroverted, others have had their vitality sapped, and one has managed to vomit glass before demanding an explanation from the leader Maranatha.
Like those other issues, Underwinter #4 doesn’t seem to go anywhere so much as it floats along aimlessly, lost in a spiral of its own enigma. While characters question the reasoning behind their new personality changes, there’s no real development or concise explanation provided; even Maranatha, who comes closest to giving readers a glimpse into the bottom of the abyss, sidesteps a true answer in order to pose more philosophical questions about saving the world from being boiled by a monstrous otherworldly bird-thing.
While this issue does emphasis the creepier aspects of Fawkes’ story and makes better use of his surrealist watercolor images, there’s still very little to recommend about Underwinter. Its themes are promising, but Fawkes never does much with them in any given issue, and it’s hard to see the appeal of a six-issue arc when movement and explanation is limited to the first and (presumably) last issue. While I can understand Fawkes’ approach to the story, it just feels like Underwinter is running around in circles – months have passed, yet the comic is still showcasing the same elements each issue.
There are two issues left to “Symphony,” and while I am eager to see the conclusion to this story just to put together what Fawkes is attempting to achieve here, I’m more excited to see Underwinter finish up this disappointing tale to move on to something a bit more dynamic.