The World Below by Paul Chadwick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Paul Chadwick notes in the introduction to this collection that this series was his attempt to broaden his audience and write something different than his successful title, Concrete. It focuses on an ensemble cast, rather than a single main character, and hearkens back to old-time adventure stories as well as new ones, like Lost. My personal take is that it's basically "Journey to the Center of the Earth" meets "Alien".
As an adventure with a sci-fi tinge, it measures up on several fronts. There are plenty of weird creatures and situations in a totally alien setting. It's handy to be on, or rather under, the Earth so that its not unreasonable for the team to be small and privately funded. On the other hand, the landscapes would make much more sense as the surface of a different planet. My educated brain couldn't make the leap to allow for so much undetected subterranean space and variety of life forms (even if they are supposed to be from another world).
The art is often up to Chadwick's fine standard. The humans are identifiable and relatable. The layouts and angles and settings are beautiful. Some of the alien creatures and machines are amazing and alien. Many of them aren't. They're muddles that seem like random collections of pieces and parts that barely make functional, much less anatomical, sense. This may have been intentional, in fact a couple of creatures seem to be capable of trading limbs and at least one machine appears to be made up of somewhat independent parts. And they are supposed to be alien and mysterious.
The characters are serviceable, if not entirely relatable or rounded out. Chadwick attempts to make them distinct and three dimensional through conflict and flashbacks, but with so much else happening on each page and the constant tug to move on to the next situation, much of this seems tacked on and easy to ignore. As he admits in the Intro, the first couple of issues are a bit short on exposition and this is exactly a few more bits of background might have created a firmer foundation for the cast.
I had a fine time reading this book. I enjoyed Concrete immensely and had looked forward to this title since I first heard about it. If it weren't for the problems with subterranean geology and biology (and some clunky writing), I'd probably give this four stars. As it is, I give it a solid three.
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