Far too often I find myself reading comics that are mainly from the Big Two comic publishers, and so it’s refreshing to read a book from one of the other comic book publishers which completely knocks my socks off. I must confess that I have never read anything by Bryan Edward Hill or Rob Levin before, but after reading this series they’ll most definitely be on my radar. The same goes for illustrators Tony Shasteen and Dennis Calero. This was an extremely enjoyable read, collecting the five issue mini-series Netherworld, which has an incredible sense of pacing to it all the way through. The series is relatively straight forward, but you shouldn’t mistake that for a lack of complexity, as there’s a lot going on in this book.
This is a supernatural noir book focusing on an ex-cop, as he’s called upon to protect a very special girl from some very bad, evil forces which are out to get her for their own nefarious reasons. What starts off fairly simple gets more complicated once it is revealed just what the secret is behind who the girl is, what her connection is with Ray, the lead character, and what secrets lurk within the city that the entire story takes place within. What really grabbed me about this story was that it could easily function as just the first of many Netherworld stories, firmly establishing Ray as a strong yet conflicted lead character. Unlike some noir stories, this story doesn’t overly dwell on the more noir-ish aspects of the story, as it becomes a suspenseful thriller as Ray tries to bring his charge, Madeline, where she needs to go, while protecting her from all manners of evil and depravity. The more supernatural elements never manage to overwhelm the reader, making the majority of the book fairly grounded in reality, despite the actual setting of the book. The noir and supernatural aspects of the book exist in the tone of the story, but they aren’t overly dwelt upon, so that their presence never overwhelms the story that is being told. It’s a delicate line to straddle, and yet Hill and Levin do it so damn well. It actually reminded me of one of my favourite movies, Minority Report, which was a science fiction film, set in the future, and yet instead of becoming so focused on exploring the futuristic world it took place in, it was just accepted that this is the future, and that was that. Too many books that take place in a slightly altered reality with a certain bend to them like to focus on the world itself, which can detract from keeping the story concise and easy to follow, but thankfully that isn’t a problem here.
The artwork was extremely clear, and had a great vibe to it. Instead of taking an artistic approach that would be more what you would expect from where the story actually takes place, Shasteen and Calero instead make the world feel just like the world we live in, which helps to ground the action considerably in a sense of reality. The characters look fantastic, the action looks great, and the sense of suspense is maintained quite well throughout.
This book was entertaining throughout, with a great sense of storytelling in both the script and artwork. The characters were interesting and engaging, the plot clear and concise, and I loved the potential set-up for future stories, if the creators are interested in revisiting the characters. This book is absolutely worth picking up, it reads extremely well, and is quite a fun and exciting ride. Highly Recommended!