The penultimate issue of Underwinter looks to the characters’ pasts as it preps for a final showdown. Is it good?
This issue finds the quartet of protagonists back at the mysterious manor shortly before their last performance. The events here flash back and forth between the characters’ present situations and their childhoods, giving the reader glimpses of each musician’s most ingrained neuroses and the emotional mistreatment that contributed to said anxieties. This focus on the characters’ mental well-being is crucial given the type of horror series Underwinter is. This issue further solidifies what previous issues already implied: it’s not just the supernatural elements at play here that are to be feared. Rather, it’s the human interaction with said unnatural phenomena that successfully make this horror story both scary and emotionally gripping.
Artistically, creator Ray Fawkes is at the top of his game here. Underwinter has delivered stand-out visuals from the get-go, but this issue’s art is the series’ most emotionally expressive and well-crafted thus far. Fawkes frequently makes effective decisions regarding angles and points of view that help to visually reinforce the plot’s sense of delirium. This is especially true where Eleanor and Stephanie’s portions of the narrative are concerned. The texture in Fawkes’ work is notable, as the ink spewing from Eleanor’s body conveys a similar sensation to more traditional horror usage of blood without feeling so obvious. The seeping ink (as well as glassy ice in other parts of the issue) also works well thematically as a visual representation of the existential rot wearing away at the characters’ psyches as well as the world they live in.
The only cons I can think of for this issue are theoretical and based on personal tastes. If you’re the type of person who largely prefers for their fiction to move the plot along quickly and explicitly and who doesn’t care for work that is comprised primarily of relatively slow character development, then this issue likely isn’t going to wow you. But if you don’t mind its style of storytelling and spending time following characters’ flashbacks while being in the dark on some plot details, then this issue delivers high quality work.
Underwinter #5 mixes extensive character exploration, psychological horror trappings, and bold artistic design choices to create the series’ strongest installment to date. From the dialogue to the compositions to the color theory throughout, every detail at play here shines. It’s probably fair to say that Underwinter occupies a particular niche, but if said niche is one you enjoy then this issue will knock your socks off.