The horror series’ ambiguous first story arc comes to a close.
Ray Fawkes’ Underwinter #6 concludes the series’ first arc, “Symphony.” Is this ending a satisfying one?
Prior issues of Underwinter have hinted at the nature of the series’ horror elements more often than they have explicitly depicted them. Instead, we have thus far received extensive character work, creative visual representations of world-shaking despair, and very slow pacing. The pacing’s speed has not been a problem so far, as the content of the series’ first five issues was stellar. They also generated expectation for a conclusion that would at least tie the story up thematically, even if it didn’t provide much in terms of concrete explanations.
Unfortunately, Underwinter #6 does not tie the story up thematically, plot-wise, or in any other palatable manner. There’s some beautiful artwork here, but the writing disappoints. This final chapter is narrated by Corben, by far the character who received the least emotionally impactful development in the series’ first five issues. He isn’t made any more endearing here; when he isn’t watching his fellow musicians die, he’s contemplating various beautiful sights from the natural world and delivering monologues about vague concepts like hope and honor. Much of the issue feels overwritten, and none of the series’ most intriguing characters get final moments to shine. This almost feels like an installment from a different comic, given how most of the series’ strongest suits have essentially been tossed aside at the last moment.
Previous issues introduced a bird-man figure who was likely to bring about the end of the world. We didn’t get much explanation behind who or what he was, but we did get to see the human characters’ struggles with confronting their emotional last days on Earth. This grounding of the horror plot in human consequence made the ambiguity of the bird-man forgivable, as the true focus seemed to be on human struggle in the face of him.
This final issue leaves me wishing we had gotten more concrete details, however. With no impactful human drama present, there’s nothing to distract from questions about the underdeveloped plot. The characters don’t struggle with their demise in an emotionally gripping way, and nothing about the story is clear enough to frighten the reader themselves. Ultimately, what stands out most about this issue is the degree to which none of it stands out. Underwinter #6 does not succeed at feeling like a horror comic, either traditionally or experimentally.
The best aspects of this issue all pertain to its artwork. There are some truly stunning images, as always. The glass-like fractures in space effectively convey the characters’ shattering hopes, and panels depicting split-second actions remind one of effective cinematography. Fawkes’ understanding of what specific moments in time make for the most impactful shots is outstanding. It is unfortunate, however, that the writing choices in this issue were not as successful. Ultimately, this is a final chapter that seems to collapse upon itself, making more of a whimper than a bang.