Ray Fawkes’ horror series Underwinter debuted earlier this year, and received high praise throughout its first volume. After a short break, Fawkes is now back with Underwinter: A Field of Feathers #1. Does this issue introduce a new story effectively, and does it meet the high bar set by its predecessors?
Much like the previous volume, Underwinter: A Field of Feathers‘ artwork steals the show. There’s little to criticize, and so much to love. The watercolor style used throughout is beautiful, and Fawkes adjusts his level of detail frequently and effectively. Many panels, such as those depicting buildings and stairways, stun with their attention to depth, lighting, and other intricacies. The world in this issue truly feels three-dimensional, like the characters are moving through it and aren’t just props. There are also panels in which little to nothing is present save the bright backgrounds and just enough hints of facial features to elicit appropriate moods. The artistic shifts throughout create a sense of distortion and unease that works well in combination with the story’s mysterious set-up.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the issue’s artwork is its integration of pen and ink with the watercolor world. Small inked birds flutter throughout painted backgrounds, and the tension between the different artistic media conveys how unusual and suspicious the birds’ presence is. This dissonance, combined with the rest of Fawkes’ visual storytelling techniques, sells the fact that something is deeply wrong, even before we fully learn what “right” looks like to the issue’s characters. The framing choices throughout are stellar, as each image feels well-thought out and positioned, like a meticulously crafted film.
Writing-wise, the issue is solid. We meet two major sets of characters, and all of their voices are distinct but believable. The dialogue throughout really sells the various personalities, as well as introduces details of the mystery without spelling things out too explicitly or awkwardly. This is an issue that shows everything and tells little; there are barely even location captions. One could argue that the issue doesn’t tell enough, as there is no definitive information provided regarding the nature of this volume’s presumed villain-to-be. The stunning artwork and realistic dialogue do a lot to build up interest in the story, but just a little detail or additional hint about the nature of the evil(s?) at play here could have upped the suspense even more.
Overall, Underwinter: A Field of Feathers #1 is a strong start for the volume. The writing is solid, but more notably, the artwork is divine. With that said, the plot progression is still fairly minimal, and there are a few instances where characters’ faces aren’t rendered very successfully. Some dramatic expressions come across more as comical than terrifying or terrified. Nonetheless, the strong dialogue and evocative mixture of watercolor with pen and ink make this issue one that’s not to be missed unless you strongly dislike slow build-ups.