The World Below

By | Sunday, July 08, 2007 Leave a Comment
My "regular" stack at the Local Comic Shop was decidedly light this week, so I did some active browsing in their graphic novels section. The cover of The World Below caught my eye, and Paul Chadwick's name further encouraged me to pick it up. The solicitation copy on the back and a quick flip-through sold the book for me. The manager noted that someone had come in requesting a copy so he had ordered two, though, oddly the original requester has yet to stop back to pick his copy up.

Anyway, the basic premise is that a businessman stumbles upon a cavern of some kind and his initial robotic scouts suggest that there's a vast wealth of organic technology down there that he could capitalize on. So he sends a "Team of Six" down below to recover whatever they can. The story is then mostly about the weird adventures and incredible encounters this Team of Six have.

At a very superficial level, it has kind of Lost in Space or Star Trek TOS feel to it. A lot of, "Look at how weird everything is." With a casual glance, it could be mistaken for a 1950s sci-fi television show. Or maybe an old EC comic. To Chadwick's credit, on that front, the designs are actually pretty original (to my knowledge) and aren't just "Well, it looks like a chimp with a fuzzy hat strapped to his head." There's a lot of visual creativity that I daresay rivals Jack Kirby. (Well, Jack Kirby on an off day.)

What makes the book interesting and more contemporary, though, is the characters that make up this Team of Six. They're not just bland stereotypes or cardboard cutouts, but well-realized, three-dimensional people. Each one has a distinct and nuanced personality which has a decidedly different relationship with every other member of the team. We're given insights into significant portions of their back-stories and why they are the way they are.

With the exception of the first issue or two, the storytelling is pretty solid. And Chadwick freely admits in his introduction that he wasn't entirely happy with the first couple of issues. But it's soon smoothly sailing and the majority of the book easily transports the reader down this rabbit hole to become a seventh member of the team.

The original comic, as I understand it, did well enough to warrant a sequel, but not quite enough to extend that sequel beyond four issues. And to his credit, Chadwick does provide a concise and satisfying -- if uncomfortable -- ending. I give a lot of respect to any writer who's willing to avoid a "happily ever after" ending, even if it's not particularly an ending I want to see. (I earned a huge amount of respect for Joss Whedon after seeing Serenity for example.)

The book itself came out in January, but the original stories were serialized from 1999 to 2000. It's no surprise that I missed them at the time -- I was too engrossed with marvel at the time -- but it highlights why I like to support unusual books like this in their original, serialized formats. The more people who buy the book, the more support a book gets, the more likely it will continue. So when I review a book like this or Pirates vs. Ninjas II or Hodabeast, I will freely admit that it's largely for selfish reasons -- I want you to find and buy those books, too, so that the creator and publisher makes enough money to keep making more of them. If they keep making more, then I get more enjoyment out of it. That's the way capitalism works, folks, and as idealistic as I want to be, the system ain't gonna change any time soon.

Getting back to The World Below, Chadwick likens it to Lost. (Even though his comic predates the show by several years.) I've only seen bits and pieces of Lost so I can only agree up to a point, but I do see the parallels he's talking about. I would add, though, that The World Below seems to have more adventure and more of a creative well-spring behind it, therefore making it a better story in my view.
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