Written by Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin
Line Art by Tony Shasteen with Dennis Calero
Colors by Dave McCaig with Lee Loughridge
Letters by Troy Peteri
Image Comics | Top Cow
Release Date: May 23, 2012
Cover Price: $19.99
Crime noir comics are not usually my cup of Joe. It takes a unique twist on the hardboiled genre to capture my ridiculously short attention span. Image Comics/Top Cow’s Netherworld accomplishes just that, adding a supernatural flair to the typical dirty cop storyline. You’ll ponder this deceptively deep storyline well after its exciting conclusion.
Ray Parker is a former cop scratching out an existence as a bounty hunter. Two separate clients hit him up with jobs concerning the same person: a young woman named Madeline. Alexis wants Ray to find Madeline at a specified location and bring her to a second location. On the other hand, Cyrus Kane has less information and wants Ray to simply find Madeline’s whereabouts. Ray must use all of his instincts to decide on which path to take. Finding Madeline begins a violent, action-packed tale of discovery as Ray peels away the layers of his city and his role within it.
Netherworld holds many secrets hidden just beneath its grisly veneer. It’s a deliberately-paced story that methodically reveals itself. Each chapter in this book ends with a revelation that further deepens the rabbit hole and keeps you guessing. I came into this book knowing little about the plot, which is the preferred way to read this story. I’ll hold off spoilers – you need to experience the storyline unfolding in all its suspenseful glory. And don’t let your 8-year-old niece find this book lying on your coffee table. Netherworld practically flips a bird at the old Comics Code Authority with a man-sized serving of violence, cursing, and even a little side-boob action.
Whereas I loved setting and the overall plot, the characters are rather unfocused and two-dimensional. Madeline’s role in Netherworld is confusing at best. Even the spelling of her nickname, Maddy, wavers for no apparent reason. She is described, at times, as some sort of savior. Through most of Netherworld, however, she’s merely the damsel in distress. Maddy is more Princess Toadstool than Neo from The Matrix, although much of the comic leads you to believe otherwise.
Ray’s character is a clichéd, gritty vigilante out to serve his own brand of justice. He doesn’t have patience for nuance and will take the quickest path to achieve his closest milestone. This is hardly new territory for comics. That characterization could classify almost any comic character created in the early 90s. However, it’s not the main character that makes Netherworld a success, but the mystery he unravels.
While Netherworld takes its time unraveling the story, the comic reads quickly. Writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin deliver a pointedly minimalist script. They never underestimate the reader’s ability to grasp their concepts; they don’t make the mistake of revealing more than is necessary to progress the story. The conclusion is satisfying, but you can’t help but feel that the writers left a cavern of depth to explore in the future. The script doesn’t flaunt obscenities, but Hill and Levin sprinkle them in to flavor the setting. It’s just enough to remind you that they have the mother of all curse words loaded in the chamber.
Dennis Calero and Tony Shasteen’s art is a throwback style that efficiently visualizes the story. The line art is simple, only revealing exquisite detail during violent scenes. Just enough background is revealed to give the reader a sense of the rundown city. Most of the backgrounds are simple, enhancing the book’s sense of urgency. A few rare scenes slow down and provide readers with a longer glimpse of the city. The colors, like the line art, are simple and flat with minimal use of gradients. The art serves more as a guide for readers’ imaginations to fill in the grimy details.
Readers are best served not knowing too many details about Netherworld up front. This book must be experienced first-hand. The conclusion wraps up the immediate storyline nicely, but it feels like the writers left many more secrets unexplored. While the characters could use more consistency, I enjoyed the ride and hope to see more chapters of Netherworld in the future.