Martian Comics: Letters From the Underworld (#13 – 15) – Julian Darius

3 out of 5

Perhaps more conceptually interesting than compelling in and of itself, we at least get to step away from Julian Darius’ plodding recap of Martian / human history for a fully isolated tale in issue #13 – ‘Foo Fighters,’ with artist Andi Supriyono – and then the three part ‘Letter From the Underworld,’ drawn by Cloves Rodriguez.

‘Foo’ captures what can be fun about propping up the two species’ timelines next to one another when Darius isn’t going too far down a research rabbit hole: the aliens’ indirect interactions with our planet are used to offer up an explanation for the titular term, which was coined for some spooky phenomena seen by Allied pilots in WWII.  While Darius’ rather dry narrative style is an acquired taste, forever avoiding any usual comic sense of, like, escalation or climax, it’s greatly used for these kinds of stories, as they’re given a grounded undertone and avoid silly Twilight Zone-ish concluding riffs.  You also understand the benefit of crafting a hugeass canvass of events from which to pluck tales, as ‘Foo’ can reference some details from what we’ve learned so far… but I still think the long-winded approach in other issues is, ultimately, detrimental – at least for this reader – to accessibility and enjoyment.

Maybe along those lines, ‘Letters From the Underworld’ definitely doesn’t need to be three issues, and it never quite achieves what I feel is some absolute potential in casting contemplative shade on concepts of gender.  I get the impression Darius doesn’t want to use Martian Comics as that kind of platform, which is especially odd, not only given the history of sci-fi as an occasional cover for exploring societal and political issues, but also of Darius’ Sequart as a foundation very much dedicated to analysis…  Not that there aren’t some casual lines about the aggression of men in here – ‘Underworld’ explores a Martian coming-of-age ritual for its females – but it’s very surface level, with the majority of the text instead obsessed with fleshing out the myth that has defined this ritual.  Again: interesting, but not always enthralling, and told at questionable length.

Supriyono is an artist to see more of – a very loose style, vaguely reminiscent of P.J. Holden from a few years ago, which gives its characters a good sense of emotion and especially treats its backgrounds and fighter plane details with liveliness, which is especially difficult in aerial-based tales.  Rodriguez’s three issues’ of work don’t stand out much, unfortunately, even given the opportunity to go to town illustrating the Underworld of the story’s myth.  The panels / pages just feel kind of empty and the characters rather stiff.