Netherworld TPB – Bryan Edward Hill, Rob Levin

2 out of 5

A surface-level go at a riff on Buffy tries to add some mythology to create its own identity but sinks under tough guy posturing, and hinky art.

It’s never a great thing when “twists” in your story come across as inevitable.  So I should spoiler tag this up, but it seems obvious from the first few pages that Nether World doesn’t exactly take place on Earth.  And if mentions of Men in White and people transforming into demons doesn’t lay out the rest for you, don’t worry, because it will be info-dumped soon enough, with all the nuance of a pirouetting elephant.

Before that, though, we get introduced to generic tough guy bail bondsman Ray, who likes to punch and say one liners and wear a leather jacket.  That there seems to be a functioning economy in Netherworld is interesting, which is presumably why this aspect gets abandoned for a four issue chase sequence when Ray eventually agrees to find and protect a chick named Madeline, whom our sensitive writers describe as ‘toeing the line between innocent and sexy’ in the backmatter, versus the tasker from the Men in White, Alexis, who’s described as ‘pure sex.’

Leagues of class, here.

But I’m judging the book somewhat on this extra info included in the trade.  Just focusing on the story, things kick off rough but intriguingly enough – duel parties looking for Madeline, mysterious-past Ray, a Route 666 vibe to the world-beneath-the-world-we-see when demons appear – but it loses a lot of momentum in trying to peddle reasons for all of this to matter, and gets caught up on a hurry-up-and-wait structure that effectively deflates the stakes.  There are enough ideas to fuel sticking it out – enough ideas to suggest that a longer series might’ve been paced better – but none of the aforementioned problems are necessarily righted or made better by reading to The End.

Tony Shasteen’s art (with one surprisingly horrible chapter by Dennis Calero) is like a less animated Tony Harris.  Combined with Dave McCaig’s and Lee Loughridge’s bright colors, static scenes have an appropriate ethereal real/not real sense to them, but like a lot of photo-reference art, action is really uncomfortable looking, and unfortunately, Nether World is a pretty action book.  Compounding this mismatch are some general disconnects with words and art – emotions / actions not living up with what we’re reading – some of which can be blamed on our scripters (extras also include the script from issue one), who have a penchant for poorly handled off-panel dialogue.

I’ve mentioned the extras a couple of times; the trade is at least very giving in that regard, with cover sketches, character bios, and a script.  But during those mentions, perhaps it’s clear that seeing those extras only served to underline some of what was wrong with the book.

Nether World had some noteworthy script and art elements that make it initially stand out, but after that precursory glance, it descends into generics and then further, into occasional ignorance and stupidity.