The Underfoot vol. 2: Into the Sun – Ben Fisher, Emily S. Whitten

3 out of 5

As hoped – and dare I say, as expected – the second volume of Underfoot continues to fill in its fun world-building details, with the same creatively careful approach as the opening volume, shuffling heavier lore into between-chapter extras, and sneaking in worldplay and terminology along the way that more fully establishes this timeline in which the Giants – presumably humans – have disappeared, leaving, in their wake, science-tweaked animals which can now walk and talk and have self-awareness.

There’s so, so much to love here: Ben Fisher and Emily S. Whitten have created a huge cast of (primarily) hamsters, each with their own personalities and dialogue patter; as our initial water-bound hamster group, H.A.M., find other groupings – dedicated to climbing; to the air – they (and we) discover the fascinating parallels that have sprung up between them all, each creating their own understandings of how the world works and the history that brought them to this point. Artist Michelle Nguyen has improved quite a bit since the previous book, capturing action better and with a more solid sense of framing; partnered with Adrian Ricker on colors, the book also ditches the heavy digital, dark sheen that made some scenes in the earlier volume somewhat inscrutable, in favor of very bright, and compelling looking pages.

However, this is still a series that seems like it will be fantastic once completed (or once several books can be read together), with the individual volumes lacking a bit of punch. The Scales – walkin’ and talkin’ lizards and such – are revealed as the antagonist force that’d plotted the events of book one, but just like the dam destruction that was the former focus, H.A.M.’s and friends trek to rescue a member from the Scales, and foil the next phase of their plan, gets a somewhat underwhelming conclusion, as it’s just sort of a domino for whatever the following event will be in book 3. Since we’re further along in the lore, though, Ben and Emily have much more room to play with the overall story, and can spend time on origin mysteries, and a bit more leeway with introducing further species. The cast is maybe a tad unwieldy, but there’s a fun poke at that towards the end which, just as with book one, gives me the sense that this thing is going to be a really enjoyable epic once you can look at it all together. I’m also looking forward to Nguyen’s further growth as we discover more lands and creatures; she really nailed the furry and feathered types here, but I think there might be a balance between this book’s brightness and volume 1’s darkness to make the “evil” creatures a bit more frightening.

But that’s the thing – instead of approaching the series with caution, the team gives me full-on confidence that it will just continue to improve, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.