I think it would be accurate to say that it took me a matter of seconds to jump on the opportunity to review Unearth when it came across my desk. My eyes were immediately drawn to the key details — a twisted horror story involving two veterans of the horror comic world, a rising star artist and Image Comics publishing. Uh yeah, where do I sign up?
Unearth will be available this coming Wednesday, July 10. So in the mean time, allow me to help you understand why you should be adding it to your pull list.
What’s the skinny?
Mitlan Itza is a small, remote village in Mexico and ground zero for a terrifying new disease that warps the flesh of its victims until they resemble something that can barely be called human. This is where our tale begins, with the arrival of a scientific task force dispatched by the US government to ascertain the extent of the infection and locate the cause of the outbreak. Accompanying the scientists is a military escort, tasked with defending the medical team against local rebel forces and whatever unknown hostile elements they may encounter throughout their investigation.
It’s not long after getting boots on the ground that the task force traces the source of the outbreak to a nearby cave system, which has seemingly appeared out of thin air. With the discovery that the disease infects animals as well as humans, the stakes have been raised considerably and the team has no choice but to venture into the cave in hopes of discovering the source. It doesn’t take long from things to go from bad to worse, as the team discovers an extremely hostile ecosystem, rebel forces and oh yeah, the only known exit is completely blocked off.
Who’s running the show?
A big chuck of my considerable excitement for Unearth arrived once I learned who comprised the creative team. Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm are the co-writers of this series and each of them carries a resume that would make any horror fan cheer. Bunn is essentially on his way to becoming the John Carpenter of horror comics, having been in the game for over ten years and possessing a laundry list of breakout titles. His work on The Sixth Gun and Harrow County received widespread acclaim, Eisner nominations, and secured several other awards. Strahm is a lifelong horror fan and one of the creative minds behind Spread, a brutally disgusting and fantastic horror series (which is on my bookshelf now thanks to his work on Unearth).
In the art department we have Baldemar Rivas, an exceptional talent who’s in the lead art position for the first time on a series. Rivas is a former student of Strahm’s at the Kansas City Art Institute and has done work for several horror comics such as Cold Spots, The Beauty and Spread.
What’s the catch?
My only gripe comes during a rather hectic action sequence when a team of scientists and their military escort are exploring the cave system. The adrenaline is really pumping here and this section of the book is one of my favorites, but the choice of color Rivas used for the background during two of these pages took me out of things a bit. Caves are dark, light-less places where the sun can’t reach, and while yes, bio luminescence is most certainly present, the color choice here didn’t come in line with my expectations for the environment.
Is it good?
I feel that I need to start by discussing the artwork. It commanded my attention from the moment I saw the cover, and once I actually got to sit down with the issue it stayed at the forefront of my enjoyment from start to finish. Sequential storytelling is a must for comic book artists and when it’s done well you can practically tell the story without the dialogue. That’s how I felt more than once while reading this book. Rivas has a superb ability to put your eyes exactly where you’d expect them to be, just like watching a camera pan around the cast of a television show. There’s a specific panel with a rebel and a soldier’s actions cut side-by-side that was the zenith of this.
Whatever this disease is, its absolutely disgusting. As you can see from the panel I shared above, it takes the human body and plays with it like a toddler would with a piece of play-doh. Infected species ooze copious amounts of a pink mucus discharge, possess haunted large white eyes and bodies that morph into creepy gag inducing forms. There are two different animals the research team encounters on their journey into the cave system and both appear to be mutations from local wildlife. The bigger of the two takes up an entire page when it appears and is easily my favorite piece of art from the issue. All of this is done in gorgeous colors — its bright, vibrant and feels like a nice snug fit.
Rivas’ imagination is a scary twisted place and I couldn’t be happier about it. This guy is the real deal, and while he may be new to the game, but I have zero doubt that he’s going a name we hear a lot more people talking about in the near future.
Some stories take their time with getting to the action, this isn’t one of them. Bunn and Strahm set a fast pace and by the end of the issue the proverbial sh*t has hit the fan. There’s already palpable tension between more than one member of the group and as things continue to go further south, I’m excited to see these characters show their true colors in the face of desperation. Unearth reminds me of The Descent, one of my favorite horror films of all time, and any comparison to Neal Marshall is a huge compliment. Knowing there’s a supernatural component waiting in the wings, I expect I’ll see story components reminiscent of As Above, So Below (another favorite).
Before the issue ends the research team receives a late addition to their party in the form of a young local girl. This reminds me that there’s more players in this game than just the scientists and soldiers, there’s also the local population. Which has me wondering what will happen on the surface with the infected, while the task force is working its way back to the surface. Will they escape one nightmare only to emerge into another? The possibilities for how bad this can go have me so very excited.
What’s really fun is the realization that while things are bad, they aren’t anywhere near as bad as they’re going to get. We’re on the first issue on a horror comic written by Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm, these people have no idea what’s coming for them. They are so utterly screwed. I simply can’t wait to watch their situation continue to deteriorate (yes, I am a monster). My personal lust for awful things aside, Bunn, Strahm and Rivas have taken a great first step with Unearth and I highly recommend picking this up, this Wednesday, July 10.
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