"Netherworld" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Top Cow Productions
Written by Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin
Illustrated by Tony Shasteen with Dennis Calero
2012, 164 Pages
Graphic Novel released on May 23rd, 2012
Life's biggest mystery isn't why we're here to begin with but what happens to us after it's over. There have been a number of comics recently that have explored this topic. Netherworld from Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin is another one, but it puts a unique spin on it. Unlike some of the other life-after-death funny books, Netherworld focuses primarily on purgatory, the place between heaven and hell. It's here that souls languish until they eventually prove themselves worthy to rise above. As this place is filled with people that weren't quite good enough to make it into heaven, the place has kind of went down the drain. Picture New York City before Mayor Giulianni cleaned it up.
The people in Netherworld have been here for so long that they don't remember that they're dead to begin with. They're going about what passes for a life down there, doing whatever they have to to get by, whether that's selling drugs or themselves. Within all this mess is Ray Parker. He's your basic hard-boiled private eye. He specializes in finding people that don't want to be found. Most of the time this has to deal with bail bondsmen, but he's been approached by two different parties to find the same girl. Madeline is the key to something. She's important. Now Parker is caught up in a situation that's out of his comfort zone and he has to decide who -- if anyone -- he can trust to keep her safe.
This is what makes Netherworld a great read. It takes a dime-novel story and adds in the land of purgatory. Parker doesn't just take on two-bit thugs, he's also duking it out with demons and people that have become possessed by evil while living in this squalor.
Throughout the story, Parker keeps getting flashes to his previous life. He's either blocked it out or forgotten it, but it's important to his character that he understands why he's here to begin with. Many of the people in Netherworld are only there because they lived decent lives but made one mistake. They're not entirely pure and they have to atone for that sin before they can ascend to heaven. Parker can't even remember what his sin is, so he has to get through that memory block before he can work on making up for it. Madeline is at the center of this. She's connected to his old life, but he just can't figure out how yet.
Tony Shasteen illustrated Netherworld and provided a great balance between the different scenes. The panels that take place in the skyscrapers and the penthouse apartments of the sinister Mr. Kane are bright and clean. Everything is in its place. Meanwhile, down on the streets where Parker and Madeline are making a break for it, things are chaotic and rough around the edges.
The possessed people in the book have an interesting design too. It's like they're a cross between an elf and a bumpy-faced vampire in Buffy. They have long, pointed fingernails and sharp teeth. It's enough to make them look unsettling but still somewhat human. Parker develops this "sixth sense" that allows him to see the true versions of these creatures. Shasteen shows this by drawing the regular person and then has this bright orange shadow of them as they appear when possessed coming out of them. It's like how 3D images look without the glasses.
Deep down, Netherworld is a story about redemption. It lends itself well to the tough guy detective, but the supernatural aspects of it give it a unique spin. Ray Parker is easily relatable. He's the kind of guy that wants to do the right thing, but he's just not sure what that is. His decision can affect the lives -- and afterlives -- of millions of people. No pressure.