7.4

From Under Mountains #1 by Claire Gibson, Marian Churchland, Sloane Leong & Brandon Graham

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<i>From Under Mountains</i> #1 by Claire Gibson, Marian Churchland, Sloane Leong & Brandon Graham

Writers: Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland
Artists: Sloane Leong and Brandon Graham
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: September 30, 2015

Openings can be tricky. Some first issues tell a complete story, giving a holistic sense of the setting and dynamics. Other series, like The Spire, take a different approach: they establish the different plot threads, introducing the reader to characters that will be explored over the course of the series. The Image fantasy From Under Mountains opts for the latter approach, though it takes an even wider view. Within these pages, numerous plotlines launch into motion, but the authors make it difficult to tell where they’ll all intersect. Evocative artwork and well-crafted dialogue help establish the setting, but the overall direction still holds an air of ambiguity. Then again, this is the opening chapter of an opening chapter.

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This debut begins impressively and atmospherically: a small group of women appears in an isolated area, tossing feathers, bones and flowers into a fire. One sets upon a more intensive goal—a summoning mired in the mystic arts. The sequence is long, occupying roughly the first quarter of the issue, using vivid imagery that both establishes a location and conveys the presence of supernatural, possibly sinister, forces. “May your foes bleed. May their strength fail. May they die in darkness,” says the woman tasked with conjuring a nebulous figure. Clearly, ominous things are afoot—this mysterious figure will reappear before the issue is through, though it’s not entirely clear why.

From there, the issue introduces a dose of palace intrigue, with bantering among Elena and Marcellus—the royalty behind the city of Karsgate, where much of the issue takes place. By the end, a connection between the family dynamic and the opening ritual reveals itself; how that connection came to be and how it will play out, however, remains unclear. A few other characters—Tova, a young woman who…is into something mysterious, and Tomas Fisher, a theoretically heroic figure with a penchant for hard living—set on their first steps towards what appears to be longer journeys.

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From Under Mountains #1 Interior Art by Sloane Leong

Many paths emerge, and assumably future issues will fill in where they’re headed. A map at the back of the issue shows From Under Mountains’s geography, giving a better sense of where the cities fall in relation to one another (and in the context of the wider unexplored world).

It’s also worth noting that the setting itself feels very particular: it’s a fantasy world, but it’s one that deviates from the retooled versions of western Europe centuries ago, both in terms of the landscape and the characters living there. Primary artist Sloane Leong’s art shares several qualities with that of Paul Pope: great evocation of body language, and command over forms both human and abstract. (The moments where the supernatural intrudes on the mundane world are conveyed in particularly memorable fashion.) Body language and the manner of dress help identify characters’ social position; the architecture, too, fits the arid landscapes and mountain backdrops.

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From Under Mountains #1 Interior Art by Sloane Leong

From Under Mountains #1 presents a lot of material to absorb, and many questions will arise after reading it. Writers Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland have used the first issue to set numerous plots in motion, and while it isn’t necessarily clear where all of these characters will end up, there’s plenty here to keep a reader hooked for all that follows.

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From Under Mountains #1 Interior Art by Sloane Leong

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