While still visually stunning, the laissez faire approach to the plot is starting to catch up to From Under Mountains in a bad way. Leong's art is fantastic. I've gushed about it in multiple places, but her approach to pages and colors are undoubtedly the main reason you should pick up this book. In fact, if I had not heard of this title, even now at issue #3, free of any previous exposure, if I saw this on a shelf, I would buy it just for the art. The third issue of From Under Mountains spends less time with the ethereal oddities that have blended so seamlessly into the environments Leong constructs, and that still doesn't stop her from creating mesmerizings scenes.
As Nick said in his review of number one, and as I agreed with him in my review of the second issue, this is not the most accessible story. Not only is there no hand-holding, but there's very little context given for its events. The context that has been given occurs in the backmatter in the form of equally artistic-leaning information. As I also mentioned, particularly in the second issue, appreciating what was going on required a high level of involvement from me as a reader. I had to go find the first issue, I had to compare pages. Okay, I didn't have to: it wasn't a basic comprehension thing, but it was certainly something required to comprehend what this creative team is doing on an artistic level. You really have to let From Under Mountains take you to where it's at, if that makes sense.
The problem is, three issues in, I'm not sure where that is. The visual aspects of the narrative are thoughtfully unified, but the more typical character-driven stuff is flighty. From Under Mountains is taking its time in elucidating who these characters are, why we should care what they're up to, and what the stakes are. At least some combination of those things are really important for me to care about a story. While there have been enough visual set pieces for me to understand the gist of this story (kingdoms at war, murder and intrigue, assassins, redemption, etc.), the combination of the slowly developing story and the hands-off approach to really driving the plot home to the reader creates a bad kind of tantilization by the end of this issue.
In other words, I'm at a point where I'm curious because I want to know what's going on, but not in the sense of wanting that most stories will intend. The scales are tipping from mostly intrigue and slight impatience to being the other way around. I have seen the beautiful and beautifully horrifying way in which this world is composed: now I want to see what's actually happening down in the world. I want to know what makes these people tick. I want the distance to close between me and their motivations, thoughts, and identities.
That kind of reader-character distance is a powerful tool for a writer. At some point, though, maintaining the distance will make me feel more like I'm a tourist looking at a story under glass than someone actually watching the story unfold. I'm happy to stare at this artwork all day, but I'm hoping that this comic will soon make me feel less like I'm staring and more like I'm immersed.
From Under Mountains #3 Writer: Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland Artist: Sloane Leong Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 12/16/15 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital