Just as #3 had me saying that From Under Mountains was starting to want for concrete narrative, #4 proved to be the most masterful blend of story and style since the first issue. Sloane Leong is clever. Maybe more importantly, Leong is willing to try things. Leong's general approach throughout From Under Mountains has seen a handful of interesting stylistic choices cross the pages. Most of them have been successful; but, all of them have been on a spectrum of exploring the intersections in comics between narrative and style. From Under Mountains is thus continuously woven together with small but innovative stylistic flourishes, allowing Gibson and Churchland's story to blossom slowly, but organically, and in a manner wholly dissimilar from anything else on the shelves right now.
Until this chapter of the series, however, there was a stylistic tension between the dialogic parts of the series and the silent parts where people moved about the land. Things that happened in silence, or outright transitions between scenes, were presented in a consistently adventurous manner. Those flourishes often took a pitstop at moments filled with discussion, and then continued. In From Under Mountains #4, which is mostly discussion, Leong's stylistic choices are not just within the talky scenes: they define them in a way that is valuable to the narrative.
Panel borders wipe away as characters are introduced to each other. Entire panels slowly step off the side of a page as a character exits. Panels piece together such that characters are made more prominent on the page than their interlocutors, in a way that is germane to the conversation at hand. The sunset remains a visual theme, and the comic continues to integrate new visual themes, like the butterfly on the cover of this issue.
Make no mistake: From Under Mountains is not style over substance. Its style and substance are inextricable, something which makes perfect sense for a comic that is constantly striving to take full advantage of the pictorial narrative medium. The overall plot of this series remains more obtuse than most, but with issues like this one, it's a price I'm willing to pay. From Under Mountains is put together in such a way that it forces the reader to stop and appreciate what the creators are doing with the art form. That’s good comics.
From Under Mountains #4 Story: Marian Churchland, Claire Gibson Writer: Claire Gibson Artist: Sloane Leong Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 1/13/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital