Something is clearly not right in the small Mexican town of Mitlán Itzá as Unearth #1 sets the stage for a twisted blend of science fiction and body horror effectively with a thrilling script from Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm, disturbing art from Baldemar Rivas, and punchy letters from CRANK!.
When a small scientific/military team investigates the mysterious body mutating disease afflicting Mitlán Itzá’s residents some weird cult, alien, backwoods hillbilly stuff gets revealed in a nearby cave. The creative team was inspired by classics of the genres as there are scenes that feel ripped out of films such as The Thing, Alien, or most Cronenberg films. But these short instances don’t feel cheap or like simple cut and copy imitations. Instead, these different inspirations meld together to form one of the most disturbing tales beginning this year.
Bunn and Strahm’s script is mysterious and does not concede much information to the reader. It took me a couple of read-throughs to properly understand who was who and the proper stakes of the story. But this confusion and illusion feel purposeful as it heightens the overall uneasy mood of the story.
Some of the characters can feel very one-note and cliché, particularly Lieutenant Morris. Morris comes off as the typical hyper-masculine soon-to-be traitor of the group. He disagrees with the ideas and plans of Dr. Reyes and McCommick, but we are never given a reason why. And Dr. McCommick herself seems simply overly plucky and naïve despite the horrors she encounters in the cave or in town, which sometimes fights the horror tone of the story. Dr. Reyes, on the other hand, holds some depth and intrigue. Plagued by mysterious nightmares from her past, she is haunted by some demons that will come to light later in the series.
Rivas’s art is expressive and disturbing. Sometimes his lack of detail can become cumbersome. For instance, when the team is entering the cave and encounter the glowing life form, the faces are difficult to make out. Coupled with the fact that they only briefly identify some of the members once they’re in their protective suits, it can get confusing remembering who is doing what and what is happening to whom.
But in other instances, Rivas’s art is perfect. Particularly, when he is depicting shock, awe, and other emotions on the character’s faces. Dr. Reyes’s when she awakes from her nightmare, the guerilla as he is being absorbed by the underground monster, and Alejandro’s face as he is first introduced in the hospital, all share this wild-eyed bewilderment that does not look healthy and sane. The eyes looking in separate directions with the tongue sticking out almost remind of a rabid animal.
Rivas also shows a knack for depicting the strange and surreal. The blobs people turn into because of the disease are rendered in gruesome imagery reminiscent of something Cronenberg-ian. And the glowing specimen Dr. McCommick encounters is eerily reminiscent of the proto-facehugger from Prometheus.
Not everything Unearth #1 attempts are successful, but the overall mood and general blend of horror influences work wonderfully. Creative team Cullen Bunn, Kyle Strahm, and Baldemar Rivas create a robust new series that could hopefully mutate into something stellar.