Unearth #2 wears its horror inspirations proudly and boldly, and while frightful and unique, the separate storylines and frantic pace seem to be holding this chapter back from its hidden potential.
Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm’s script is wild and imaginative, and it is apparent they have a huge well of horror film knowledge to draw from, but they simply don’t let the horror breathe long enough. Similarly, Baldemar Rivas’s art certainly has its high points but suffers from lack of detail and odd positioning.
Unearth #2 first picks up in Mitlan Itza, with the information that the two blobby, swollen patients are mysteriously missing. It then cuts to the mother and daughter playing a game before the daughter brutally murders her mother, and then continues the tale of the two teams investigating the tunnel system. Bunn and Strahm intend on linking these three-story branches, but due to the brevity of the first two scenes, it is hard to get invested in these stories. In fact, due to the brevity and frantic pace of almost every scene, the book itself can be a bit exhausting.
Bunn and Strahm use a large blend of horror staples that offer hope for future chapters. The mix of tropes from Alien, The Descent, and almost any Lovecraft work gives the story an intriguing tone and setting. Though, this series can use a quieter chapter focusing on the company or government employing this exploration crew because such little is known about them. Hopefully, Bunn and Strahm can use these mechanics as a springboard to create their own horror staples.
In most successful horror, the fear is a slow burn. It crawls to the shocks, which makes the tension so much more palpable while also allowing the viewer/reader to be comfortable with the characters. Unearth #2 doesn’t allow that, instead opting for an “everything-at-the-wall” strategy. A large part of horror is identifying with the main characters, or at least being able to acknowledge who they are, and with Unearth #2, this can prove challenging. I found it difficult to point out who each character is, their role, and what exactly their relationship is to others. One of the characters trapped with Morris (whose name I think is Nails) is a main player in this chapter and he was simply not even in the first entry.
I understand that a large part of the horror genre is the slow dwindling numbers of seemingly unimportant grunts, but in successful horror works, the creator gives the illusion that these grunts are important. If they’re not important, they at least linger enough on them for the trauma to register.
There is a definitive reason why Private Hudson’s “Game Over, Man” line in Aliens is so iconic. It is the culmination of a former macho military man crumbling into a frightened child. Instead, Bunn and Strahm take these clever ideas and characters and rush to combine them. That is how we get Morris floating in the area surrounded by the murderous worms as they seemingly protect Morris. The lack of context and breathing room almost make this scene laughable.
There are scenes when Baldemar Rivas’s artwork works exceptionally well, unfortunately, they are few and far between. When Rivas is above ground his colors are spot-on. He shows a talent for finding just the right color and composition and then leaving something just off to make the reader uneasy. Take the scene in which the girl bludgeons her mother. Blood is normally not that pinkish hue, it’s normally crimson and dark, but the bright neon pink draws our eye to it more because of it.
However, when the story shifts below ground this changes drastically. This is mostly due to the cramped confines of the underground tunnels and the overall pace of the story. Because of all the action, it’s a little difficult deciphering what in all actuality is happening. In one scene Morris is attempting to dig the team out of the blockade, but then seconds later Morris is several feet away from the rubble watching as giant centipedes stab one of the other explorers who was right beside them. Similarly, when Amelia’s squad is looking for an exit in the blue pustule room when the ceiling drops falls (which should have collapsed the room entirely), it looked as though Amelia ran away from her squad entirely. However, once everyone escapes, Amelia is back with the team? The lack of differentiating markers on the uniforms doesn’t help the confusion as it is very easy to lose a character in the scuffle.
It is very easy to see what writer Cullen Bunn and Kyle Strahm, artist Baldemar Rivas, and letter CRANK! are attempting to achieve with Unearth #2, and a lot of what it attempts is novel and intriguing. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a whole lot to be desired.