This latest work by Andrew Vachss is a futuristic tale of repression, deceit, corruption, control, rebellion … and, ultimately, hope and survival.
Underground has been built by the Rulers to escape the Terror. Whatever the Terror is – or was – is never made quite clear to the citizens of Underground. They need only to believe and trust that the Rulers have their safety and well-being at heart. Strict adherence to the ever-growing, ever-evolving, often harsh "Rules" under which people must live are necessary --- even at the cost of their individual liberties --- in order to survive the Terror. Beyond the protection within Underground's charted tunnels, no one can survive.
A large part of the Rulers' power over Underground comes from control of all news media and education. What is thus imparted becomes the accepted truth. It is only with the rise of the "Book Boys", who begin spray-painting the walls of the tunnels with graffiti done in a specialized blue ink that the real truths are told to citizens who are willing to open their eyes and pay attention. From these words, these truths, a path out from under the thumbs of the Rulers may be found …
As usual with a Vachss book, there are many layers and nuances to this story. Different readers will take away different things; and re-readings may reveal previously unrealized points. In UNDERGROUND, the many parallels to today --- the biased news media, government over-regulation (my take, my opinion), the infringements into our personal freedoms for the sake of our safety and overall good, etc. --- are unmistakable and can be taken as a warning of what might be just around the corner if we aren't careful. The abuse of our young and vulnerable (the theme Vachss always incorporates – "I have but one song to sing" is his often stated goal) is here, too, and is the hinge upon which so much else pivots.
UNDERGROUND is available in a beautifully produced, hardbound graphic novel from Dark Horse Books. The story is from an original screenplay by Andrew Vachss. Scripting is done by Mike Richardson and Chet Williamson. Internal artwork is from Dominic Reardon and Keith Champagne, with a striking front cover by Sean Phillips.
And an afterward ("Leaving the Underground") by the always insightful Zak Mucha provides a fine analysis of the work and an overview of what Mucha calls Vachss's "unrelenting message": Crimes against children are the greatest danger our society faces.
A powerful, important work - not to be missed.