Following on the success of the first “Stonehaven” graphic novel, Milk Cartons and Dog Biscuits, Kevin Tinsley returns to the magical metropolis with another spellbinding (pun intended) tale about dark and dank underground world below the streets of Stonehaven. Just like the first volume, Subterranean Hearts holds its own as a stand-alone book. However, anyone who enjoyed Milk Cartons and Dog Biscuits, will be immediately drawn into this story.
In a modern metropolis peopled by a variety of human-like people such as ogres, dwarves, elves, and of course, humans, Stonehaven is filled with magic, history, and often mayhem. The different races and species get along tenuously, and chaos is often just minutes away—but the funny thing is, for the most part, it stays always on the periphery, rarely erupting into a full-fledged explosion. But when people start disappearing, including a child from an eco-friendly elf tribe, tensions come to a head as the local government and the tribe quickly point fingers at each other. Victor Jardine, owner and operator of a slightly shady detective agency, quickly becomes entwined with the situation as he explores why people are disappearing in and around entrances to the underbelly of the city such as drainage pipes and subway entrances.
Unlike many cities, Stonehaven is not facing a vermin problem; they are dealing with a troll problem. The hermitic, scavenging trolls of yesteryear have changed quite drastically. Now they work in groups and seem to be fairly organized. Victor and a rag-tag cleaning crew who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time find themselves walking into the heart of the underground labyrinth to find the leader of the trolls.
The narrative plays out as a mix of back-and-forth interviews as police investigators interrogate each of the characters to survive the final confrontation with the troll leader. While the format does detract from the level of suspense, since readers will see who survived, the unraveling of the tale in this style renders it like a television cop or courtroom drama.
Tinsley has put so much into Stonehaven that it is a city readers will yearn to visit or even stay. He adds rich elements such as maps, profiles, and historical notes about the city. His expanding cast of returning characters become more intriguing with each panel, and his foreshadowing for future storylines make readers only hope to see these new titles sooner than later.
Tinsley still has trouble with noses, as seen in his other works. Often, the nose from the tip to where it meets the eyebrow feels too wide or misshapen. Interestingly, he draws his best eye-nose structures on the elven characters, who often have more pointed features. Using digital imagery, Tinsley combines some very detailed and realistic backgrounds with his drawn characters to some good and bad result. A close-up with a character’s face and realistic background works well in generating a certain authenticity. Mid-profile and up also work well with real background scenery, but when Tinsley places full body shots within this real background, the characters look out of place. However, he does some amazing work with transition, in-panel flashbacks, and superimposing.
Stonehaven: Subterranean Hearts grabs readers in its first panels and holds their attention beyond the end. Readers will want (even demand) more after this engaging adventure, and they will (hopefully) not be disappointed.