“You fur speak of the Giants as benefactors to be praised for bestowing special gifts upon you. All the while, you willingly blind yourself to their cruelty, their apathy. We scales know what the Giants truly were… jailors” — Hashak, The Underfoot: Into the Sun, p. 109.
|Creator(s)||Ben Fisher (author), Emily S. Whitten (author), Michelle Nguyen (illustrator)|
|Genre||Post-apocalyptic, Animal Comic, Fiction|
|Environmental Themes and Issues||Animals in Danger, Animal Testing, Animal Captivity, Anthropomorphism, Apocalypse, Extinction, Habitat Destruction, Hostile Environment, Mutated Organisms, Natural Disaster|
|Protagonist’s Identity||Ruby: Young female hamster (Nonhuman/Animal)|
|Protagonist’s Level of Environmental Agency||Level 3: Moderate, Plot-Driven Environmental Agency|
|Target Audience||Young Adult|
Into the Sun is the second volume in The Underfoot series, published after The Mighty Deep. The series takes place in a post-apocalyptic future following the extinction of the “The Giants-That-Were,” or humans, during a cataclysmic and mysterious environmental event. Prior to this extinction event, the humans performed experiments on animals, granting some of the remaining creatures human intelligence and other new abilities. The series centers on one anthropomorphized group of animals that descended from the original subjects of the experiments: H.A.M., the Hamster Aquatic Mercenaries. At the beginning of Into the Sun, H.A.M. has two primary goals: continue to develop their new alliance with H.A.P., the Hamster Airborne Paratroopers, and elude hostile predators as they harvest the “glowshrooms” that provide power for their den.
However, H.A.M.’s plans are soon disrupted by the arrival of yet another hamster group: the Hamster All-Terrain Mountaineers. These new hamsters bring news of a new enemy, Hashak, a lizard who has developed a weapon from human technology and plans to destroy all of the animals and habitat surrounding her nearby island. Hashak has acquired many animal allies for her war, including wasps. The three hamster groups decide to team up to invade Hashak’s island and defeat her before she can wipe out their territory. Before they can strike, however, Hashak’s minions abduct protagonist Ruby and take her to the lizard’s headquarters. Recruiting the reluctant Ruby to work on her weapons, Hashak explains that she wants to destroy the hamsters because their rodent ancestors abandoned her and the other lizards when they escaped from the cages in the humans’ laboratory.
The other hamsters arrive at Hashak’s headquarters to rescue Ruby. While they try to escape, they encounter a fourth hamster team, the Hamster Anonymous Mob, who have been secretly infiltrating the headquarters for months in an attempt to stop the lizard. The comic concludes with the four hamster groups rallying together and vowing to defeat Hashak. In the epilogue, Ruby’s radio picks up a transmission from an anonymous hamster who claims that they are alone with “giants,” implying that some humans have survived the extinction event.
While this volume primarily centers on the hamsters’ struggle against Hashak, climate change and other environmental issues play a background role in the narrative. The hamsters and Hashak both reference the humans’ science experiments, and they also speculate about the incident that wiped out the human race, attributing their demise to a great flood or an earthquake.
Each of the comic’s five chapters concludes with a one-page paratext that contains excerpts from documents produced by the humans that performed the original animal experiments. These documents provide clues about the experiments conducted by the humans, as well as hint at the environmental issues that led to the humans’ demise. For instance, one half-visible page includes a case summary of suspected coywolf pesticide poisonings, accompanied by a memo titled “Coywolf Hybrid Study.” A handwritten note on the case study document states, “Preying animals are vital for maintaining a healthy ecosystem,” suggesting that humans have disrupted the environment by poisoning the animals (Fisher n. pag.). Additionally, these paratexts include fact sheets about each hamster character, including their species and behavioral patterns.