A Less Than Stellar Issue in an Otherwise Superb Series. LOW #17 Review
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Greg Toccini
Colors by Dave Mccaig
Letters by Rus Wooton
Edited by Sebastian Girner
There is something absurd about reviewing a single issue of Rick Remender and Greg Toccini’s Low. It’s not a bad book nor is it difficult to talk about. But few books seem as ill-at-ease with the single issue format than this aqueous vision of the twilight of humanity. We are also two issues into the fourth (possibly last?) arc of the book.
It is however, always my intention to get people to invest the time and money in cutting edge and worthwhile comic books. Which Low is on every count. So do not feel dismayed or be intimidated from getting the trades up to this point and diving into one of the more challenging works Image has to offer.
This book could be considered a companion piece to another of Remender’s great sci-fi Image books, Black Science (also highly recommended). Both books are sci-fi/fantasy stories set in impossible and mind-bending worlds that focus on family. Both books are visually stunning and worth buying for the art alone. Both books subversively present “adventure” stories that on the surface seem romantic yet are darker and more intense than most books being published. If Bret Easton Ellis rewrote Jules Verne.
Low is the story of optimism put to the greatest test…extinction. Thousands of years in the future, humanity has destroyed the environment. Its only hope was in sending out probes to deep space to look for a habitable replacement for its soiled nest while retreating to giant cities deep in the ocean.
Stel Caine, a scientist and adherent of a philosophy of eternal optimism, and her family, leave the fleeting security of their home city, Salus, and venture into the void in order to retrieve a returning space probe that may hold the final hope for humanity. Like Remender’s other books, he puts his characters through hell and by doing so he chips away at concepts and examines ideas.
Remender is not a comforting story teller and sometimes this makes him seem like a true outsider in an industry that seems intent on keeping itself at the level of infantile escapism. So while books like Low and Black Science are beautiful and have a certain lyrical poetry at work he is a challenging and subversive writer, often using genre as a microscope…or sledgehammer. And the focus of that microscope and sledgehammer has been Stel, her philosophies and tragically, her family.
While Low and Black Science share many similarities one crucial conceptual difference is that the “problem” the tension in Black Science all stems from the neurosis of one character, Grant McKay. Everything that unfolds in that story is a consequence of one man’s inability to be himself. Low is different. Here, Stel Caine is an embodiement of the “answer”. The problem isn’t personafied in a single character, it’s personafied in the world itself; the emergent reality that humanity has created. With this approach the book has a distant and less personal quality as compared to Black Science. We aren’t in Stel’s head as much as we are with Grant. But this works to make Low easier to project into as a story. I don’t have to try and relate to Stel as I do with Grant. Stel is an invocation of something inside all of us and excessive characterization and a gargantuan ego would get in the way of that.
Following a truly heartbreaking and profoundly frustrating cliffhanger at the end of issue #15 followed by the flashback issue #16, which is supposedly setting up some things for this arc, I was eager to pick up on the story that nearly brought me to desperate angry crying.
Only to find that Remender, for the time being, is letting that dangle awhile as we pick up on the story of another family member as they return to the place where it all started, the city of Salus and uncover a potential terrorist plot that threatens the city. While this is one of my favorite books right now, I can’t but help feel like this is a step back both emotionally and narratively. Of course, that will all go away once we see where this story is going and start getting some payoffs for this story. Something Remender promised in a previous issue. But as a single issue this felt incredibly dissatisfying.
This type of transition issue that takes the time to re-orient the reader to a new status quo and pov is inevitable but unlike nearly every other Remender work there is nothing in this issue to hook you into the next. It is wholly forgettable and consists mostly of people walking around and talking, punctuated by Greg Toccini’s breathtaking painterly art that is always a complete joy to look at. But it’s just not enough to make this issue compelling on its own. Which is the only real flaw in this work. It just doesn’t seem to work as a series of single issues beyond the admittedly great debut issue.
Remender is also working with some themes concerning societal strife and tension that considering the world around us feels even more poignant and relevant. So while I was mostly uninterested in the main thrust of the story, I was put on edge by the scaffolding of the story. I’m dreading the final issues of this story more than anything.
A critic should never talk about what a story should do or shouldn’t do but I can’t help it. I want this to be a hopeful story. I want there to be deliverance. The seeds of Stel’s optimism has certainly taken root in this reader. So regardless of my problems with this particular issue, buy it and buy the trades.