“You can tell in a few seconds whether or not any given comic is a world you want to spend time in.”
Someone told me this recently over dinner, as we caught up and chatted about work and life and comics. I’ve thought about it a bit, because comics, unlike most other media I consume, have a way of creeping up on you. You don’t know how passionately you feel about a given comic you’ve been reading until you sit down to talk about it, and realise that it’s taken up residence in a corner of your brain, resonating with you at a low frequency, waiting for you to turn the dial just enough and everything clicks and you know exactly why you’ve been following this story from month to month.
“Low” is a book that I instantly knew I had to spend time with. I was sold from the moment I saw the first cover. But it wasn’t until several months later that I knew it was a favourite of mine, or that I cared about it so much.
A monthly comic book by writer Rick Remender and artist Greg Tocchini, “Low” takes place in the far future, long after Earth’s sun has expanded and rendered the surface of our planet uninhabitable. To survive, humanity retreated to the depths of the ocean while sending out probes in the hopes of finding another habitable world.
However, “Low” doesn’t actually kick off until thousands of years after all that. We didn’t find a new world, and we’re just about out of resources on this one. Humanity has resigned itself to a life of unrepentant hedonism for the upper class and bleak nihilism for the rest. Hope — for a better life, a better future, one where humanity survives — is such a radical concept that it has become a religion.
Stel, the protagonist, is a believer, a woman who has faith in the so-called “Delirium of Hope.”
She’s going to need that faith, too, because the story begins with her entire family being torn apart. In the heartbreaking first issue, Stel’s happy family encounters a band of ruthless pirates who kill her husband and kidnap her daughters, leaving her alone with her son, Marik.
She won’t find her daughters for years.
“Low” isn’t exactly a subtle book — it’s about a woman brought down to the depths of despair set at the bottom of the ocean, which couldn’t be more on the nose if it were called “This Is A Comic About Depression” — but there’s just so much it does right.
The first thing being the art.
Few books draw me in the way “Low” does, because few artists approach comics like Greg Tocchini. Tocchini eschews hard angles and straight lines in favour of a flowing, curvy line that gives the book’s post-apocalyptic undersea setting a life of its own. Accompanied by a rich and varied colour palette and an aesthetic that’s genuinely fresh and unique, “Low” is a book that makes you want to sink to its depths and root for Stel to defy all odds and rise again.
As a physical object, “Low” is also gorgeously designed and beautifully rendered. The cover art is consistently fantastic, the sort of thing you could stare at forever, and every element — from the title to the price to the back cover — is thoughtfully placed to provide a complete experience.
Writer Rick Remender is known primarily for propulsive high-concept science fiction on books like “Fear Agent” and “Black Science” (as well as acclaimed stints on Marvel comics like “Uncanny X-Force”) that, at their best, keep their sights squarely focesed on the characters at the center of their sci-fi bigness.
“Low”, however, might be Remender’s most personal work yet, but also his most accessible. It’s elegant in its simplicity, a cathartic excision of crushing despair that one feels as their world collapses around them and optimism becomes harder and harder to hold on to. Stel is defiant, if not downright foolhardy, in her faith in the future, even as more of what she loves is stripped away from her, even if every step closer to her goal unveils some new heartbreak. She continues to push on.
It works because sometimes we don’t need the heroes of our fiction to save cities or worlds. Sometimes we need them to just keep getting back up again. Sometimes we just need them to remind us that there is always hope.
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