It’s been a while since I’ve written a solid comic book recommendation, so to get back into the swing of things I’ve decided to write about an Image Comic series that I’ve been enjoying for some time now. The series I’m going to talk about today is a tale about the struggles of a mother and her unrelenting optimism in the face of an unforgiving world. I’m talking, of course, about…
If you couldn’t already tell from some of my previous recommendations, specifically the one on Tokyo Ghost, I absolutely love Image and thoroughly enjoy the work of Rick Remender. Remender is the author behind many of my favorite series including Tokyo Ghost, Deadly Class, and Black Science, but I’m going to focus on Low today because it is a comic series that reflects the difficult balance between hope and depression that many of us are feeling within the current state of the world; especially here in the US.
Before I dive into the work itself, I’d like to start off with an excerpt from Remender’s introduction to the first trade volume of Low:
“Being pessimistic by nature, this was a challenge. The workbook my therapist had me doing was all about optimism and reminded me of a book an old friend gave me: Illusions by Richard Bach. When I was about 25 years old, and thinking of leaving my job at 20th Century Fox Animation to go do comics, this book’s ideas about how optimism and conscious thought can shape reality compelled me to just quit my job and give it a try.
Now I realize that in fifteen years I’ve never once written an optimistic character.
This led me to develop Stel Caine, the eternal optimist who holds out hope against all odds. A perfect fit for this far-future tale of humanity at its lowest point. A perfect character to examine the notion that it’s not what happens in life that defines us, but how we choose to deal with it.”
This consistent flux between pessimism and optimism is the core of this series with the main character, Stel, being a constant beacon of hope. The premise of the series is that the sun has expanded to the point that it is getting closer and closer to devouring the Earth; something that is a definite reality in the real world. With this expansion, the sun has irradiated the surface of the Earth making it difficult to inhabit, so humanity built cities underneath the ocean in order to avoid the radiation while they probe and search for an Earth-like planet in another solar system. Centuries pass and humanity has yet to find such a planet. The central characters of the series are the Caine family and their ever optimistic matriarch. Stel, despite there being no concrete evidence to support her, believes that there must be a planet for humanity somewhere. The majority of humanity has given up on this hope, including her husband, but Stel spurs her and her family onward as they use there scientific prowess to continue probing and searching for an escape.
I don’t want to give anything away, so I will just say that this book gets incredibly depressing and the Caine family endures near unbearable hardship. Stel’s husband, Johl, comes from a long family line of Helmsmen who are underwater hunters that utilize advanced mech suits. The Caine helm responds only to their bloodline and this powerful technology makes the Caine family a large target for some unsavory individuals who lurk among the depths of the ocean: raiders, scavengers, mercenaries, and so on. The title of the series couldn’t be more accurate. Low not only corresponds to the literal depths to which humanity now inhabits, but to how far both human society and the Caine family have fallen from where they once were. Regardless of how far they’ve fallen, however, Stel is always looking toward the light. She believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that her family, along with humanity itself, will find away out of this unforgiving situation and learn to heal.
Remender’s writing and world-building throughout this series is stellar as he juggles all the anxiety, pain, loss, pride, desire, and hope among its characters. He also does an exceptional job of showing that Stel’s optimism, while insightful and often inspiring, can also cause a lot of pain and anger for other characters, mainly her children, who have lost their will to be hopeful. Coupled with this great writing is artist Greg Tocchini’s beautifully aqueous illustrations. His art style here perfectly captures the feeling of life underwater with line work that is less defined in order to give characters and the world around them a sense of constant fluidity. And just like Remender’s writing plays with the balance of optimism and pessimism, Tocchini’s art plays with a wonderful balance of bright and bleak colors that show how the aquatic life can be both vibrant and yet unrelentingly dark.
The series does eventual explore life above the surface as well, but it is far from the paradise humanity is hoping for. That is all I will say about that since I want to keep this recommendation spoiler-free. Overall, Low is an emotionally heavy, powerful, and inspiring science fiction series that is worthy of your time. If you are looking for a sci-fi series that sets the foundation of its world on events that could realistically happen, Low is the comic for you. Remender and Tocchini have crafted such a potent futuristic vision that speaks to a delicate balance of hopelessness and aspiration that so many of us continue to tread within during our daily lives.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and pick up the first volume of Low today. It is a beautiful, harrowing, and powerful series that should be experienced by any comic book or sci-fi fan.