February 26, 2014

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Undertow 1 (of 6)

Undertow 1
Created by Steve Orlando and Artyom Trakhanov
Written by Steve Orlando
Ilustrated by Artyom Trakhanov and Thomas Mauer
Image Comics

Can you imagine what it would be like to be an air-breather? Picture the strangeness if somehow your lungs had evolved to take in dry air, as opposed to the life-giving water that we all breathe. How would society evolve on dry land? It's hard to imagine, as all we've ever known is life beneath the surface, within the might of Atlantis, the greatest city in all the seas.

Ok, so none of that is true. But, after you take a look at Undertow you may be convinced that such a world exists (though you might not want to go there as it looks pretty dangerous).  Undertow is a new series that imagines an Earth that evolved very differently from our own; intelligent humanoids live beneath the ocean. Above ground, it's noteworthy that humans have only gotten to the point where they can use tools.

Our way into the story is a character named Ukinnu Alal. He joined the military to flee from his affluent, sheltered, boring Atlantean life. When we meet him, Ukinnu's group is under attack by the legendary anarchist and terrorist Redum Anshargal. The story then shifts to Redum's narration and perspective (the perspective shifts could be clearer here as I only realized on a subsequent read that we change narrators). Redum is the captain of a airship called the Deliverer; we see that Ukinnu has joined Redum's group who live free, exploring outside of Atlantean society.

There are dangers above the surface. We see in a dramatic vulture attack (which may not sound that scary but these are some big, mean-looking vultures). There's good tense back and forth between Ukinnu and Redum which teaches us more about the nature of Redum's ship and his goals (and we learn that there are over 5,000 people living aboard the ship). Finally, there's a group heading out into a mission to the surface of the world, looking for a legendary creature known as an "amphibian". This could be the key to enable Atlanteans to develop the ability to breathe air.

This is a great start to a series and is a jam-packed first issue. I understand this will run as a miniseries, but there's clearly a rich, complex world being created that would allow for more stories.* Visually, the storytelling is bright, strong and expressive, though there are a few places where the action is a little unclear (though this may reflect the chaos being depicted in scene).

The art reminds me a little of what Matteo Scalera is doing in Black Science, but in a rougher way.  There is an intricate, highly detailed and stylized look, and it's complemented by some stunningly varied, creative coloring. Thomas Mauer uses a rich palate of colors - under the sea, aboard different parts of the ship, and on the surface of the earth. It's all highly varied and helps the reader grasp the scope of the story.

The story shares another similarity with Black Science, in that the main character is a believer in science and free inquiry, and stands outside of and opposed to a corrupt, materialistic society. Science fiction is a great way to deliver social commentary along with cool ships and alien worlds, and though it's only one issue, it feels like the creators have something interesting to say about the costs and benefits of seeking freedom outside of society's laws and conventions (also, monsters). If you're looking for a rich, exciting new science fiction/action story, consider diving into Undertow.

*Editor's Note: Five Ghosts was also a mini that became an ongoing based on sales. This may be a way for Image to test run ideas, which is far better than the old way of just disappearing over time. -RobM