December 30, 2015

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The Evocative Optimism of Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us


Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us
Written by Rick Remender
Drawn by Greg Tocchini
Colored by Greg Tocchini and Dave McCaig
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics


Low may be the best comic that Rick Remender is writing right now because it feels like it’s the book he’s been able to really remove himself from. Set in a futuristic, underwater world where the sun is on the verge of going supernova, Remender and artist Greg Tocchini’s vision of the future still revolves around one basic unit; the family. In the first volume, “The Delirium of Hope,” we saw a family torn apart. Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us watches the mother Stel trying to salvage what she can of her mission to save humanity after the loss of her own family while it also follows her estranged daughters as they try to find each other again.

While Low takes place under the seas of the Earth, Remender, Tocchini, and colorist Dave McCaig create these separate yet distinct worlds. Tocchini’s art has never been used better to so completely define an environment. Even as the story takes occurs in an underwater setting, Tocchini’s art doesn’t necessarily reflect that part of the environment. The characters and the objects in Low V2 have a weight to them that’s more solid than characters swimming or diving actually have. What Tocchini and McCaig really capture is the pressure and murkiness of the oceans. What could be at times a muddiness to his artwork (see his Last Days of American Crime or X-Force work) here defines the atmospheric forces at work in this story.


More than the physical pressure of the book, Tocchini creates an alien world. Tocchini’s designs build these foreign places and fashions out of the ocean depths. In the decadent cities and untamed wilderness of Remender's story, Tocchini’s artwork create these environments that are so otherworldly. Low is a book that reflects back at us the strangeness and immorality of a world without hope even if hope is what keeps the main character moving forward. The sun is going to go supernova so let’s party like it’s 1999 or 9999. The cities and fashions have this lushness and wickedness to them that’s only understandable if there are no thoughts or dreams of a possible tomorrow. And outside of those cities, the untamed seas hide unsuspected dangers.

Remender is at this interesting period where his books are focused on families or the lack of them in our lives. While this goes back to his X-Force run and even Fear Agent, the concentration on the sins of parents and children in Deadly Class, Black Science, and Low starts to form this compelling thematic unity between his work. Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us follows the story of Stel after losing her son and finding and losing one of her two daughters on her quest to find another world for humanity to colonize to save itself. The first book was about the many ways you can lose a family and Volume 2 is about the void that develops in people in the midst of those losses. 



When we were introduced to Stel, she was such an optimistic woman. And that optimism still exists in her but this second book works to establish it more as part of her religion. It's beaten and bruised but it's still there.  Optimism as belief sounds inviting and that was one of the many ways that Remender was getting out of his own way in the first book. The earnest cynicism that drips off the pages of Black Science and Deadly Class are so tied into Remender’s own experiences according to his text pieces in those comics that he couldn’t let those comics stand on their own. In this age of Image creators filling up pages with text about where their comics came from and what their comics mean, the writer forces his audience to accept the work as him or to just outright reject him altogether. If you don’t understand Deadly Class, you obviously don’t understand Rick Remender. But you don’t need to read Remender to explain how Deadly Class was a reflection of his own misspent youth to understand that Remender is as sad and lonely as you are. If anything else, Remender undercuts the power of his story in Deadly Class by making it explicitly about him in a text piece when he could easily have avoided that all together and let the readers discover the story through the comic pages and Wes Craig’s artwork.

But optimism is not something that you associate with Remender. Low V2 is a story about mothers and daughters so that is another way that fairly or not that the story becomes a bit more distanced from Remender and it’s so much stronger for that. Stel is this character who was so defined by her desire for her family in the first book that her story in the second volume becomes more about the separation from the idea of a family. The void at the heart of Low V2 works differently than the same void in Remender’s other works because of the optimism, however weak it is, that exists in these characters. Stel and her daughters are facing troubles and hardships that seem to be just parts of Remender’s usual bag of tricks but the way he has these characters approach their difficulties feels so different than his more obvious self-interested storytelling.