Low #19, the final issue of the fourth arc, was released on Aug 9, 2017. It’s been almost a year and a half since that comic hit the shelves and we’ve been waiting ever since for the series to pick back up again. I couldn’t be happier to report that the wait is finally over. Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s aquatic sci-fi apocalyptic love-child has returned.
Before we dig into the latest issue, I can’t stress enough that to properly enjoy this comic you need to start from the beginning. Respect the six plus years worth of work that has gone into making this story happen and read it the way it was meant to be read. This comic book is a labor of love, and I promise you’ll be quick to understand that once you’ve picked up the first volume.
As I said, it’s been a while since we last saw Low, so let’s quickly recap where things left off. Stel Caine, the matriarch of her family, devotee of hope, and the last hope for humanity had achieved the impossible: she traveled to the surface, survived the radiation-blasted wasteland, and found one of humanity’s long lost planet-seeking probes. Against all odds, she narrowly defeated the horrifying inhabitants of the surface and salvation for the few remaining members of humanity was finally in her grasp…until it wasn’t. Like an angel of death, a figure clad in one of the legendary Helm Suits descended from the sky, plucked the probe from Stel’s hands and crushed it before her eyes.
The issue opens with a recap that’s a bit larger in scale with regards to the entire series and all the major supporting characters. So after catching the reader up where the story left off, Remender begins “LAST EMBERS,” the first part of the final seven issues, much as he started the series, with pain and suffering.
We begin by watching as Stel is forced to relive the worst moments of her life in a jumbled chaotic whirlwind of overlapping memories combined with her worst fears imagined. There’s a touch of something here that’s as of yet an unknown guiding hand, but that doesn’t prevent it from steering Stel as she shifts from one horrifying reality to the next. Remender uses the words of this nightmare sequence to push the narrative back and forth between the two themes we’ve heavily experienced throughout the series: the refusal to quit that’s entwined with hope and the sweet relief that awaits those who simply stop fighting and give up.
When Stel finally swims out of her nightmare and breaches the surface, she finds herself still stuck on the other side of reality’s front door. Instead, she’s been dropped front and center as a spectator to a pivotal and cruel moment from her people’s past. It’s here that she comes to understand who her Helm Suit-equipped angel of death is and why he crushed the precious probe before her eyes.
There’s little to no action in this issue and over half of it takes place within Stel’s head. When we finally snap back to reality, Stel is immobilized and over the few remaining pages speaks with the newly revealed antagonists, who are easily the most dangerous to grace the pages of Low. So while the big revelation is really cool, this is still a very slow issue. But it really doesn’t feel that way until you actually process how little has happened. So while that’s very unexpected after such a long hiatus, I’m totally okay with it, but only because of how strong Remender’s dialogue was throughout. And the art — holy sh*t, let’s talk about the art.
Low is a stunningly beautiful comic book, issue #20 being no exception. The artwork was the reason I first decided to give the book a try. I remember how drawn to it I was the first time I saw preview work for the series. Greg Tocchini has a truly unique style that I’ve rarely seen emulated in other comics, with perhaps only David Mack possessing a similar watercolor driven style with Kabuki (but very different line work). Besides being unique, Tocchini is also extremely talented and this latest issue was so worth the wait. I’m glad he took his time, because it clearly helped enable him to deliver some of the most beautiful pages we’ve seen in Low thus far.
Hand-in-hand with Tocchini comes colorist Dave McCaig. Throughout the series his contributions have helped create emotion when dialogue was absent, and strengthen emotion when the dialogue called for it. In this issue I particularly appreciated his use of grey, purple and black with the antagonists, in contrast with the yellow, blue, and orange of the protagonists. Tocchini and McCaig are making magic together and we’re lucky enough to be invited to the show.
What a reintroduction to Tocchini and Remender’s world of Low. While the issue is rather slow and not much actually happens, it isn’t bothersome. You can read the comic three times over and still find yourself smiling at how beautiful the artwork is. And when the weight of what faces Stel and humanity sinks in, you can’t help but appreciate how amazing her journey to this point has been.
I’ve read this comic three to four times since I got my hands on my review copy and I can’t help but wonder if this heavily emotional and plot driven dialogue is a peek into Remender’s everyday headspace. The parallels between our world today and Low’s aren’t lost on me — the flawed ideology, refusal to look oblivion in the face and most of all, power behind words. Whether it’s a coincidence I looked for, or a subtle message from the creators, I guess I don’t really care. I’m just happy I get to experience it.