Friday, 24 April 2015

Low, Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope Review (Rick Remender, Greg Tocchini)


In his foreword (or “forward” as Marvel’s AVX would have it - I know, I know, let it go, let it goooOoOOoOoO), Rick Remender talks about his years in therapy and discovering how positive thinking changed his life. Once he started having a sunnier outlook he says he became a happier person, a better husband/father, and a better, more productive writer (the latter is certainly true - SO many comics!). The power of positive thinking. 

Good for him. But I would argue that he doesn’t need to write the following comic because it basically repeats everything he said in the foreword, to the letter! It informs the story far too much and should’ve been an afterword instead. 

Low is a dystopian sci-fi adventure (does Remender write any other kind of comic?) based around the inevitability of our sun eventually degrading and swallowing up the entire solar system. After tens of thousands of years, mankind has been forced to get LOW, hiding out in underwater cities as the air and environment on the surface became too toxic to sustain life. Meanwhile, probes were sent to every corner of the universe to find a suitable new world to colonise. 

Stel is a married mother of three and an eternal optimist. Her city has a handful of years left before the recycled air becomes unbreathable and kills them all but she holds out hope that one of the probes will send back the vital news that a new Earth has been discovered. Then she and her husband take their two daughters out - leaving their son home to tinker with some tech - to recover a probe that might hold the key to their salvation. Wouldn’tcha knowit, a dang pirate (yup, got pirates in the future too!) kills her man and steals her two daughters! 

Fast forward 10 years. 

Her son’s a pessimist (he’s got a LOW mood) but Stel remains an optimist (she’s got a HIGH mood) - together, they will save her daughters, find the probe for a new Earth, and save the world. The power of positive thinking. Is that phrase becoming repetitive? That’s LOW for you! 

Did you know if you thought positively, you can overcome anything? Even the end of the world? Even personal tragedies like losing your family in a day? This is the message of the book, first stated in the foreword and then repeated throughout with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. This is the structure of the comic: Stel is optimistic, talks about the power of positive thinking, and then someone throws pessimism/cynicism/realism in her face - and she overcomes it, continuing her mantra of positive thinking. Repeat ad nauseam. 

There’s a lot of weird beats to the story (and some might be considered spoilers so consider yourself forewarned). Stel has the body of an 18 year old rather than a middle-aged mother of three. I’m not saying it’s impossible but it’s crazy how she and her teen daughter - both in very revealing bikinis, a major, ahem, “theme” in Low - look like siblings rather than mother and daughter. Not sure if that’s down to future tech or underwater living or the power of positive thinking, but things seem to be good for ladies in the far future - unless you want to wear sensible clothes like the men and not pieces of tactically-positioned cloth! 

Instead of cocaine, the popular drug to snort is something called cream. Not having been much of a casual drug user I can’t say this with authority, but doesn’t powder seem better than snorting some thick glob? And then there’s the effects: besides the euphoria, it makes you think you’re a Roman centurion or something - why?! What a bizarre side effect to have!

I’m not really sure why Remender keeps referring back to the ancient world throughout the book. The orgy scene with the senator and the gladiator scene at the end all reference the Romans because, I suppose, he’s comparing this doomed culture to the fall of the Roman Empire? I’m not sure why this society - set tens of thousands of years in the future - is so obsessed with the Romans! It’s just another peculiar detail. 

Who’s the dude with the Rapunzel hair floating in the white void - Stel’s therapist? How does the pirate king survive being stabbed several times at once without dying or even being hurt?!

The characters are really difficult to root for because they’re so poorly created and unlikeable. Stel is a manifestation of Remender’s belief in positive thinking, an irritating hippy protagonist, rather than an even semi-real character while her kids are such little shits you don’t want them to be saved. Everyone else, including the pirate king, are all one-dimensional non-entities. 

Greg Tocchini’s art is pretty for the most part. The thick, painted pages can sometimes look a bit too marzipan-y for my taste, and he can’t do faces very well at all making it difficult to distinguish characters’ appearances unless they’re referring to one another by name. But sometimes you’ll get some pages, like when Stel and her son are swimming underwater taking in the colourful wildlife, that look simply amazing. 

Ultimately I wasn’t won over by Low because it’s more of an expression of Remender’s newfound belief in the power of positive thinking, above all else - character, story, etc. are mere afterthoughts to his near-dogmatic love of positive thinking. I didn’t think much of the uninspired world he created and never found myself sucked into Stel’s quest. Most of the time I was very, very bored with whatever was happening on the page. If you’re hoping for the same action-pacing of Black Science, be prepared for a much-less exciting read in Low. 

I give it a LOW rating, ha… ha… (head explodes from not enough positive thinking)...

Low, Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope

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