I do my best to refrain from using obscenities in these reviews because I like to adhere to some imagined standard of professionalism, I’m like that, but man did Low test my limits of not swearing in these reviews. I easily could’ve just replaced this column with the most colorful profanity I could think of along with the word “hate” a few hundred times for good measure and it would’ve gotten across my feelings about Low as well as anything I’m about to say here.
Low comes to us courtesy of rising comic star Rick Remender who was guilty of the abysmal recent Captain America series (seriously the best thing about Sam Wilson being the new Captain America is that hopefully Remender actually likes Sam Wilson as I’m pretty sure he hates Steve Rodgers) and is also the man who brought us Uncanny Avengers which I really liked till it devolved into a nihilistic kill fest that ate its own tale, turns out that was foreshadowing for Low. Actually Remender has stated in interviews that Low is meant to explore the futility of human existence so already we have a great premise for a comic though clearly Remender took the philosophy of “existence is pointless” to heart when it came to putting actual effort into Low.
See despite what it may seem I actually don’t think that futility of existence is an inherently poor subject to explore as it’s been done very well by a lot of very good stories such as On The Beach, Quintet, No Country For Old Men, and arguably Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the difference is that all of those are actually arranged into a meaningful commentary whereas Low is content to wallow in its own misery. Actually that’s not quite true; Low doesn’t just squat in its own angsty nihilistic filth, no it has to rub the audience’s face in it as well but enough time wasting onto the portion of the review that is the review.
Despite the excellent cover Low isn’t about anything related to Miyazaki esc small children befriending robots or Bioshock esc small children defended by strange deep-sea diving monsters but I will say there is an interesting set-up if nothing else. It’s the future or possibly an alternate time line or dimension (it’s not made clear) where the Earth has been completely flooded and the remaining humans live in a giant dome artificial island city thing. There’s a lot of poorly conveyed back-story and set-up that makes up the first 2/3rds of the issue that, from what I can make out, seems to indicate this is a distant future where the sun is expanding and the human race is seeking a new home while trying to survive on the high seas. To survive they send out hunter submarines with those big bathysphere divers to kill various mutant sea life for food.
But then things get even stranger when they mention how the bathyspheres have to be piloted by the descendants of Caine (yes the biblical Caine who killed his brother Abel) making me wonder if this is meant to take place in the same world as Noah. Also magic exists in this world…we don’t even have the time to get into that, or to touch on why Image felt it needed 2 aquatic adventure comics. The focus of the book is the only remaining descendants of Caine: a family of 5 with the militaristic hunter Daddy-Caine, the optimistic scientist Mommy-Caine, the pacifist engineer Son-Caine, and the daughters Caine, they exist.
The narrative revolves around the daughters’ first time out on a hunt with their mother and father when at the very end of the comic a massive armada of pirates who brutally maim the parents, steal 1 of the daughters and the super powerful mech-suit, supposedly the greatest weapon ever created, and sink the submarine to the bottom of the ocean, then the comic closes things out with narration that amounts to screaming “WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?!” classy Low.
Okay real fast everything wrong with this in no particular order: there’s too much techno babble, which absolutely strangles the books momentum. The artwork is obnoxious, manic, and cluttered with far too many sketch lines muddling every scene so it’s always really hard to tell what’s going on. The exposition through dialogue makes the dialogue come off stilted and unnatural far too often and leaves major plot points like the actual history and setting or who the villains are supposed to be completely unanswered. The villains have no personality or characters they’re just a bunch of anonymous dorks who show up to brutalize the people you’ve come to actually kind of like, they may as well have been the care bears for all we actually know about them aside from how cartoonishly evil they are.
This has nothing to say about nihilism, fatalism, optimism, or the human condition beyond rubbing it in your face that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I get that this is the point but that’s a completely empty goal for the narrative, why bother investing in the story when you know the mission statement of the comic is to punish the heroes for the crime of being moral and likable? This isn’t a story about accepting the futility of clinging to outdated traditions as a security blanket in the face of unavoidable death like On The Beach or how the caveat that nothing matters can make the most innocuous of things like a simple board game into something of monumental importance like Quintet or a commentary on how time and chance are the duel equalizers of mankind like No Country For Old Men or an exploration of escaping the horrors of reality through madness like Brazil; it’s misery porn plane and simple.
It’s a hateful little story that takes a demented glee in its own mean spiritedness, it’s glad to make you feel awful for having read it with barely contained jubilance at punishing its main characters in a manner you don’t usually find outside of Hostel. It’s the kind of comic that makes you question why you read comics in general when one can be made with so little skill or meaning. I’m not against bleak things in comics or having bad things happen to good people in comics or nihilism in comics but it has to have a point, the whole point of Low is to try and make you as miserable as possible while reading it while saying exactly nothing; not recommended.