*Warning – Spoilers ahead!*
Throughout the huge body of work that Rick Remender has produced over the years, I will always remember the tragedy of Flash Thompson in Venom. It was the first time I had truly read a comic that was so personal and cared deeply for its central character. It was moving, it was unforgiving and most of all it hurt, because Flash hurt. This incredible ability to induce empathy took Remender on many journeys throughout many titles, some may have missed the mark but most were great science fiction tales or troubled personal turmoils. Low is a book that fits into the latter group and where it focuses its turmoil most is upon the family unit. And in classic Remender fashion, he tears them apart.
Low is unlike most books in that it reads as specific chapters, glimpses in time of a story that almost appears disconnected. This effect promotes the pertinent themes of the comic at the cost of some plot exposition, but the overall narrative remains quite precise. If you combine this with the extremely diverse set of underwater locales and costumes, drawn by the ridiculously imaginative Greg Tocchini, then the aesthetic of this book is phantasmagorical of the highest order. If you invest the time, the rewards will reap so much more than you sow and you will struggle to find better books out there. At the very least you wont find a comic that takes such a unique angle to storytelling and artwork that is found in the most futuristic of science fiction. I think now might be time to talk about Stel.
Mrs Caine is a woman that has seen loss and pain almost everywhere she has travelled. In the very first issue her husband was murdered and her twin girls abducted. She raised Marik to become an immoral, incompetent and despondent young man in a world prophesised for destruction. There is almost no positivity in this book and when the evidence that there is life on the surface of the planet comes to light, Stel and Marik embark on their voyage of hope. The journey took them into a pit of depravity known as the city of Poluma where they find the captive sister Tajo. The redemption of Marik was impressively handled as he gives his life to rescue his sibling, but the mother’s guilt only deepens as a petulant Tajo destroys Poluma in a fit of rage and vengeance. She ventures off to find her twin abandoning her mother who in her grief finds solace in trying to reach the surface. On her journey she is accompanied by two of Marik’s kinsman, a crew of sorts that temporarily became her family. All this in just nine issues of comic books…
Stel’s story is told through the people around her and this particular issue sees many of the supporting and enemy cast pressurise her. The enemy mother who is fending for her child tries to convince our protagonist to allow her young to feed on her blood. She provides the counter arguments to Stel’s motivations for her family with a harrowing discourse on the failings of caring and the lack of appreciation her family have for her. It is here that Remender tests the metal of his heroine as the feeding process leads to memories of her lost husband delivering the same diatribe on unconditional love. Even her crew who are indebted to Marik for saving them enter a suicide run to rescue Stel, giving further potential sacrifices to bear. It is pitched in such a way that life would almost be easier if it was Stel that was the one that dies. This issue in particular chips away at Stel in so many ways that her resilience is not just tested but broken.
The will to continue when all is lost appears to be close to Remender’s heart, as Stel’s monologue is so guttural and painful that it could only come from a real period of self reflection and actualisation. It is only through a period of heartache and pain that provides the opportunity to truly see oneself and what is important. As Stel talks about those memories of her children she holds on to, her failings as their guardian and mother serve to taint and scar. Those driving forces become the heavy rocks to drown her as she tries to keep her head above water. Rick produces the most simple and beautiful constructed sentences to convey these feelings, and it is inspiring how he finds the words to give Stel the absolution she needs to carry on. It took me a long time to understand why this comic was called Low, but it is the feeling that resonates throughout all of the issues. I find myself once again recoiling at the sheer agony of yet another beautifully tortured soul, looking to Rick Remender to take the pain away.