“Undertow” is billed as a “new pulp monster series” but it’s clear very early on in this first issue that it’s indeed a very shrewd look at our current socio-politic climate skillfully disguised as a pulp monster series. This is a statement comic that’s mixed with a spoonful of kickass sugar.
WRITTEN BY: Steve Orlando
ART BY: Artyom Trakhanov
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
RELEASE: February 19, 2014
The first issue of “Undertow” kicks off mid-action, dropping us in the middle of a battle between the militia of Atlantis and a rebellion. Atlantis is a world superpower—bloated, greedy, lots of first-world problems. Sound familiar? Orlando himself described his version of Atlantis as “fat and rich, an enormous metropolis driven by self interest and materialism.” So when Redum Anshargal, the leader of the Rebellion offers a young Atlantean, Ukinni Alal, the chance to join him and fight the corruption of Atlantis, Ukinni’s leaves his cushy existence behind.
The Rebellion lives aboard a watertight city barge called The Deliverer. They are currently on the hunt for an Amphibian in order to find a way to breathe air on land (they are confined to water helmets when not under water). In their minds, this is the way to complete freedom. It’s clear that this is a setup for a much larger problem and probably a realization that what they thought was freedom was only a start.
Initially it appears that “Undertow” is set in a prehistoric world, before caveman developed into Man. But upon further consideration, it’s quite possible that “Undertow” is set in the present or even future, and it’s an alternate reality in which Man never came to be. Atlantis is the evolved culture, and humanity is still nothing more than uncivilized beasts.
This comic flawlessly showcases an interesting juxtaposition of a high fantasy world we are completely unfamiliar with and a way of life we are immersed in. Orlando takes familiar aspects of our 21st century life like war, rebellions, and terrorism and mixes them with staples of the Millennial Generation. Things like overbearing parents, over privileged children, impossible political and career expectations, and even sneaking alcohol from your parent’s stash to get blotto on the weekends, to create a hyper-real existence that makes this fantasy realm feel eerie in its authenticity.
I’m impressed with Orlando’s ability to leave so many aspects uncertain without the reader feeling lost. For example, I’m not entirely sure whether or not the Rebellion is a good or bad thing. And it is not totally clear if Redum Anshargal has pure motives. Is he a hero? Antihero? Villain? While I am leaning toward Antihero, part of me feels like the rug could be pulled out from underneath us at any moment.
Intended to be a somewhat exaggerated mirror of our modern life and our modern consolations, “Undertow” definitely sets out to make the reader think. But it also sets out to entertain. This is a brilliantly crafted and illustrated comic. The pacing is quick but relentless and the characters are extremely multifaceted. Aside from any agenda, the comic stands strong on its own as a dystopian fantasy adventure.
Reviewed by – Bree Ogden