Strong characterization and lush world-building are hallmarks of Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s new sci-fi epic from Image.
For many people, hope is an elusive, often arbitrary concept. In an era full of Machiavellian conspiracy theories, environmental catastrophes of biblical proportions, and violent conflicts around the world, it’s sometimes difficult to be an optimist. If the Kardashians’ continued success isn’t an omen of the End Times, then what is?
The point being there are a lot of crappy things happening in the world that make it hard to view the proverbial glass as anything but half-empty. Just ask Bruce Jenner.
Thankfully, Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini have once again joined forces to chronicle one woman’s seemingly endless supply of optimism in the face of certain extinction, in Image Comics’ latest high-concept “inner” space opera.
Exploring many of the same themes as the publisher’s previous hit sci-fi epic Saga, Remender and Tocchini’s Low is another attempt to juxtapose the epic with the intimate, following a family torn asunder during what appears to be the long, bleeding sunset of humanity’s existence.
Set thousands of years in the future, beneath a dying Earth, Low examines a society pushed to the brink of extinction and one woman’s apparently inextinguishable hope, even in the face of her own family’s imminent end.
In Stel Caine, Remender creates a deeply layered and complex protagonist who acts as the perfect vehicle to explore his futuristic mythology. Her devotion to her family – and the rest of the dwindling human race – is admirable, but it is her unbounded optimism, her ability to see hope even in the most dire of circumstances, that really sets her apart from many sci-fi heroines.
Sure there have been strong female leads in science fiction prose and comics in the past, but none hold a candle to Stel’s relentless optimism. It’s a refreshing spin that helps to underscore the tension between the epic fall of humanity and the intimacy and love a mother and wife feels for her family.
Less sprawling than the aforementioned Saga, Remender’s far-future setting is by necessity a much more claustrophobic place than the fantasy-laden universe of BKV and Staples, although it’s no less alien, thanks in large part to Tocchini’s ethereal artistic vision. Much of the world-building here falls to the talented artist, who employs a decidedly Euro-centric design sensibility to achieve Low’s distinctive visual tone.
There’s a gritty eccentricity in Tocchini’s depiction of this society on the edge that helps to showcase how alien human culture might be thousands of years from now. If some of the faces appear a little muddy during the action sequences, he more than makes up for it by realizing a stunning amount of empathy in the comic’s quieter emotional beats.
Despite all of these positives, does Low have enough unique components to distinguish it from works such as Saga? As I’ve just proven, the comparisons are certain to happen, and the answer will be, for most people I think, up in the air. Until we’ve seen another issue or two, it will be difficult to determine if this series is a success in the mainstream.
Then again, who knows what the future holds? There’s always hope.
Rick Remender (W) , Greg Tocchini (A) • Image Comics, $3.99, July 30, 2014