Undertow continues to delight and intrigue, ratcheting up the tension and hitting readers with a big reveal that raises as many questions as it provides answers.
Redum Anshargal’s Amphibian-seeking away team has been missing from the Deliverer for two days now. In his absence, the rebels are becoming restless. Shouldn’t someone go and look for him? Or should a new leader take his place?
As Anshargal fights his way through an endless barrage of human surface-dwellers, it seems as though it’s his quest that will be his undoing rather than the plotting of the Atlantean government, which has been trying for ten years to kill him. But then an unlikely saviour jumps up to save Anshargal and his crew.
Undertow is a comic that warrants repeated readings. It is a nuanced, well-crafted story that doesn’t insult its readers with moral judgements. You have to really read it – sifting through it properly and asking yourself, ‘What are they trying to tell me here?’ To do anything less is an insult to it. It assumes you are intelligent and treats you as such.
Don’t let that put you off, though. You can come to Undertow as a fully fledged idiot and still have a good time. There is fighting and monsters and cool Atlantean councils – all the pretty things that keep you in a story. Writer Steve Orlando and artist Artyom Trakhanov know how to dance with their readers; the rhythm never skips a beat.
But still, the scope of this series is such that reviewing single issues seems pointless. I read Undertow and suck in a sharp breath because it is so spectacularly ambitious. A writer who cites Mikhail Bulgakov as his inspiration is unlikely to want to give you a surface comic.
It has depth, similar to the ocean in which the Atlanteans live. And being the surface-dweller I am, I find myself drowning in the deep at times, struggling to raise my head above the water to place exactly where I am in it all. But that’s no bad thing. I need to be scared sometimes. I can’t only read bloody Batman for the rest of my life (sorry, Bruce).
Which brings me to my next point – the big reveal in this issue. Guess what? I don’t read solicits. And the reason I don’t read solicits is that I like my comic books to happen to my eyeballs. What is this thing among the comic book community of needing to know the contents of a publication before they read it? Never really got the point of that.
So, I had no warning of what was coming, and I have to say that I fell out of my seat. I really wasn’t expecting The Amphibian to appear so soon. I thought the whole reason for Undertow was some Greek quest for this ‘creature’, but I was wrong. And I have to say I am glad of it, because that would have been boring and obvious. Steve Orlando is devious and I like it.
Artyom Trakhanov is one of the best things to have happened to comic books in a long time. The art on Undertow is amazing. He puts a real emphasis on faces; they are the element around which the panel is constructed. Go and take a look and you’ll see what I mean. It reminds me of icon paintings – they focus your attention down to a single, hypnotic point. And just like an icon, his panels are beautiful and unsettling at the same time.
Bring on #4, I say.
Steve Orlando (W), Artyom Trakhanov (A) • Image Comics, $2.99, April 23, 2014.