Low – Trade Waiter

low2-gregtocchiniLow inhabits a strange dark future. The world looks like a kind of inverted Mad Max, where the future is trapped underwater instead of stuck in the desert and, while the setting is specific and engaging, this is not a quiet atmosphere story.

The book plays at full volume and it’s more than worth listening to.

The emotional wallops hit like a hammer. Writer, Rick Remender is a student of the kill-your-darlings school of writing or at the very least the rip-out-their-eyeballs school. The book is dark, sexy and gross at times, maybe immature — but the stakes matter. It’s not wallowing in filth just for its own sake.

Tocchini’s art calls back to the classic 70s art style of sci-fi paperbacks, rendering underwater future babes and horrible sea monsters with aplomb. The art suggests more than it details. The style’s more painterly than what you might associate with a tech-heavy future and that keeps the art from being as accessible as a more traditional comic would be. But it’s that same strangeness that makes the art remarkable.

At the same time, there’s a lot of leering at women in this comic. And, in fact, here’s a lot of leering at women in most of the good comics that come out, can we figure out what we want to do with that? Why is every female character a buxom babe? I mean, I know why, but why can’t we have women in books that aren’t models. Beautiful women are compelling to look at, I get that, but when we narrow the range of women’s depictions in comics to that narrow band, we lose the people they can potentially be. The rejoinder that male characters are hyper-muscled, as well, is simply not true. Comics always have unattractive, or fat men to serve as the butt of jokes, maybe that’s not great representation either, but at least they’re in there. This is not just a problem in this book, it’s a problem in the medium. And let me be clear that I’m not campaigning for censorship. Comics should be about sex, they should cover the full range of the human experience. It’s just that there’s a limiting, sameness about women in these books. Again, the problem is not any bigger in Low.  Low should probably be congratulated for being willing to give so much narrative time and weight to its female characters, but I won’t pretend I didn’t notice the stereotyping.

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Low grapples with the theme of cynicism and its consequences without coming to the pat conclusion that we need to be cheery. In fact, there’s a critique of “The Secret” and other manufactured optimism as worldwide panacea pseudo-philosophies.  The character who quickly becomes our only remotely sympathetic protagonist, has a relentless optimism that borders on delusional and almost seems psychotic given her bleak circumstances.

And this book is as relentless as its protagonist. You’re never sure if it will get a next chapter. All the plot and character and incident explode onto the page. The story goes for broke, actions have big consequences and there is no stolid static status quo.  Characters change, succeed and fail.

Low moves.

The world is full environmental disaster novels. But this sees through a different lens and presents a unique point of view. It’s explores complacency and how that can be simultaneously toxic and intoxicating. That makes it easy to relate to. We all struggle with apathy.  I just hope none of your lives are as tragic as the ones in as this book.

About Casey Brazeal

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