Title: Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope
Series Title: Low
Authors: Rick Remender
Artists: Greg Toccini & Dave McCaig
Date Added: September 4, 2017
Date Started: October 25, 2017
Date DNF: November 8, 2017
Reading Duration: 14 days
Genre: Science Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Graphic Novel
Millennia ago, mankind fled the earth’s surface into the bottomless depths of the darkest oceans. Shielded from a merciless sun’s scorching radiation, the human race tried to stave off certain extinction by sending robotic probes far into the galaxy to search for a new home among the stars. Generations later, one family is about to be torn apart in a conflict that will usher in the final race to save humanity from a world beyond hope. Dive into an aquatic fantasy like none you’ve ever seen before, as writer Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Uncanny Avengers) and artist Greg Tocchini (Last Days of American Crime) bring you a tale mankind’s final hour in the cold, deathly dark of the sea.
Low is about the sun going super nova far sooner than expected, and humanity taking refuge beneath the waves, while sending probes out into space to search for a new home. It has more of a Rapture (BioShock) vibe to it insofar as there’s a city under the sea as opposed to SOMA’s derelict facility horror.
Per Remender’s foreword, the author was inspired by our sun’s eventual violent death, which will scorch the Earth beyond recognition (if humanity hasn’t already), and how if we don’t discover a new home among the stars (or a way to stop it), our species will be rendered extinct. While this time is billions of years away, it’s still a reminder that everything is temporary and nothing ever lasts: a recipe for nihilism if ever there was. Of course the ephemeral qualities of the universe could imbue it with meaning for some, though when you recall the nature of memory and how there needs to be someone to remember, this argument falls apart.
Coming off the horror high from SOMA and Bioshock’s narrative of corruption, I had (ironically) high hopes for Low since it seemed to combine elements of both. Plus I love future apocalyptic stories with religious symbolism, and some of the main characters had something called the “blood of Caine,” which endows them with the ability to use helm suits. Caine is the surname of the main family with Stel, the mother (who has “blue blood,” which I believe means more than the standard definition), taking center stage. If another character had fallen into this role, I might actually have finished the volume.
I really dislike characters who are unabashedly optimistic all the time even in the face of imminent darkness. I’m okay with making plans and trying to figure out what to do, but it’s just so unrealistic to hold onto unmitigated hope, and it makes them come off as childish. I agree with Stel that they need to at least try to retrieve the probe though, since the air they’ve been recycling for a thousand years is toxic and will eventually kill them all. If there’s some way to escape death, of course you should attempt it. Giving up in the face of a potential chance is just as detestable as irrational optimism. The whole reason the probes were sent out was to find an inhabitable world, but the leaders are just having orgies and wasting food since they don’t think there’s any point. It’s similar to what was happening in The City of Ember with the mayor, since none of the Emberites had any way of knowing there was a world beyond (which presents an interesting supposition. We now know that this planet is just one of many potential ones with life, but through the expansion of knowledge, it begs the question of what we still don’t know. Like the Emberites, we could be stuck in a cave, unable to conceive of what’s out there).
Stel’s eternal optimism only became more obnoxious as the story went along. This might be because I’m a realistic/pessimistic person, but it smacked of the “power of positive thinking” gaslighting that your thoughts shape the universe and therefore you’re responsible if bad shit happens to you (Just World Fallacy). My irritation with her only grew when she and her son Marik reached Poluma, one of the few cities left with breathable air, and it’s home to what appear to be human/animal hybrids. Stel had the audacity to display her bigotry about them! Thankfully, Marik calls her out on this, but a chapter or two before, he refused to pay a prostitute for her services, and since he was the equivalent of police officer down there, it’s even more concerning. I couldn’t care less about him using a sex worker’s services, but intimidating her afterwards and refusing payment is fucked up.
Neither main character was likable, and the ones who had the potential to be were sidelined in the story early on. I also found the art style very unpolished, but this judgment could be due to my love of Saga and how well done that was. It looked like Low was going or an ethereal style in a similar vein to Yoshitaka Amano (the artist for Final Fantasy), but it appeared less refined.
I declared it DNF not long after Stel displayed her bigoted views in Poluma, but I’m sorry I couldn’t get through it. Per the friend who recommended it though, later volumes are much better, so while I’ve called it quits on this one, I might dive into the others. The premise is something that both fascinates and terrifies me, since the ocean is horrifying, and if humanity ever must use it as a last bastion of survival, we are in dire straits indeed.