Low #21 (Image Comics)
Writing - 7/10
Art - 8/10
Overall - 7.5/10
User Review( votes)
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Rus Wooten
Editor: Sebastian Girner
Cover B: Andrew Robinson
Production: Erika Schnatz
Publisher: Image Comics
Maturity Rating: M
Release Date: April 10, 2019
After being captured and put in captivity by the Helms King, Stel Caine is forced to choose between rescuing the domed city of Salus and her own newfound happiness. Will Stel again become a martyr for her own lost cause or will a promise of rebirth offer her a fresh perspective?
Exploring the Burnt Dome in Low #21
Thousands of years ago humanity fled the surface world in order to escape the harsh radiation of the sun. They built colonies deep beneath the ocean waves and for centuries attempted, in vain, to seek out new planets that could support life. That is, until Low #21. Until Stel Caine, widow of Johl Caine, the last Helmsman of Salus, successfully crashed a probe into the surface world above.
But while attempting to retrieve the probe, Stel and her pirate companion Zem are captured by a hauntingly familiar foe, calling himself the Helms King. Now, after months in captivity, Stel must come to terms and choose between saving the domed city of Salus or embracing the happiness of her newfound surroundings. Unbeknownst to Stel, the Helms King has erected an army to eradicate the remaining domed cities; an act of long sought-after revenge against the Caine family for their abandonment all those millennia ago.
Low #21 is yet another “establishing” issue put forward by Rick Remender. As the foundation continues to build, we’re introduced to a few new characters as well as provided with some supplemental history and perspective on the Burnt Dome itself. Stel and Zem are almost complete non-factors. Instead, the story focuses on Jae; a “Burnt” scientist assigned to study and care for the two Salusians. While it isn’t clear yet exactly how she’ll factor into this final arc, I’m predicting that it will be Jae who helps Stel escape the Burnt Dome and return to Salus.
One of the great things about Rick Remender is his ability to craft incredibly strong and empowered female characters. We don’t see enough of this in comics. In a long line of characters accredited to Remender, none embody those traits better than Stel Caine. Throughout the entirety of Low Stel has had one unwavering, uncompromising goal: rescue the domed city of Salus and reunite with her family.
With that said, I have to say that I found it trite to see her completely abandon her principles and her faith after just a few weeks locked up in a bio-dome with Zem. Stel at no point has ever behaved like a “maiden in distress”. She isn’t pining for lost love. She’s an acolyte, a Messiah; an eternal optimist and a survivor. The relationship with Zem just doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, Zem was Marik’s best friend at the time of his death. It’s kind of creepy to throw him in the sack with Stel. I can almost hear Fountains of Wayne singing a clever refrain of “Marik’s mom has got it going on.”
Since the inception of the series, Greg Tocchini has never shied away from pushing boundaries. He’s an artist who’s become emboldened in his craft over the past five years; and just as his confidence grows, so does his stylistic ability. In Low #21, Tocchini weaves a deeply impressionistic tapestry that creates an almost interactive quality between the reader and the words on the page. It’s almost as if he’s communicating in symbols, opting to build his world in the minds of the audience rather than be restricted to what can fit on a panel.
As much as colorist Dave McCaig must respect his partner’s talent, on some level he must just hate him too. I mean, where would you begin? How would you even attempt such a daunting task? Just more evidence to support the thesis that colorists are the true unsung heroes of the comic book industry; and McCaig is that and more. When I think of all the incredible detail that would be lost without his brilliant pastel palette, the fact of the matter becomes clear: Low is not Low without him.
Rick Remender isn’t always my favorite writer; he isn’t always the best storyteller. But what he is and what he’s always been able to do is convey himself as one of the most honest, introspective, and philosophical comic book authors alive. Remender bleeds his characters and it shows. They truly are fragmented representations of his own personality; his insecurities, frustrations, and ideals. Remender’s consumed by the human condition, by ethics and morality. Constantly challenging readers to seek out their own interpretation of “the good” rather than succumb to the pressures of what society thinks we’re “supposed” to be. He’s a rebel, an anarchist, and a true orator for the “anti” establishment.
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