(Image Comics, 2014)
Written by Steve Orlando
Artwork by Artyom Trakhanov
Lettering/Design by Thomas Hauer
So I’ve been staring and staring at Undertow #1, and reader, I honestly have no idea where to go with this review. The concept of this comic is vast, grand, and well, awesome – but the presentation is jumpy, confusing, and frankly a mess. As I re-read this comic for what felt like the hundredth time, I kept asking myself how can something with such an awesome concept be such a mess? And then it hit me; it’s because of this concept that it’s a mess. Seriously, philosophers have been debating on this concept since people first came to this world. Of course it’s going to be a mess! How could it not be?
So at this point you are probably screaming at me “What is the concept of this comic?” One word for you, reader. One word.
Yep, you read that right. We are talking about the concept of freedom. And not just freedom, but what is freedom? Hence, my comment about the philosophical debate. The question “what is freedom?” is one of the few unanswered questions still in existence simply because it is unanswerable. The answer is different for anyone you ask. And we see this throughout Undertow #1.
Our protagonist name is Ukinnu. Ukinnu is a young man from a “utopian” underwater city (he’s basically what we would think of as an Atlantian). When we first meet Ukinnu, he is in the middle of fighting a battle with people who have dropped into the ocean from the world above (though they aren’t humans, they are other underwater breathers). As he is fighting, Ukinnu tells us about his life and why he left it and joint the army. He says,
I was delivered by a private doctor in my family’s penthouse in downtown Azu City. Governess, private school, business university – by twenty-two I don’t think I’d met one person my parents hadn’t vetted and approved. I enlisted to see something unapproved. That was one reason… The other reason? Arranged marriage. Trapped under a trophy wife. Office job, club dinners, kids by twenty-five, coasting on to middle age. War scared me less.
To some people, the idea of having everything taken care of, of never having to worry about what you are doing with your life is freedom. But to others, like Ukinnu, it’s his own private hell. He doesn’t live in a utopian world; he lives in a dystopian one. So when Redum Anshargal, the man attacking them, offers Ukinnu the chance to come with him and leave this life behind, Ukinnu takes it.
Now this is the point in the story where things get jumpy and confusing. New ideas and information are being thrown at the reader from right and left. But this is what I’ve been able to put together. Ukinnu is now living on a giant airship (which is basically a flying aquarium since they all breath under water) called the Deliverer. The citizens of the Deliverer all left their “utopian” cities in a search to find a life where they would be free. This quest for freedom is broken into two parts. The first is finding a suitable place on land to start their city. This is tricky though because the land is overturn by beasts… aka humans (and they seriously look like mutated monkeys). The second part is them looking for a way to be able to breath on land without their water suits (space suits with fishbowls on their heads). The comic ends while Ukinnu is with Redum Anshargal trying to find this mystic creature that can give them the ability to breath on land. I know, not the most exciting ending in the world, but it does hint at the action to come in the next issue. But honestly, it’s not the quest that is important; it’s the bigger picture that they are working for – a life of freedom. But what is freedom?
Ukinn tells us that he never got to make a single decision, so he left because it was the only one he ever got to make. However, the world on the Deliverer might not be that different from what he left. Yes, people seem to have a bit more choice, but everywhere you turn, Redum Anshargal seems to be calling the shots. Ukinn even hints that things might not be all that different. He says, “Anshargal was nothing like on the newsblasts. They made him a buzzwod, a dictator crewing his ship with hostages and slaves. Even if he was, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get out.”
And once again, reader, I find myself coming face to face with that question. That concept that made this comic so confusing – confusing because how can you write a comic series that is trying to answer an unanswerable question? Or maybe that’s the point. It’s an unanswerable question and if you try to answer it, you will find yourself living in a world of chaos. Does your head hurt yet? Well on that note, reader, I will leave you with the unanswerable question.
What is freedom?
Ali is a creative writer with an emphasis on Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Comic Books. She first fell in love with superheroes when they were used to teach her to read. When not practicing at her dojo or out seeing the latest superhero movie with her friends, Ali can be found curled up on the couch with her dog and a good book.