There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall where a young version of Allen’s character Alvy Singer is taken by his mother to the doctor. Young Alvy is depressed and has grown apathetic toward his 9 year-old responsibilities. His reason- the universe is expanding and will someday break apart into nothingness.
“He’s not doing his homework!” his mother pleads to the doctor.
“What’s the point?” Alvy responds.
Rick Remender taps similar themes in Low, his new creator-owned project with artist Greg Tocchini. Set in a sci-fi future where the Sun has expanded and threatens to scorch the entire Earth out of existence, Low tells the story of the Caine family as they search for new beginnings and grapple with the same questions of purpose Alvy Singer wrestled with in his Brooklyn doctor’s office. Why build anything, why strive for any meaning, when the world’s just going to burn up?
The status quo in Low’s undisclosed far-flung future is such that humanity has headed below the surface of the world’s oceans. The barrier of sea water acts as a shield from the Sun’s encroaching radiation, albeit a temporary one. Here, mankind hangs on to survival with the cosmic clocking ticking loudly overhead.
Stel Caine, the family’s matriarch and the emotional heart of the issue, studies outer space probes scouring the universe for a replacement planet. Her partner Johl is a hunter, the genetic inheritor of a powerful suit that allows for wrangling in giant squids (“mammoths” in the book’s future-speak). Their children include a foul-mouthed mechanically inclined son and two adventurous daughters slated to follow in their father’s footsteps as hunters.
The Caine clan is one part Swiss Family Robinson, one part Fantastic Four. There are a lot of tonal similarities with the families of Remender’s Black Science title. Mom and Dad try to hold down hope amidst an environment that is full-on bonkers. The children show remarkable maturity, intelligence, and drive. The dynamics aren’t entirely groundbreaking, but they feel real enough and are introduced to the reader without delay, which serves to ground the story and give it an emotional anchor among the various high-concept elements at work.
The world of Low is an interesting one, with a jumble of familiar elements tossed together into something new. There are Flash Gordon costumes, Phantom Menace underwater cities, and a backdrop of civil strife set against an environmentally-driven crisis that’s reminiscent of Superman’s Krypton.
Remender and Tochhini introduce pirates and hunters and allusions to a rich history of adventure leading up to the point in mankind’s history where the story begins. Remender goes full sci-fi mastermind here, and the world building feels comprehensive. There are enough tantalizing hooks laid out to make it feel like the depths of this future are worth exploring further.
Tocchini’s character and world design is inspired. His fluid style and bold color work make a great fit for the bizarre sci-fi seascape. His work is especially striking during the book’s intense conflict scenes, with theatrical lighting painting the stage and strong emoting brought to life in the character’s faces. Renegade pirates clash with the Caine family in full minor-chord drama, and the impact feels immediate, moody, and intense. Tocchini gives the reader a lot of variety throughout his pages. No two panels look alike, and each portal into this weird underwater world feels alive.
There is a healthy amount of R-rated T&A in the book’s opening pages. It all looks rather beautiful rendered by Greg Tocchini, but dovetails in an odd way with the family-centric story that dominates once the action moves out of the bedroom.
Low #1 packs a lot of world building and character into one issue. Rick Remender tackles some similar family-in-crisis territory as his other recent work, but his focus on mother Stel Caine and her unyielding vision of hope against all odds (and the odds are daunting) is a fresh spin for the writer. Tocchini’s line and color art is some of his best work to date, cleaner and more refined than his Uncanny X-Force issues yet still maintaining his uniquely sketchy, swirling style. Dense in written and visual drama, the world of Low is worth taking a plunge into.