THIS REVIEW OF ‘LOW’ #20 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. When a book is missing off the shelves for a long time, it’s common to find oneself hoping for its eventual return. Once the book finally returns and you dive into those fresh panels, you get to find out if your hope for the series will be rewarded or dashed.
Such is the case with Low, the deliberately-paced Image title from Rick Remender, Greg Tocchini, Dave McCaig and Rus Wooton. This week saw its return from another hiatus, delivering its twentieth issue almost four-and-a-half years after its debut. And while the series itself might be a sobering, often bleak examination of the double-edged sword that is hope, each new issue has continued to buoy my optimism for the series as a whole. Low #20 is no exception, serving as a gratifying reward at the end of another long wait.
After the latest break between story arcs, it was important for Remender to find a way to ease the readers back into the story, and to help us get reacquainted with his protagonist, Stel Caine. To do so, he frames the broad strokes of the entire series thus far as a fever dream/hallucination, which drives home Stel’s sense of guilt and fear and gives the audience a clear focal point through which to reconnect with her. It’s brutal and heartbreaking to relive all of Stel’s failures and hardships in this elemental manner. Just like that your heart is right back in Remender’s vise, just where you left it at the end of issue #19.
From there, the book segues back into the real world of his story, to explain the cliffhanger from #19 and introduce us to another fascinating new wrinkle in this world. Through this new threat to Stel and her quest, Remender furthers the series’ thematic concern with the concept of hope. In the past, he has examined hope as an inspiration, as an alienating force, and as a destructive mirage; now, he considers hope as an accelerant, something that enflames dangerous instincts in the belief that the end result will balance out the related destruction. It’s another dark turn for an unapologetically bleak comic. Low escalates the stakes just in time for its finale.
While Remender’s scripting continues to be effective, the gorgeous artwork from Greg Tocchini and Dave McCaig remains a real standout for this series. They are doing much darker work here, as befitting this particular moment in the story. Throughout the issue, more and more of each page is given over to pitch black, with minimal panel framing and often a lack of a discernible background. This stark change of pace from the cold, murky blues of the ocean and the blistering red-oranges of the surface world feels like a deliberate reflection of Stel’s frame of mind– and the perspective of the series’ newest villain.
Rus Wooton’s letters play smartly against what Tocchini and McCaig are doing, particularly in the early going; the almost art deco-esque font that he uses for SFX stands out as sleek and modern against the panel work, and much of the captioning is colored with a greenish-blue color that recalls the ocean backdrop of the series that is otherwise largely absent in this issue. It’s this sort of quality work, even on the micro scale, that helps Low to be as successful as it is.
Then there’s Tocchini’s quality layouts, particularly during the opening stretch of the issue that depicts Stel’s hallucination. He lets his art flow from moment to moment in the fluid way that dreams usually do, whipping Stel (and by extension the audience) through this disorienting, frantic sequence of events that is nevertheless cohesive and functional. He also uses a lot of double-page spreads through this portion of the issue, often for emphasis of the most emotional, challenging moments. As is usual with Low, the art belies a great deal of forethought underneath the impeccable style, and Tocchini deserves a lot of credit for that.
The tight focus of Low #20 leaves a lot unexplored. The fate of the rest of the cast, including Stel’s daughters and her gladiator companions, has yet to be revealed, never mind what’s happening with the underwater cities and the new threat they have to worry about. Now that the series has refocused on Stel and her emotional arc, I’m curious how other characters will be brought back into the fold… though knowing Low they will probably arrive in heartbreaking fashion.
With Low #20, Remender & Tocchini’s series continues to be a vibrant, vicious examination of the concept of hope. Paired with McCaig and Wooton, the seamless, gorgeous final product builds on that theme to challenging effect. And while the hope these characters cling to remains an uncertain (and very possibly misguided) thing, Low affirms and reinforces our own with this successful return issue.
Written by Rick Remender.
Art by Greg Tocchini.
Colors by Dave McCaig.
Letters by Rus Wooton.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this six-page preview of ‘Low’ #20, including a variant cover by Matteo Scalera, courtesy of Image Comics!