Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. This week, Courtney assesses the debut of ‘Saltwater’, by Rick Quinn and Dana Obera, available now on comiXology from Aurora Comics.

Cover to 'Saltwater: The Anarchy of Water'. Art by Dana Obera/Aurora Comics

Cover to ‘Saltwater: The Anarchy of Water’. Art by Dana Obera/Aurora Comics

By Courtney Ryan. In just twenty-nine breakneck pages, the inaugural issue of Saltwater manages to not only submerge readers in an entirely credible underwater universe, it artlessly raises the stakes for a character we’ve only just met but can’t help but champion.

That’s not an easy feat, nor is it easy to pull off that kind of immediate success without threatening to at least run out of steam down the line. Yet that’s exactly what Saltwater does, and at this point the story could probably go in several dozen different directions and it would be a thrill to follow any one of them.

We begin immediately, tossed into the water alongside Sera Tàwiq, a bitter orphan with zero future prospects yet an imposing amount of ambition. Since the murder of her revolutionary mother, she’s been relegated to Corroded City, a subaquatic slum where slaves spend lifetimes below the sea, mining precious metals in order to keep the surface city V’Lkesa afloat in a universal economy that seemingly spans several planets. For Sera, the only alternative to this reality is desperate chaos and a thin chance of survival.

Anyone familiar with dystopian fiction (that’s you, comic book-review reader) knows the genre usually goes from grim to grimmer before anything ever improves, if it does at all. The ugliness of human nature, it turns out, is everywhere and can’t help but at least attempt to snuff out every last drop of hope from even the greatest optimist. Luckily, this dystopian tale’s protagonist isn’t an idealist and for her, violent nihilism is better than digging for rocks underwater the rest of her life. It’s actually quite liberating, from time to time, when a character has nothing to lose.

An independent production, Saltwater is wholly conceived of and executed by Rick Quinn and Dana Obera, Quinn taking on both writing and lettering while Obera handles everything else we see. Appropriately, Obera washes the pages in gemtone watercolors, creating seamless fluidity between panels while mirroring Sera’s contemplative stillness that precedes sudden, swelling action. Life amid water and tyranny is felt here as much as it’s observed. He also demonstrates a real deference toward the enslaved underclass by sharply defining the characters and locality of Corroded City in more nuanced detail than in the presumably more splendid V’Lkesa.

Quinn strikes a fair balance between backstory and character development without sacrificing any suspense. He does this by allowing us to feel privy to Sera’s intentional thoughts and memories, but guards any recollections or thinking that ties too closely with her feelings. This lends us the thrill of sitting squarely behind the corner of the ring, but for a match with 50-50 odds.

Saltwater: The Anarchy of Water is visceral, it’s tragic, it’s affecting, and it’s beautiful. It’s a good read and a solid introduction to a dystopian sci-fi series starring a fierce protagonist against a vividly harsh backdrop.

Aurora Comics/$1.99

Script and letters by Rick Quinn.

Art and colors by Dana Obera.

You can read ‘Saltwater: The Anarchy of Water’ over on comiXology now.