Low, the new high concept series from Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini (who previously worked together on Marvel’s Uncanny X-Force), creates a world in which the sun, in the throes of going nova, has forced humanity deep into the seas to escape the increased radiation, where they await the results of probes sent out into space to locate habitable worlds (we’re meant to assume this is all taking place on Earth, and an authors note from Remender in the back of the issue suggests as much, but it’s interesting to note that this is never made explicit in the story itself, and there’s nothing that says this couldn’t all be taking place on some alien planet). As the first issue opens, thousands of years have passed with no response from the probes, and the underwater cities have dwindled to just a few, with resources running low.
From that concept Remender drops us into the lives of the main protagonists, husband and wife Johl and Stel, and that’s where Low really shines: the characters. Both Johl and Stel are incredibly well-rendered: within the opening pages, we almost immediately gain a deep understanding of who they are (Stel, the optimist, Johl the pragmatist), what their relationship is like (gentle teasing but built on genuine feeling) and how they approach raising their children (Johl wants to shepherd them into their family legacy, while Stel, fitting her general outlook, would prefer to see them given wider opportunities). Set against the backdrop of fantastic underwater cities, talk of familial destiny, and deep sea pirates, the character work Remender & Tocchini do with the Johl and Stel keeps things grounded, giving readers something to care about beyond the intricacies of the concept or twists of the plot.
Tocchini provides fully painted artwork for the issue, and at times, it sacrifices clarity for beauty (a far too common problem with painted comic art), muddying the visual flow of the narrative or rendering the characters hard to distinguish from one another via any means other than height or relative placement. But for the most part, his work is routinely gorgeous, lending an effective alien-ness to this undersea world and, like the characterization, helping the overall setting feel fully realized, like an actual, lived-in place.
All told, Low #1 is a strong introduction to a new and fascinating world. But it’s the strength of the characters, ably aided by both the writing and the art, on which the issue succeeds, and which helps set it apart from similar high concept series.