Low #12 begins a new arc, and what a departure it is. At long last Stel reaches the surface, and just when you think Remender is going to let up, he flips everything on its head again. Tocchini’s palette turns from the deep blues and purples of the ocean depths to the bright red and oranges that make up the deserted surface of Earth. The contrast is startling, no longer are we confined to domes and submarines, but with this new world comes a whole new set of challenges. After a harrowing climb from the ocean to the cliffs above, Stel and Zim finally crest the mountains and see what is left of the old world. Crumbling cities, smashed machinery, rocks, dirt, and sand become the new backdrop for what Stel has dreamed of her entire life. Despite the harsh scenery she is overjoyed, and despite the probe being a hundred miles away she doesn’t care. Her entire life has come to this moment, of reaching the surface, doing what couldn’t be done, and proving everyone wrong. Remender doesn’t let us sit long on this note of optimism, as Zim and Stel’s peaceful moment of breathing in real air is broken by voices.
Though the radiation on the surface is enough to kill humans without protection from pills or suits it appears that the thousands of years of radiated living have caused different life to emerge. Giant humanoid rats are returning home from their hunting trip, and we catch a glimpse of their civilization before hell breaks loose. Stel gazes down from their cliff side hiding spot at baby rat people hugging their fathers for bringing back such a bounty when from the sky dozens of bee soldiers called “The Swarm” begin to attack. It’s a massacre, and leaves the rats decimated as the bees fly off with rat corpses for their Queen. The entire scene felt out-of-place, and took me off guard. Maybe this was out-of-place for the human-run underwater worlds of Low, but in this arc it is obvious that humans no longer rule the surface and new species have evolved to take their spot.
I always liked how the sci-fi world of Low was populated with all sorts of strange humanoid creatures, mer-people, shark-men, and all different types of mutated sea folk. This was never explained, but makes it better, in the way that you know the entire series takes place on Earth, but it is an Earth so far in the future that it doesn’t make sense anymore. Perhaps this was unintentional, though I doubt it, but in this issue Tocchini’s art takes a strange turn. The first few pages of this issue align with his more subtle style, while in the second half the lines get thicker and the characters begin to look much more cartoony. Maybe Tocchini was having an off day, because in my opinion the art here gets a little sloppy, but then again it was a battle between giant rat men and bee soldiers, so perhaps it allows for a little bit of playfulness in the art.
In a moment of realization at the end of the issue Stel thinks how foolish humanity was that the world would just stop once they vanished from it. She thought that she could find the probe, find a planet that humanity could inhabit, and save the world. After the bloodbath that she just witnessed she knows that nature continued without them. The endless struggle to reach the surface is over, and just like that Remender pushes us into a whole new adventure. We thought we knew what was waiting for Stel on the surface, but we had no idea.
Low #12 Writer: Rick Remender Artist: Greg Tocchini Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/16/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital