I first read The Underwater Welder during its initial run in 2012. Since then, whenever I passed it on my bookshelf I would remember what Damon Lindelof wrote in his introduction. He called the story, “the most spectacular episode of The Twilight Zone that was never produced.” So when I saw it up for review last week, I took it as an opportunity to find out if my memory matched what was on the page. IDW’s new edition doesn’t add anything new to the book, nor does it need to, this book is as eerie and beautiful as I remember it. The story centers around Jack Joseph, age 33, who, on the cusp of fatherhood, begins to see strange things as he works as an underwater welder off the coast of Tiggs Bay, Nova Scotia. What happens next is a strange tale about love, responsibility, memory, and family. Jeff Lemire has created a fantastic cast of characters, each of whom feel genuine and governed by real fears and emotions. This is a mind opener of a comic, one of those rare pieces in the vein of Daytripper or I Kill Giants that reminds readers how much can be explored through the medium. It infuses a bit of fantasy into an otherwise normal reality.
Black and white and issued in a single volume, this work epitomizes the writer/artist comic. The panel layouts are subtle, relying on size, placement, and tone to tell the story. The key is in the small details in between panels, the relationship from panel to panel and the exchange from page to page. The style of page design and panel layout is something you will rarely see in a two person creative team. Not that I don’t have my favorite creative teams, but when you see something of this caliber, you can’t help but feel like the creator just sat down and wrote the comic in one sitting. It feels that organic and natural.
As for the art in between the panels, Lemire’s pencils and inks are brilliant, albeit, if all you read is superhero comics, it will take a little time to adjust to his style. Sketchy and more free form than most, he still retains a great sense of setting and facial expression. For instance, more than a few of the dramatic scenes in the story take place underwater. I’m convinced Lemire created this book just so he could draw these murky scenes. His loose lines create an eerie atmosphere, making the protagonist’s time below the sea mysterious and surreal. His style is a unique gift to those looking to get away from the “house styles” that seem to be becoming more and more prominent on the stands.
I think it’s fitting that I write this review upon my second reading of this book. The story deals with the concept of memory and how our perception of events can have a dramatic impact on our lives. It reminds that sometimes you might not like what you see when you glimpse into your past, but what you can learn when you look back is always worth the struggle.
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The Underwater Welder Writer: Jeff Lemire Artist: Jeff Lemire Publisher: IDW/Top Shelf Price: $29.99 Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital