Atlantis isn't exactly a new locale for comics (or fiction), but UNDERTOW has turned that mythical city into its own. In a clever but straightforward inversion, Steve Orlando has brought us an Atlantis that is more civilized than the surface world (but not without its civil problems). UNDERTOW is part adventure, part political drama -- and the evolving chase for the Amphibian suggests that it's going to evolve into something even more thrilling.
UNDERTOW is a treat to look at; I'm not very familiar with Artyom Trakhanov's work, but I sure plan to keep up with it. There's a classic feel to the art, and even if the book hadn't been solicited with the word "pulp" in its marketing copy, I'd probably land on that as a descriptive term. The linework has a rough quality that seems fitting to a deep-sea story with some grit to it; there's a dirty imprecision there that seems intentional as a tone-setter. (This ain't Ariel's undersea, if you know what I mean.) I'm loving the color palettes, and fascinated by the way the undersea is lit and toned.
I'm also entranced by Trakhanov's ultra-detailed fantastical creations; Atlantis is a playground for a clever designer, and he fills the world with a variety of machines and structures that are truly unique to the world. Everything is new (to us) because this Atlantis is new, but nothing seems out of place. Especially clever: the way oxygenated helmets are depicted (the inversion is spot-on, and looks incredible). The Atlanteans themselves are strikingly different from humans; they're not so far off that none of the characters are relatably humanoid, but there's a difference in facial structure that serves as a reminder that we're dealing with something otherworldly. It's a great balance, and I think Trakhanov hit just the right note with his character designs.
There's a lot packed into this first issue, and sometimes it verges on too much. I found myself flipping back a few pages here and there to make sure that I had read what I thought I'd read. It's not a big enough concern to turn me off of the series, but I'm hoping things tighten up now that we've been introduced to the world.
The free-floating captions were a risky choice, and sometimes they just don't work; they get lost against certain panel backgrounds, and it's hard to keep track of white text on pale turquoise. I appreciate the design decision -- it's bold, and interesting -- but I think it works best when the background art isn't overly-detailed or colored too lightly.
UNDERTOW is intriguing, partly because it's giving us a fresh angle from which to experience a sci-fi/adventure comic, and partly because it's packed with fascinating visuals. It's clever and modern in its scripting, but has classic pulp notes artistically, and the combo works well. Atlantis is something we know by name but see differently in this book -- it's a hotbed of political intrigue, ripe with story possibilities. We're thrust directly into a raucous search for a mythical monster, all in the name of science and rebellion, and if this first issue is any indication, UNDERTOW is yet another solid selection from Image's science-themed set.