BCP Group Review – Undertow #1 (Image Comics)

undertow-01Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Artyom Trakhanov
Release Date: 19th February 2014

In what’s fixing to become a regular feature here at the Big Comic Page, we’re going to start looking at certain titles as a collective (like the Borg, but sexier).  With interesting or unique projects, sometimes it’s worthwhile getting a few different opinions in order to gain a wider view of the book’s appeal.  And, as you can see from our reviews below, that’s definitely the case here.  So take a look and see what our review team made of Undertow.

Chris N says…

Rarely have I seem a new title manage to so completely and engagingly fill in its internal universe within the confines of its first issue, while also offering teasers of a great many compelling possibilities and the hint of a long term arc.

The artwork is vibrant and colourful, excellently conveying the exotic environment you’d expect from a prehistoric tropical ocean setting, while the surface sections really convey the heat and dryness of the surface.

One thing that really impressed me about Undertow was the way it takes standard tropes and turns them on their head, with aquatic protagonists putting on water helmets to explore land, an alien seeming and futuristic society placed in our own distant past.

Intertwined with classical themes that never fail to be effective such as the charismatic rebel leader, the wayward son, journeys into the unknown and hints that both the Atlantean society and our glorious commander might not be all they seen, this title could easily be one of the most compelling new releases of 2014.

Visually striking, interesting setting and a potentially compelling plot. What’s not to love?

Rating: 4/5

Blair Says…

I normally like to start my reviews by giving the reader a little synopsis detailing what the issue in question is actually about. Unfortunately for Undertow #1, I’m not entirely sure I know myself…

 The opening sequence to Undertow #1 is strong, dropping the reader in the middle of a battle…who this battle is between, I’m not too sure. There is violence and death all around, but the artwork does not enter into gore at any point by keeping detail to a minimum, with mass clouds of blood in front of bodies with no actual wound present. This action is accompanied by a narration that describes the young life of …someone.  The fatal flaw in this beginning was that the chosen white panel writing against the underwater background was at times particularly difficult to read, for me anyway.

The Undertow character designs must be praised, looking half human and half amphibian. It is a shrewd design that is one of this issues strongest attributes.

At times this issue reads like pages from several different comics pulled in to one, each bizarre situation followed by another bizarre situation with seemingly very little connecting them…like a series of Monty Python sketches with the jokes removed pulled together to make an episode of Downton Abbey.

This issue has both confused and intrigued me, I won’t give up just yet, this comic may be worth it in the long run…

Rating: 2/5

“Hoff” Says…

I have to say that sadly, I was quite disappointed with this comic. I felt the story had promise and the concept – though in a lot of ways similar to Scott Snyder’s “Wake” mixed with a little Aquaman – was going to be an interesting read. I guess it was interesting, but only because I was pretty much lost the whole time while reading the issue. I’m still not exactly sure which character was the narrator of the story and in all honestly who was who altogether.

In terms of writing, I thought the story was good and that the plot points were delivered well, but felt that the artwork sort of the left the reader in a state of confusion. I understand the technique that was being used to allow the reader to discern that the majority of the story took place underwater, but the choice of colors really made it difficult to distinguish one character from another. The scenes that took place on the surface were done well with the variety of colors and crisp landscapes, but even then the Atlanteans in the suits were still hard to distinguish one from another. The whole initial fight scene had me utterly confused and flipping pages back to see if I missed something. This wasn’t explained well in the story and as I mentioned, the color choices used did no good at all helping me try to decipher what exactly was going on.

I have the basic idea of the concept down from the comic, which is good, but I still have many, many questions as to what exactly is taking place. There, from my guess, is two types of Atlanteans the “safe stay in our world and follow our rules”, and the “let’s explore everywhere we can and see what the world has to offer.” And these factions if you will are at odds with each other. This is just a guess, however – as I said, I’m a little fuzzy on all the details even after more than one read through. Negativity aside, I’m still curious to see what transpires in the next issue just to see if it begins to answer some of the questions raised, or whether it leaves me even more in a state of confusion wondering exactly what I just read. In my opinion, leave this on the shelf this week at your local shop and wait for a Trade to come out so that you can read it all at once. Maybe done in that fashion the story will make sense and Undertow will be worth the read.

Rating: 2/5.

James Says…

Undertow drowns the reader in this confusing yet original first issue. It chucks you in the (groans) deep end and is content to do so. There is so much going on that orienting yourself is an impossible mission. The art is scratchy and pulpy and striking but it’s tough to make out what is going on and why. Yellow skies and murky waters, underwater battles with strange races and unfamiliar weaponry confound and baffle. Character differentiation is tricky and you join the story with so much unknown lore and history that it’s impossible to grasp.

The story is intriguing with bits of narrative floating around and the dialogue is solid. It’s odd – the creative team are probably quite chuffed with themselves and I’m sure this is close to the effect they intended. This could be something special after a few issues when it, you know, makes sense.

Rating: 3/5.

Chris B Says…

I went into this book knowing a grand total of nothing about it, and I think the only negative thing I can say is that having now read it, I don’t know that much more. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The book is easy enough to follow, it just doesn’t show all its cards at once. Steve Orlando has created a world which we are thrown headfirst into, with no background and I think this helps add to the mystery of the book, we don’t have a why, a where, or a how (yet) but I’m not sure how important they actually are to the progression of the story as this one seems primarily about people and their apparent quest to find “the amphibian”. Oh yeah, and the “people” are Atlantean and have the opposite of a respirator to survive on land.

The art direction is reminiscent of Riley Rossomo’s work on Green Wake, with a scratchy, frantic feel to it, giving it a fast paced look without seeming unfinished. The muted colour scheme also adds to the depth of the book, though at times makes it difficult to ascertain which character we are looking at but does help add a fluid feel to the rougher art style.

Overall this is the kind of book I enjoy reading, it has mystery and doesn’t give it all away in the first issue just to catch peoples attention. I do think it failed to hit the mark slightly in character development, as I’m not entirely sure if I care who survives. Its a solid first issue, and I’ll be picking up future issues, if only to get the rest of the story.

Rating: 4/5.

Joe Says…

A solid concept with some nice design work is let down by some muddy storytelling in both artwork and script.

A young Atlantean soldier narrates his first combat experience: his platoon is assaulted by a craft from the surface, and the ensuing battle is bloody and chaotic. It’s also hard to tell who anyone is. The narrator character is indistinct from everyone else and it’s hard to tell who is killing whom and for what reason. To add to the confusion the narration is picked up pages later by a different character who also goes through a confusingly staged and hard to follow action scene.

It’s a shame because the concept – technologically advanced Atlanteans roam prehistoric Earth – is intriguing and design elements like the water masks worn by Atlanteans on land are great. It’s just all a bit confused (and confusing) in this issue.

Rating: 2/5

Jules Says…

For someone who can’t swim, I’m a sucker for underwater stories, so Undertow would have to mess up pretty badly for me not to find something to like.

Fortunately, some slightly unclear storytelling at one point aside, it doesn’t do too much wrong.

Opening in the middle of a pitched-battle, Steve Orlando drops the reader right into the world he’s created with no explanations or background info. The battle feels like a Vietnam firefight, short and brutal with the enclosed space adding to the horror of the situation. It’s disorienting but effective, leaving us to slowly piece together what’s happening as the issue progresses.

The story is told in the first perspective from two points of view, a raw young recruit and the weathered General-type who recruited him, their internal monologues building up a picture if the restrictive Atlantis-style society that they have both rejected in favour of exploration of the prehistoric surface world.

The switch between narrators isn’t telegraphed, with only a change in font colour to draw attention to the difference, which is slightly jarring, but it’s a minor criticism of what is a well-crafted story.

Artyom Trakhanov’s art is perfectly-suited to the story, rough and organic like deep-sea plant life, with the colour palate a rich blend of greens, blues and purples.

Undertow is only a six-issue mini, but if the other 5 instalments are as strong as this, I’d like to see more.


Rating: 4/5.

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