Review: “The Underwater Welder” Is An Early Contender For The Year's Best Comic Book

Review: “The Underwater Welder” Is An Early Contender For The Year's Best Comic Book

In a tight economy, it's not always clear what you should spend your hard-earned money on, and with comic books getting more and more expensive, your dollar doesn’t go as far at the comic shop as it did in the past. We here at Complex feel your pain, so we're providing you with a rundown of the best comics coming out on July 25, 2012.

Written by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)

Follow @ComplexPopCult

The Underwater Welder

What it’s about: For most casual comic book fans, the name Jeff Lemire is synonymous with DC’s Animal Man, Justice League Dark, and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. But for the more hardcore breed of readers, Lemire is the man who brought poignant works like Essex County, Sweet Tooth, and The Nobody to life. For these books, Lemire didn’t depend on preexisting superheroes in order to craft successful stories; it was more about honest storytelling and themes that touched upon the real world. And that’s exactly what Lemire captures again in The Underwater Welder.

Like most of Lemire's previous work, the story here is fairly simple: As his wife prepares to give birth, an underwater welder begins to have visions of his father on the anniversary of his death. This simple premise is driven by the main character of Jack as he begins to dive deeper and deeper both physically and metaphorically into his own past. This is a richly-detailed story with characters that are all deeply flawed and undoubtedly human. It’s a tale of love, loss, and guilt—the trio of themes that basically drives every memorable narrative in fiction, as well as our everyday lives. 

Lemire puts realism and nostalgia on a collision course. The way that Jack wants to view his past is constantly at odds with how his life has actually unfolded. He is a man stuck in the same town, with the same job, refusing to grow up. Sprinkled throughout the story are Jack's visions of his early relationship with his father, a bond that might not be as perfect as he remembers. One moment, these flashbacks are like a Norman Rockwell painting, but the next they're as dark as a bleak Ingmar Bergman film. His refusal to grow up and break free from his self-imposed shackles of fear is almost heart-wrenching to watch, mainly because we've all experienced it ourselves. 

Lemire both wrote and provided the art for this story, a two-sided undertaking that ensured his vision never got lost in translation. His illustrations are all done in black-and-white with the bare minimum of superfluous detail or pencil lines. Similar to his writing style, Lemire is intensely focused on storytelling with his art and leaves all of the needless bells and whistles out of it. This makes the events of the story look like they are happening to real people, as opposed to the glossy denizens of the comic book world. He also pulls out some impressive two-page spreads and panel layouts when necessary that serve to enhance the story, not distract from it. 

The Underwater Welder is like nothing else you will read this year. It’s incredibly heartfelt and emotional with a few life lessons sprinkled throughout that you might be able to learn something from. The prospect of a 200-plus page comic book about a family drama might seem intimidating, but once you pick it up you’ll wish it never ended.

B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: Exorcism #2

What it’s about: In the first issue of B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: Exorcism, we witnessed Agent Ashley Strode tasked with purging Ota Benga’s body of a demon in order to save the life of a little boy in Indiana. Unfortunately, this is uncharted territory for the rookie agent, and traveling inside of the soul of a 154-year-old priest to fight off a malicious demon might not be the safest way to prove herself to her new bosses.

What to expect this month: As usual, writers Mike Mignola and Cameron Stewart waste little time getting things moving as we’re literally thrown right into Ota Benga’s soul from the first page. It’s not really the plot of this book that guides the action forward, but rather the character of Ashley Strode herself. She has an intoxicating personality that we would love to see more of from Mignola and Stewart. And through the span of this issue she evolves so much as a fully fleshed-out character, which is hard to do given the story's short length.

Adding to the great characterizations is Stewart's art. Having worked on so many different books over the years, Stewart is the master at seemingly any mood a story throws at him, but we think it’s the bizarre owl demon in this issue that might be his most unique design yet. It’s as well-crafted as it is random. adding a slight bit of humor to an otherwise straight-laced plot.

There are times when these short B.P.R.D. miniseries feel like they need more substance, and that’s a problem that we have with this one as well. But Exorcism still manages to be a worthwhile read despite its relatively thin nature.

Manhattan Projects #5

What it’s about: With an eye towards tearing down everything we've learned about U.S. history, Manhattan Projects takes a sci-fi/fantasy look at the group that constructed the atomic bomb. Instead of portraying these men as brilliant future-thinkers, writer Jonathan Hickman makes his characters a collection of maladjusted sociopaths with multiple personalities, drinking problems, and all-around evil intentions. And after they make first contact with an alien species, all hell breaks loose.

What to expect this month: It’s not often that we get to see the twisted twin brother of Robert Oppenheimer shoot an alien through the head and proceed to eat its brains, but, then again, there’s a lot of stuff in this issue that we thought we'd never see. Hickman brings Manhattan Projects back to form after the somewhat disappointing fourth installment by focusing on the title’s manic humor and lofty, if not peculiar, sci-fi ideas.

It’s still a mystery to us just where the plot is actually headed, but Hickman is in the process of building a world here, and this issue regains its mojo by putting the spotlight on the deranged twin brother of Robert Oppenheimer, Joseph. Towards the end, Joseph’s intentions become clear as we get a look at how he will attempt to impose his will on society.

Artist Nick Pitarra turns in perhaps his best Manhattan Projects issue yet as he is able to illustrate some of the most cartoonishly gruesome comic book pages we have seen in a while. Whether he’s illustrating dozens of aliens melting into puddles of green and blue sludge, or the homicidal gleam in Oppenheimer’s eye, Pitarra draws everything in perfect harmony with Hickman’s writing. If it's not on there already, Manhattan Projects is a book that needs to be on your radar.

Exile on the Planet of the Apes #4

What it’s about: Set before the events of the original movie, Exile on the Planet of the Apes is Boom Studios’ latest Apes miniseries, and it continues to carry on the socially conscious plots that its predecessors showed off. This series focuses on a human rebellion against their ape overlords. But this time the humans have the help of some disgraced ape commanders at their service. As the battle looms, this series concludes in bloody fashion.

What to expect this month: All hell breaks loose as the apes and humans go at it in an epic showdown. Corinna Sara Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have written a script that simultaneously carries on the flavor of the original Apes movies but modernizes the world these characters inhabit. There is destruction and mayhem everywhere in this issue as the human/ape conflict has finally boiled over in the infamous Forbidden Zone.

In the thick of the action, though, we’re still given little character moments that help make this story more than just a series of senselessly violent images. But where this issue really succeeds is in the art by Marc Laming who is able to give us climactic war scenes and an epic scope usually only found on the big screen.

If last summer's impressive blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes reinvigorated your interest in the franchise, we suggest you pick up this series from the beginning. It’s about as good an Apes story as your going to find until the summer of 2014 when the series returns to theaters.

Written by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)

Follow @ComplexPopCult

Tags: top-shelf-productions, dark-horse-comics, image-comics, boom-studios, bprd, manhattan-projects
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