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The Underwater Welder

The Underwater Welder - Jeff Lemire, Steve Wands, Chris Ross, Brett Warnock, Chris Staros Eerie and moving at the same time. I know it's been said a million times before, but Lindelof's sentiments in the foreword are absolutely on the money: Underwater Welder is "the most spectacular episode of The Twilight Zone never produced." It has all the classic black-and-white fever dream feel as the best of episodes of The Twilight Zone combined with insightful characterization. In many ways, I can see how Lindelof would gravitate toward this type of story. Believable characters thrust into unbelievable situations that help them work through their problems to become more complete human beings - it's a hallmark of Lost at its very best.

Lemire writes brilliant subdued dialogue and weaves a layered story that gets peeled away in strips. The structure promotes the mystery and compels the reader to learn more about Jack's past and the demons that haunt him without being obtrusive or heavy-handed. It's a story of subtlety that begs re-reading to see all the nuances you missed when the picture was incomplete. There's enough closure and grounding in reality to make this a believable story, and just enough of the fantastic to pull at the mythological and magical heartstrings we expect in the best traditions of allegorical growth - the confrontation of self and inner courage central to the transformation of the main character writ large in the environment around them. We all have a tendency to think of our private struggles as somehow epic - tied to the fate of others and our environments and that is what Lemire captures in this volume. Rather than an over-all elliptical telling, Lemire has many tiny ellipses embedded within the volumes of the story. There's a cadence to sections of the narrative and a repetition that drives certain hard truths home, especially when the structure is quite suddenly broken, to tasteful and dramatic effect.

The style reminds me of I Kill Giants, but with more maturity and subtlety - not that that is in any way, shape or form a jab at that particular graphic novel; it's fantastic. The art work is phenomenal in its full black and white glory - minimalist and shaky, as unsure of itself as Jack himself is. There are moments when Jack's sketchy lines and hollow cheeks parallel his father's scraggly image and the progression of Jack's visual transformation meshes nicely with the revelations about his (and his father's) character.

Lemire is a master storyteller. What ordinarily would be a trope or stylistic cliche in the hands of some less imaginative writer end up being subtle and nuanced in his. One gets the impression that this is what many other authors strive for, but seldom get right. High praise, but certainly deserving.