Best of 2012: Underwater Welder: Time…and the Radiant Heavenly City
I think we likely place too much emphasis on our “top ten” comic books of the year, as obviously with the thousands of comics out there in any given year, there is a much bigger difference between the cream of the crop and the bad books than there are between the best books. So rather than giving honorable mentions in my Top Ten Comics of 2012, I will spotlight a few of my favorites through New Year’s Day. – BC
I have always loved that quote from Alan Moore and J.H. Williams’ Promethea. “Time…and the Radiant Heavenly City.” I thought of it when reading Jeff Lemire’s hauntingly sublime graphic novel Underater Welder, which tells the story of a man haunted by his past so much that it dictates what he does in the present and, perhaps, the future (and, in an odd turn of events, perhaps even the PAST, as well).
Jack Joseph is 33 years old, the same age his father was when Jack was born. Jack’s wife is in the final trimester of her pregnancy with their first child, a boy. Jack lives in the same town where he grew up and works as an underwater welder on a rig near the city. His father was a diver who often searched for “treasure” and drowned years ago on Halloween when Jack was a boy.
Jack is drawn to the water and his father’s path in life and it clearly weighs on his wife. After all, his wife is soon going to be having a baby and Jack is going off to work on a rig for a few weeks!
While Jack is working on the rig, though, something weird happens. He begins to hear a voice saying his name…
This sends Jack adrift as he deals with his unresolved feelings over his father’s death. The watch plays a key role.
Jack is driven. There is SOMEthing in the water that will tell him what really happened to his father. He knows it. Even if it is tearing his marriage apart (much like how his parent’s marriage fell apart) he is driven to find the “truth” out there in the deep…
As he explores the deep, Jack goes on a journey into both the past (where he visits himself as a child) as well as the future.
At the heart of the comic is a man who feels that he is tied to a certain path in life that he can’t avoid no matter how hard he tries. He cannot escape this town and this life, even if it ruins his life and turns him into basically his own father.
Can he break free of this? Can he break free of that description of himself? Jack Joseph, underwater welder? If he doesn’t, he will likely lose everything.
Lemire makes a point to not explain whether these are hallucinations or actual visits to the future and past, but I don’t think it really matter either way, as the key is what it does to Jack’s mind and soul, not whether it actually happened.
Lemire’s artwork captures the extremely haunting nature of the storty very well.
This is a powerful tale and you find yourself as a reader drawn into Jack’s underwater spiral and you can only hope that Jack is able to pull himself out of it, for both his sake and your own as a reader who has grown attached to the guy.