The Underwater Welder

Jeff Lemire (Essex County, Sweet Tooth) recently released this original graphic novel through Top Shelf to great acclaim, and while I did enjoy it, I feel like it may be a little overpraised. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof puts it well in his introduction: The Underwater Welder is like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. It is the story of Jack Joseph, a diver who works on an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. His very pregnant wife is frustrated that he seems to be pulling away from her when she needs him most. Jack is haunted by the loss of his father – also a diver – twenty years earlier. When Jack finds an object deep in the ocean that appears to belong to his father, he finds himself forced to choose between dwelling on the past and his future.

The Underwater Welder is certainly not a bad book. Lemire has a great, idiosyncratic art style that is its own class of Canadian folk art. As a writer, though, I wonder if he is just best suited to short stories. For all of its ambition, The Underwater Welder feels somewhat slight to me, as if it was once a story of Essex County that got promoted to a longer treatment. Lindelof’s comparison to The Twilight Zone is apt and complimentary, but it is also a bit of a curse, because not every episode of The Twilight Zone was solid gold; sometimes it felt like a bit of a formula. So, too, does The Underwater Welder.

That said, as a native of the area, I did enjoy Lemire’s vision of this small Nova Scotia town and would be happy to read more stories set there. Lemire’s tone and output as a writer reminds me of George Elliott (the Canadian author, not the Victorian pseudonym) and the American writer Sherwood Anderson; pretty good company to keep.

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3 Comments

  1. If you like Lemire, you really should try Animal Man. It is the best New 52 series (along with Blue Beetle).
    What makes Animal Man special is the way Lemire deconstructs the superhero mythology. For example:
    1) Superheroes tend to monopolize the attention of the reader, while Animal Man is constantly upstaged by the supporting characters of the series.
    2) Superhero comics usually don’t give much importance to the private life of their main character (they tend to focus only on the “costume on” part); in Animal Man, on the contrary, the private life of Buddy is the main theme of the series. In fact, it is rather infrequent to see Buddy with his costume on.
    3) Buddy is not perfect, and is not perceived as perfect by other people: in fact, in the 11th issue, when he tells his wife “It’s going to be okay”, she replies “Don’t give me anything of that superhero crap, Buddy.” That cut and thrust perfectly enlightens the philosophy of the series.

    Reply

  2. I’m sure I will read it eventually. The only other major work of Lemire’s that I’ve read is Essex County. I haven’t gone out of my way to read any “New” 52 books because none of them struck me as particularly new. The stuff you list sounds like it was already covered by Grant Morrison’s run.

    Reply

    1. A comic book can be a wonderful read even if it doesn’t show anything new. I’ll give you an example:
      Blue Beetle is a Spider Man clone. His grandmother is undeniably inspired from Aunt May, and the dualism between the protagonist and his living costume really reminds of the dualism between Peter Parker and his living black costume, which subsequently became Venom.
      Anyway, even if Blue Beetle has a cloned storyboard, the plot is developed in a brand new way, so reading Blue Beetle is like watching a Shakespearian play set in modern times: you already know how the story goes, but you are constantly intrigued and delighted by the differences that a different setting implies.
      Thank you for your reply! : )

      Reply

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