Comics: Submerged 1-3 (2018) - Reviewed

Issue one of Submerged was released by Vault comics in July of this year. The story, marketed as dark fantasy realism, follows Elysia Puente, a young woman on a quest to find her estranged brother after she receives a mysterious call which makes her believe he is in imminent danger. This leads her to begin her search for him where she finds his broken phone at the entrance of a subway station that has been barricaded off as New York City is about to be hit by the largest storm in history. What follows next is an expertly written whirlwind story of familial loyalty, harrowing imagery and a mixture of demons both inner and visible.

I was introduced to writer Vita Ayala with Black Mask’s zombie series The Wilds. Her writing style in that series was youthful, candid and hyper realistic, something that also seems to be the case with Submerged. Though certainly spooky and supernatural, the storyline itself boasts a very relatable story. Within the first few issues we are shown Elysia’s difficult relationship with her family. Through vivid flashbacks, a lifetime abuse, a world with too much responsibility and built up bitterness over the fact she was forced to feel shame for who she was, Elysia’s character is complex, interesting and one that is certain to feel familiar to many a reader. I have thoroughly enjoyed the split between time frames that we see in each issue. In order to grasp exactly what is happening in the present, we are given glimpses into the past, slowly, little by little shaping one larger plot. Though much of what is happening is still shrouded in mystery, by issue three details from the previous books are revisited again, making more sense, weaving into one another to form more of a cohesive pattern. I think with anyone, fictional or real, a person’s past does shape them into who they are now, and I love that Ayala takes so much time to give us details into the main character’s past in order to explain who she is in the present. 

That being said, though issues one through three certainly let you get to know the main character and her backstory well, I must say, what is happening in the subway still is a huge mystery. Issue three left on a confusing cliffhanger that left me personally wondering if all the conclusions I had come to during my read were suddenly all very very wrong. I love the chaos and confusion this story brings. It’s frenzied and bizarre and often makes you wonder who in the story is real and who are figments of a tormented mind? Submerged truly is unlike any story I have read and I cannot wait to see where the next issue will take us.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the artist’s name on the cover that sold this book to me as a must read right away. Lisa Sterle has become one of my favorite comic artists thanks to her work on Scout Comic’s Long Lost. The talent she brings with her feminine, whimsical, artistic style just makes this latest series that much more stimulating. After completely losing myself in Long Lost earlier this year, her art was completely recognizable when I began reading through my copy of Submerged. Her stellar line work and the adorable way she draws facial expressions as and personal stylization of each character shows her commitment to keeping the subject matter young and fresh with a very unique perspective. 

Her artwork is so different compared to much of the art that is being published by bigger name artists and I love the fresh point of view she brings. I think that the bold design decisions she makes in all of her work are exactly what the world needs in showcasing female talent within the industry. Speaking of female talent in the industry, it was a wonderful surprise to see Jen Bartel’s impressive hand on the cover of several of the issues. I had the pleasure of meeting Jen several years ago at a show in Chicago. Her work is always incredibly vibrant and stunning, and she definitely made a wave or two with the slogan “Dead Men Don’t Catcall” that was positioned on several of her pieces, including pins and t-shirts, one that I myself own and wear quite regularly. Her artistic style is both feminine and badass, definitely always bringing a certain level of girl power quality to her work which works perfectly for Submerged.

Issue three of Submerged was released October 17th and the first trade paperback is slated for release on December 5th, which leads me to imagine we will be seeing at least one more issue released next month. The women on the Submerged team have done an incredible job with the first three issues and I am extremely interested in seeing how they continue to bring the fire. I love nothing more than seeing a talented group of female creators working together to create amazing stories and Submerged is nothing short of that thus far.

--Rachel Rutherford