Comic Picks By The Glick

Undiscovered Country vol. 1: Destiny

October 21, 2020

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the biggest Image launch from 2019.  For most of that year, Image was having its thunder routinely stolen from other publishers like BOOM! with their launches of titles like “Once and Future” and “Something is Killing the Children.”  Then along came “Undiscovered Country” towards the end of the year, and its first issue outsold all others from publishers that weren’t Marvel or DC.  They managed to do this because the series came from an all-star creative team that included co-writers Scot Snyder and Charles Soule, and main artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, and came with a killer hook for its story.  That the series itself turned out to be a wild and crazy trip through a lost America certainly helped too.

As to what that killer hook for this series was, it’s that “Undiscovered Country” dares to imagine what would happen if The Wall got built.  Except, instead of being a piece of racist propaganda, The Wall was built to keep the population of the United States of America in, and the rest of the world out.  That event was called The Sealing and no one heard anything from the U.S.A. again for 30 years.


The rest of the world carried on just fine in spite of this.  Europe and Africa formed the Alliance Euro-Afrique, with most of Asia uniting under the Pan-Asian Prosperity Zone.  Then came the Sky virus, which has proven lethal enough that societal collapse is expected within the next six months.  This prediction has only served to inflame inter-continental fighting, until a message came.  A message from the United States.


Delivered by a man identified as Dr. Sam Elgin, the message promised a cure for the lethal Sky virus that is currently ravaging the rest of the world.  The catch is that the negotiations for it had to be conducted on U.S. soil.  The Alliance and the Zone put aside their bickering long enough to agree on a rather eclectic team to send over.  Major Daniel Graves, his sister Dr. Charlotte Graves, Col. Pavel Bukowski, Dr. Ace Kenyatta, journalist Valentina Sandoval, and diplomats Janet Worthington and Chang Enlou.  They’re about to do what no one else has done in 30 years:  Enter the United States on a formal invitation.


I doubt it would surprise anyone to learn that the mission falls apart almost immediately after the team enters U.S. airspace.  What they find waiting for them is not what anyone would expect, and that includes the reader as well.  Without giving too much away, there’s some weird sci-fi stuff that has fostered America’s current state.  Which most closely resembles a “Mad Max” movie than any kind of orderly evolution.  “Live Free or Die” is the order of the day and it leads to some pretty crazy sights as the team gets up to speed on what has happened and what they have to do next.


“Destiny’s” strongest aspect is its unpredictability in showcasing what has happened to this part of America.  A Wal-Mart converted into a roving fortress.  Prisoners forced to climb walls guarded my men riding starfish.  A leader who physically appears to be more beast than man at this point.  This first volume has plenty of surprises for the unsuspecting reader in the story, and it doles them out at a pretty rapid clip through the end of the volume.


Based on the premise of this series, I was expecting a series that was much more explicit in drawing lines between the America in its story and the America in our present day.  Snyder and Soule may be looking to do that in greater detail later on, but their emphasis here is more on taking the motto of New Hampshire and seeing how far they can run with it.  Deeply considered political allegory this is not.  Which is why it’s good that this first volume succeeds at being a rollicking adventure.


Then you get to the main six-person cast, and they come off like a capable enough group of protagonists.  We get scenes over the first five issues which show us how Daniel, Charlotte, Ace, Valentina, and Pavel were recruited into the operation.  Said recruitment was done through a mix of bribery, cajoling, and even a little kidnapping.  The two that aren’t given a specific spotlight, Janet and Chang, are mainly left to come off as slippery and unlikeable as most career politicians usually do.


Soule and Snyder do their best to flesh out the cast, with the brother/sister relationship between Daniel and Charlotte getting most of the page time.  It’s all fine, even if you find yourself wondering why this particular group was selected given their penchant for drama and occasional infighting.  I’m happy to report that this eventually turns out to be more of a feature than a bug, with the formation of this group being flagged as a major long-term mystery, of several, for the series to unpack at its leisure.


While it remains to be seen if the writers will be able to deliver satisfying resolutions to the mysteries they’ve set up here, we can at least be assured that the series’ visuals are in good hands.  Camuncoli has worked with both writers before and he’s no stranger to drawing outlandish, over-the-top craziness as seen in his work on “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Darth Vader:  Dark Lord of the Sith.”  He’s able to realize a (rocket-powered) Wal-Mart fortress inhabited by giant rideable fish, led by a man with animal parts, whose chief enforcer rides a flying lightning-powered buffalo.  This is to say that the series is never at a loss for interesting visuals.


It’s also worth noting that while Camuncoli is best described as the lead artist here.  The credits list him as providing the layouts for the art, with Daniele Orlandini and Leonardo Grassi doing the finishes for issues 1-4 and 5 & 6, respectively.  This isn’t the first time that Camuncoli has worked in a layout/finisher arrangement as his work on “Hellblazer” was done in the same way with Stefano Landini.  Where am I going with this?  Anyone who was worried that this arrangement would dilute the artist’s style should go ahead and stow those fears as his work here is very much in the same vein as “Amazing” and “Darth Vader.”  If working with Orlandini and Grassi in this fashion is necessary to keep the series on a monthly schedule, then there doesn’t look to be any tradeoff for it yet.


“Undiscovered Country” had all the makings of an on-the-nose sci-fi allegory based on its description alone.  So I was glad to see Snyder, Soule, Camuncoli and co. deliver a surprisingly entertaining adventure through a crazed funhouse vision of a Future America.  While the path towards the Spiral is clearly laid out for the protagonists, it’s anyone’s guess as to what they’ll encounter along the way.  I can’t imagine it myself right now, and that’s definitely a good thing.

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