“The undiscovered country from whose bourn, No traveler returns” – Hamlet
Hello, all. This week I’d like to take some time to look at Undiscovered Country, one of the most interesting, ambitious, and perhaps controversial independent comics on the market right now. The first arc just finished up, so I think now’s a great time to look at what worked in this initial arc, what didn’t, and see if this is a title you should stick around for or leave as “undiscovered” as the title suggests.
Here’s the blurb:
New York Times bestselling writers SCOTT SNYDER (WYTCHES, A.D.: AFTER DEATH) and CHARLES SOULE (CURSE WORDS, the forthcoming novel Anyone) team up with artists GIUSEPPE CAMUNCOLI (The Amazing Spider-Man, Darth Vader, Hellblazer) and DANIELE ORLANDINI (Darth Vader) and 2019 Eisner Award-winning colorist MATT WILSON (THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE, PAPER GIRLS) to embark on an epic adventure in the brand-new ongoing series, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY!
Readers will journey into the near future, and an unknown nation that was once the United States of America—a land that’s become shrouded in mystery after walling itself off from the rest of the world without explanation over thirty years ago. When a team seeking a cure for a global pandemic breaches U.S. borders, they quickly find themselves in a struggle to survive this strange and deadly lost continent!
In my opinion, Scott Snyder is one of the most talented writers in comics today. I loved his Batman run and consider his story arcs to be among the most definitive Batman stories ever written. However, as much as I loved his Batman work, it always felt like his overall narrative was hindered by the nature of writing comics for the big two. Marvel and DC let the writers take the toys out of the box, play with them for a while, but then they have to put them back in the box in roughly the same conditions they took them out in, and for many writers, and many fans, this can be a frustrating reality of the business. Character development doesn’t get a chance to stick, and inconsistency in storytelling means that every version of the characters exists, and yet doesn’t exist at the same time.
Charles Soule is also a powerful force in comics, although while he has had solid runs on books from both Marvel and DC, his real creative power shined most brightly with his creator-owned series Letter 44 from Oni Press. This series explored a secret history to the United States, and you can definitely feel his influence on this book, particularly in the wonderful addendums at the back, but we’ll talk more about those in a minute.
So, with the credentials of our storytellers well established, let’s dive into Undiscovered Country.
Right off the bat, Undiscovered Country does a great job of world-building. You can definitely feel Snyder’s hand in how crazy and wild everything is in the new America. At the same time, this wild world retains an element of reason and internal logic behind it. Cool, ridiculous stuff happens, but no matter how crazy and ridiculous it is it always feels like it fits in. Fans of Snyder’s run on his Metal series from DC know what I’m talking about, where outrageous and wild things happen, but they all feel like naturally progressing elements consistent with the world we know.
The book also does an excellent job of world-building through the supplemental materials in the back of each issue, with timelines, articles, and other reports there to help the reader begin to fill in the back story of just how the world got to the way that it did. You don’t need to read that stuff to understand this world, but it does add a nice bit of extra flavour to the overall narrative and allows Soule to show off his narrative strength. As I read this material, I definitely started hoping that one day we get a novelization of this entire backstory that is hinted at through these excerpts.
I also am very happy with the art in Undiscovered Country. Camuncoli and Orlandini have created a lush and vibrant world for these characters to play in, and it is a treat to behold. The border wall feels massive and imposing, the villains look threatening, and the heroes are distinct and easily identifiable. There is also a distinctive feel to the part of America we begin in, and from what I have seen of issue 7 Undiscovered Country is going to do a nice job of making sure that each of the parts of the spiral are distinct and interesting in their own ways.
Speaking of characters, these ones all feel fully fleshed out, with unique personalities and motivations. Sadly, in books like this with large groups of characters, it can be easy for many of our protagonists to kind of become a blended mush of background noise, existing only to be killed off later. In Undiscovered Country, each character feels like they have a unique perspective, personality, and arc. Even those that do not seem to survive long feel like they were developed a good deal in the space that they were given.
Finally, the satire is solid for a first arc, and as you know from my review of Billionaire’s Island, that’s a tricky thing to achieve. The entire premise of Undiscovered Country is to use hyperbole to critique American culture. The first arc had to do the double duty of both introducing new characters and the plot, as well as set up the disaster that an isolated America would become. As such there was a lot less focus on the critique and much more on logistics. Still, you can feel where Undiscovered Country appears to be going with its main thesis, that America is stronger united with itself and the world than divided. Hopefully moving forward we see much more of this idea developing now that we have a lot of the basics established.
What doesn’t work:
The Destiny Man. We get introduced to this character very early on in the arc and he is set up to be our continuing antagonist moving forward. As the story develops, we learn more and more about who he is and what his ideals are, and yet I still feel like he is a very undeveloped character. I don’t need to have everything about him spelled out for me as I read, but his motivations seem so unclear that I have trouble seeing him as a real person. He is a negative force, but not really a developed one. Moving forward I hope to see more of him and his background so that there is more weight to his actions. Right now I feel that the term “Straw Man” would fit better than Destiny Man.
The pacing: When Snyder and Soule originally devised this story, they were planning on a 30 issue run. However, the book became a big hit, and in interviews after, they started talking about extending it to 50+ issues because they felt the idea had legs to it. Now, there is nothing wrong with giving us more if it works, but I worry that the continued success, and the upcoming movie project, might make things get dragged out too much. I could see the overall plot working with a tight 30, even a slightly looser 50, but what I hope doesn’t happen is that we get so drawn out that they just continue to pump out books to make money, and we get a zombie version of what we loved (looking at you The Simpsons).
Still, both of these are minor nitpicks, and the second one is more of a concern, not a real issue I have noticed so far. I think this concept has already proven itself and moving forward I have high hopes that this will go down as a landmark indie series.
So, with all that, I give the first arc of Undiscovered Country a strong and solid recommendation and encourage all of you to run out and buy it. There’s a lot to love, little to hate, and plenty to keep you entertained!
Until next time: Stay safe!