Top Shelf Productions
$19.95, 224-page softcover with French flaps
Reviewed by Darkeva
Underwater Welder is the newest offering from acclaimed comic book artist and writer Jeff Lemire, famed for the Essex County series of graphic novels. Although Lemire is also noted as a writer for DC Comics, Underwater Welder is a world away from superheroes and explosive action. It’s not a horror story per se, but it touches on themes of growing up, love, loss, memories, and even questioning the everydayness of our lives.
The story starts off with Jack, an underwater welder, who goes diving and discovers that something is off. We then switch to him sitting in a restaurant with his heavily pregnant wife, Susie, who is due to give birth any day now. At first, Jack seems comfortable with the role of caring and devoted husband and soon-to-be father, but as the panels progress, he seems to sink deeper into an abyss of depression revolving around his own father. Though there’s a lot of quick switching back and forth between timelines, it’s not difficult to follow along as Lemire re-grounds the reader into each scene after he has made a shift.
On one particular underwater mission, Jack discovers a golden pocket watch that provides a lure to understanding the much-sought-after answers he has about his father, whose voice he hears when he gets nearer to the object. The significance of how the pocket watch ended up in the water is heart-wrenching and touching, but ultimately symbolizes the lost bond between a son and his misguided, alcoholic father.
In order to understand Jack’s present and what is happening to him, we must explore his past. Lemire unveils a story-within-a-story structure that reveals Jack’s childhood, the separation of his parents, all the broken promises his father made, but also some of the good times they had. It’s almost a cinematic experience to read a Lemire comic and the narrative advances at a good pace throughout.
Jack becomes more detached as the story progresses, and eventually ends up in an almost Twilight Zone state where he finds himself in the past again. Although things end on a bit of a sad note, there’s a ray of hope that illuminates the story. If you’re a fan of his work, definitely pick up Underwater Welder and immerse yourself in this impactful tale of woe.