I think I love Undiscovered Country for the same reason why I haven’t gotten rid of cable TV.
Please don’t think my flippancy indicates any sort of disrespect to creators, Scott Snyder, Charles Soule, or to the talents of Giuseppe Camuncoli, Daniele Orlandini, Matt Wilson and Crank, so let me explain.
Entertainment-on-demand is sort of like fast food in a way; you get a sense of instant gratification by watching what used to be about three months of television in a weekend, simply at your remote control’s discretion. There simply isn’t any wait any more. Media communication has made storytelling deceptively easy and accessible, but challenging to appreciate and digest. It’s wonderful, but it has its drawbacks.
The formulaic methodology in the storytelling becomes easier to see. When you binge a television series, you can’t miss patterns in the creativity. Repeated flaws in actors’ performances or turns of phrases in the writing that get over-used become obvious. One example of what I’m talking about is in the televised Titans series. I binged the entire second season in one weekend and I swore I had to go back and count the times entire mouthfuls of blood were spat on to the ground after a fight. When one sees enough of these things, the mystique of the story is incrementally lost and the entertainment gives way to criticism.
Back in the glorious days of my innocent adolescence, I was used to television shows shown weekly. It was easy to miss those repetitions. Of course, you caught them in re-runs when the shows were syndicated, but it gave you distance from each episode to consider the enjoyment the show offered. The viewer was able to appreciate the show’s performance, story merits without any loss to the wonder of it all.
I find I don’t mind waiting for my entertainment now that I’ve got a lot more to occupy my schedule these days. It gives me an appreciation for the story and the wait gives a better sense of enjoyment as it was worth the wait. Waiting and wanting make each other bearable, in my opinion.
But that’s why I still like cable television. I like waiting for a weekly episode. First, the time between episodes is a distance that allows for prediction. Who knows what will happen next episode? That gives way to hopeful anticipation in seeing if your theories are correct. Then, after the culmination of the viewing, there’s a satisfaction that sets the foundation for the entire process to happen again.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I still love to read comics, and in this case, Undiscovered Country is one of those stories I’m enjoying thinking about, anticipating and am extremely satisfied with at the end of treading an issue. So, let me break it down for you.
The Prediction Stage:
We’re up to Issue #3 of this startlingly imaginative and allegorical story. If you’ve been reading, then you know that the world of this book is set in a future when America has literally walled itself off from the rest of the world. There has been no communication from the US in decades and as the world is facing an extinction level threat in the form of a virulent plague, a sudden message from the States is received, offering to open up relations and possible assisting with the disease. A team of experts from a variety of fields (history, archaeology, security, diplomacy, etc.) is quickly arranged and as can be predicted, their plane goes down, crash-landing in an America that does not look like anything they could have imagined.
At the end of Issue #1, we see a selection of animals that could have only existed in a radical evolutionist’s nightmares. Land-adapted aquatic life or Twisted lizard-like creatures ridden by humans who could have been poster-children of some sort of mad post-apocalyptic fantasy world. America is warped beyond recognition and that immediately begs the question: what happened?
Before that question is even guessed at, this is a chance to see the work of Camuncoli and Orlandini at its best. The level of vision needed to realize these creatures on paper is no mean feat. The bestial anatomy is something out of a H.P. Lovecraft novel, and the detail and precision to render the full monstrosity of these creatures is a staggering feat.
What’s funny is that these are the domesticated animals.
The art in this book is surely something that can’t be ignored. It also lends to the reader’s predictions. My first thought was mutations of some sort, but my objection to my own inquiry was the amount of time needed for these creatures to evolve, given that we know it has only been a trio of decades that America separated itself from the rest of the planet. Is there some sort of time dilation effect? Why are the people horribly mutated as well?
That internal dialogue in my head is what a good story should inspire. The other predictions I made involved these incredibly engaging characters. What was their purposes for risking their lives to enter a forbidden nation? That gave way to back stories, and I’ve said this before, but a compelling back story is key to immersing oneself in a story. I think a major part of accepting a story is accepting the authenticity of a character. In this story we have seven characters we can make wildly entertaining predictions about. Daniel and Charlotte clearly have a great deal in common with Sam Elgin, or “Uncle Sam”, as he calls himself, and I predicted that Daniel knows more about America than he’s letting on. That’s a mystery that I’m just dying to see revealed; especially given that Daniel also is somehow familiar with the “Destiny Man”, the leader of one of the tribes they encounter in a rolling city in Issue #2. A possible double-cross seems to be in the cards.
The Anticipation Stage:
Then we get a close-up encounter with historian, Ace Kenyatta in Issue #3, whose need to confirm his theories about America is clearly the driving motivation in his character background. Kenyatta’s theories actually validated some of my own predictions in Issues #1 and #2, which brought me to the second Stage.
There’s a great sense of personal validation in meeting Kenyatta. He’s a lynch-pin of sorts who not only allowed me to see some of my predictions come to light, but also gave me a greater insight into the fabric of this new America. When that happens, it illustrates the connection between the writer and the reader. If you can anticipate what the writer, or in this case, writers, have revealed then there is an understanding of the work that is rewarding to the reader.
Not to say that I’m writer who’s as gifted as Scott Snyder and Charles Soule, but if I can see forward into the story with the amount of material they have revealed so far, and somewhat succeed in my anticipation, then I feel like a success. It’s an experience of mutual enjoyment; one that’s enjoyed by the writers in skillfully telling a good story, but also one in the reader’s ability to appreciate the calibre of talent in the story’s creation.
I’m also enjoying anticipating other storylines, like the implied political dimension to this story as well. The two diplomatic envoys (from the Euro-African Alliance and the Pan-Asian Prosperity Zone) haven’t revealed too much about themselves, save that they have connections to Daniel, but the implications of world security and power-broking is a storyline that clearly has yet to develop. Pavel, the downed pilot who flew the group in, also has inside knowledge revealed to him by the Destiny Man; I’m looking forward to the eventual reveal as the group searches for the key the Destiny Man is supposed to have that can allow them to eventually leave America.
The Satisfaction Stage:
With the last page of Issue #3, there’s a great deal of satisfaction that allows the reader to accept a cliff-hanger. After all, all comics are episodic now, in that successful comic publishing models are geared towards the trade collections and hardcover compilations of titles. Well, at least in my opinion. Collecting individual issues is a young person’s game, and readers of my demographic are more patient and can more easily afford to part with sixty or seventy bucks for a complete storyline.
But there’s a delicate measuring act involved in how much information to reveal in an issue. One can’t reveal too much for fear of giving away the nature of the story too early, but can’t hold back and deprive the reader of entertainment. Soule and Snyder have this down pat. In fact, their personal insights into the creation of this story at the back of the book not only invite the reader into part of that background process but also lends itself to their processes as well. It’s an essential part of the book, in my opinion, and also entertaining on a completely different level.
Like I said earlier, the greatest part of this stage is that while the reader has had the experience of reading a great story, the fact that it starts the cycle all over again in trying to predict and anticipate the next part.
If you’re a variant cover collector, I think I was also immensely satisfied to see Greg Capullo’s work as well. Capullo and Snyder work really well together, so I can’t help but ask if we’ll ever see some of his interior work on this story?
Like watching a series on Cable TV, I get to now wait, in perfect satisfaction and wonder, for the next issue. But that wait is more than just a series of stages of enjoyment, it’s a time to digest and go back and look over the story again. Even in writing this piece, I had to go back and read all three issues to date and the fact that I see more details that I hadn’t caught before. The look of abject terror on Pavel’s face as he looks at the vision the Destiny Man shows him, that somehow surpasses being tortured, dangling from a pit and losing a foot. I failed to appreciate that in my first reading and it made the fourth reading even more satisfying.
I hope that this isn’t a generational thing. I worry that in a world that offers so much, so quickly that we take quality – and waiting for quality – for granted. Comics are one of the last forms of entertainment that can provide that sense of appreciation for craftsmanship. Undiscovered Country is a book that epitomizes that sense.
Oh, and it’s the pick of the week for this week’s review, if that wasn’t made clear!
Have a satisfying week. Until next time.