The Underwater Welder TP
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Price: $19.95
Creator: Jeff Lemire
Format: 224 pages, Black & White, Softcover with French flaps
ISBN: 978-1-6030-9074-2
Age Rating: N/A
ICv2 Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

As readers of cartoonist Jeff Lemire's catalog well know, emotionally-damaged characters and the strained, often complicated relationships between family members, friends, and community form the core themes he has explored in his creator-owned endeavors such as Essex County and Lost Dogs (Top Shelf), Sweet Tooth (Vertigo), and his work-for-hire assignments on various DC Comics properties.  Coupled with a tinge of the supernatural and elements of the horror genre, Lemire has proven himself a diverse and potent creator well-deserving of his New York Times bestseller status.

With Underwater Welder, Lemire returns to those well-trodden subjects with a focus on the solitary and isolated existence of protagonist Jack Joseph.  As Lemire has admitted in interviews, Underwater Welder is both a deeply personal tale of impending fatherhood and a labor intensive project that has spanned several years.  Lemire conveys his bond with the material through his evocative and expressive line work--boundless, free, and at times quite frantic--and the ink wash stained grey tones which compose the backgrounds throughout the book.  In fact, his illustrations, particularly the page geography and arrangement of panels, utilization of double-page spreads, and innovative grid layouts succeed visually where the narrative aspects of the work can momentarily verge on the clichéd or predictable.

As a visual storyteller, Lemire's impact with Underwater Welder is far more intense and memorable due to his haunting art than in the mechanics of the underlying tale.  Moments between Jack and his spouse, or his reflections on times spent with his mother and father come across as authentic and allow Lemire to connect with his audience on a much deeper level.  Yet, beyond these interpersonal sequences, Jack's self-reflective admissions and sudden awakenings sometimes ring hollow or forced.  Fortunately, these passages are buoyed by Lemire's passionate line art.  Although Underwater Welder does not succumb to the use of graphic horror or "adult" themes, which at times have characterized some of Lemire's other works, it is still geared towards a mature and Young Adult reading audience.  While perhaps not as emotionally-wrought as Lost Dogs or as heart-warming as Sweet Tooth in a solely narrative capacity, Underwater Welder marks an important stage in Lemire's growth as a cartoonist and creator that will appeal to fans of these books as well as his runs on Animal Man, Justice League Dark, and similar company titles.

--Nathan Wilson