Undiscovered Country #1 Advance Review: American Dystopia Exceeds Expectations in a Surprising Debut

Undiscovered Country #1 Review - Cover
(Photo: Image Comics)

Most new comics fail in their solicits. The concept pitched in a single, concise paragraph often provides readers with everything they will learn from a first issue, which subsequently makes that first issue read like an obligatory introduction. Whether that’s due to excessive staging or a “big idea” that simply isn’t big enough to exist outside of a few sentences, it’s a consistent problem. It’s also a problem that Undiscovered Country #1 avoids with seeming ease. The first issue quickly moves past its towering initial pitch and provides plenty of surprise and plot hooks, ensuring that readers will have plenty to chew on, even if they’ve sought out all available materials on this much anticipated series in advance. In spite of its flaws, this is a debut issue that delivers a far more immersive and entertaining experience than most creator-owned pitches to emerge in 2019.

The big idea behind this series is that global civilization is crumbling in a not-too-distant future, one in which the United States effectively walled itself away from the rest of the planet 30 years ago. Now, with a plague threatening to end empires of the East and West, a mysterious invitation has lured in a small group of individuals hoping to find a cure and discover what has happened to the United States. It’s a concept that speaks to our current political moment in an obvious fashion, especially given the dominant imagery of a massive border wall. Pandemics, scarcity, and isolationism run rampant in Undiscovered Country #1, and that premise alone could have easily filled this over-sized first issue. There are lots of ideas hidden from readers that make this a far more invigorating read, even for those who already intrigued by the solicit.

Undiscovered Country #1 Review - The Wall
(Photo: Image Comics)

Co-writers Scott Snyder and Charles Soule take some plotting cues from shonen manga, loading their initial outing with an array of plot threads and mysteries that range from the global to the deeply personal. If readers are not interested in the dystopian geopolitical commentary, then perhaps a family drama will be more to their liking, and there’s plenty of action (and a bit of gore) to weave all of these strands together. Their delivery of this extensive set up is delivered in firehose fashion, never pausing for more than a few panels before moving onto the next idea. The pair appear to balance one another’s worst tendencies, as Undiscovered Country #1 avoids ever spending too much time drilling into fanciful sci-fi explanations or didactic dialogue over ideology or strategy. These elements are present, but limited to be far more effective and make space for the introduction of so many ideas.

It’s difficult to discuss the blockbuster influence upon Undiscovered Country #1 without revealing the best surprises of the comic, and they are surprises worth discovering in the act of reading. In splashes and spreads, Camuncoli uproots expectations based on the initial pitch and radically reinvents our preconceived notions of how an isolated United States might appear after three decades. There is one particular page turn that delivers the exact sort of surprise a new comic ought to—one no reader could have predicted. It’s the sort of moment that functions like the “Spielberg face,” except readers are the ones left with their jaws hanging. These pages exude confidence and reveal a series that is far more full of ideas and better considered than most of what might be discovered on stands today. Not much is said about the themes raised in Undiscovered Country #1, but the staging is immense and inviting, promising a scope far greater than any other Image premiere this year.

Undiscovered Country #1 Review - Camuncoli Faces
(Photo: Image Comics)

Camuncoli is at his best when detailing sprawling visions of a nightmarish American landscape, one that becomes all the more evocative in the iconic setting of Monument Valley—juxtaposing the myth of America against something far darker. There is a creative blank check embedded within the secrets of the series, and it’s one that Camuncoli is prepared to cash. Certain pages reward multiple readings with figures and designs that, despite likely never appearing again, are fascinating to take in and consider. However, these highlights are not the standard for Undiscovered Country. More intimate sequences lacking the “Where’s Waldo”-type search for details fail to deliver compelling characters in panels. There’s a thinness to the linework, as well, one that makes faces and emotions appear incomplete. No single man or woman from the first issue’s expansive cast projects a personality through their appearance, instead settling for a colorful streak of hair or beard to do the trick. This is the sort of issue that could become a serious detriment in the long run, but remains a glancing flaw when set side-by-side with so many more interesting panels here.

For the moment it feels wise to hold commentary on the relationship between Undiscovered Country and its subject matter. The first issue frames the United States and problems facing it in a fashion that is familiar enough to relate to reality, but it never makes the mistake of announcing its approach with banal axioms. There is ample room left for complexity, along with characters, a premise, and a map that offer plenty of room for exploration. What Undiscovered Country #1 does better than most other #1 issues is to present that potential clearly from the very start. It does not seek to save its scope and ambition for a future date, even if there are plenty of mysteries embedded in the story. Instead, it treats this debut like an overture providing readers with every enticement they could desire. That alone makes it worth reading, even if these creators or this concept are outside one’s typical reading habits. The structure, presentation, and ideas swirling in Undiscovered Country #1 make it an exemplar of how to introduce a new idea and earn the sort of hype that has swirled about this title. If future issues fulfill the promises found here, Undiscovered Country is bound to be a hit.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Published by Image Comics

On November 6, 2019

Written by Scott Snyder and Charles Soule

Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Daniele Orlandini

Colors by Matt Wilson

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Cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli