By Zack Quaintance — In Submerged #3, the hints of underworld mythology that have been doled out by writer Vita Ayala and artist Lisa Sterle in past issues become central to the plot. Not to go too far into details, but as the New York City subway system faces threat of a flood caused by a raging storm above, it morphs into a supernatural plane of existence, one our protagonist must maneuver, glimpsing along the way haunting ethereal flashbacks to pivotal moments from past days of life.
It’s a compelling way for the story to blur reality while also strengthening our emotional attachment to our central character. What I find most interesting about the way that Submerged #3 is constructed—especially as it relates to previous issues—is that this is simultaneously the chapter with the most fantasy and the most truth, the one that ups the impossibility of the story while also grounding us in emotions so real they sting. There’s an impressive dichotomy at work that really serves this story well.
Indeed, throughout the penultimate chapter of this four-part story, reality is increasingly loose, with underground doors that open onto the street level, a childlike (spectre?) that oscillates from insecure to aggressive, and a train graveyard that seems to extend forever. There is no overt threat to the lead of Submerged aside from nature and concern for a wayward brother, but the creators have done a wonderful job of fostering an unsafe and eerie feeling throughout, of making it apparent how much this all matters. I once had a writing teacher who said short stories (like this one) should not feel like a slice of life but rather like the slice of life. It’s one word, but it makes all the difference.
Submerged very much feels like the slice of life story our hero will contemplate for years to come, and this sense of hefty narrative weight works in tandem with the aforementioned ghostly tone to really push the book forward. As the plot moves toward a climax, the story also does an impressive job of painting a coherent picture of the lifetime relationship between the siblings at its core—Elle and Angel—the disparate expectations from their parents that shaped their youthful conflicts (often due to gender), the ways they were regarded differently by their traditionalist father, and how it has now manifested for them as adults. It’s a credit to Ayala’s script that this all unfolds so cleanly, that it all feels achingly compelling.
And it’s also a credit to Sterle’s artwork, which has a way of seamlessly intermingling the real and extraordinary without ever tipping into jumbled. The dark underground setting is a potentially difficult one visually, but this book handles it well. Most prominently, however, Submerged #3 delivers a stunning last page reveal, one likely to linger until we get the fourth and final issue of this excellent story.
Overall: Submerged #3 is simultaneously the most fantastical and personal issue of this book to date. The action of the overall story rises along with the water levels in the tunnels, ultimately delivering us to a last page that pays off so much of what this excellent comic has been about. 9.0/10
Writer: Vita Ayala
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Letterer: Rachel Deering
Publisher: Vault Comics
Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.