The United States has become but a dream in the new comic series “Undiscovered Country” from Image Comics. Written by Scott Synder and Charles Soule, the comic presents a reality where the United States has isolated itself from the rest of the world for thirty years. In 2029, walls went up around the nation’s borders, cutting off all outside communications. “Undiscovered Country” depicts a grim reality where the isolation of the United States has caused mass chaos and war.
While the myriad of characters might suggest the possibility of half-finished arcs and insufficient character development, “Undiscovered Country” delivers on its colorful main cast, painting each character as deeply troubled but also resilient. Together, it is the dysfunctional aspect of this rag-tag team that speaks to the reader - while the group rediscovers the U.S. they are simultaneously discovering themselves. The comic presents a visual masterpiece of bright colors and original designs that emphasizes the unique state of the U.S., unafraid to deliver on gore and strangeness in the details. Artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Daniele Orlandini use bright colors and precise line work to startle the reader with animal mutants and monstrous machines.
They present the dystopia as truly horrific, emphasizing the gore in a graphic way TV is unable to due to limited budgets or lack of feasibility. One panel for example, from the second issue, depicted men being forced to climb a metal wall as they were tied to cables. The artists communicate the horror of the scene through long red streaks of blood and hands with fingernails - and even fingers - long gone. On TV, this may appear to be cheap CGI instead of something truly unthinkable. However, this kind of world-building is the standout of the comic. Its premise already captivated me, but what kept me turning the pages was the twisted version of the U.S., a caliber example of world-building I have never seen before. In a few short issues, we are quickly accustomed to the mutated Destiny Man who rules the Southwest and has caused the remaining population to live inside a canyon.
With mainstream companies (i.e. Marvel and DC) having established world-building decades in the making, it’s very rare to see a comic which presents a unique reality in both a rapid and logical manner. Each issue either provides a backstory to a sole character or unveils another aspect of the U.S., such as the role of the A.I. Aurora. While the mysteries of the new U.S. have yet to be fully revealed, “Undiscovered Country” has already established itself as a force of creativity. Besides the main story, the back of each issue includes a timeline and excerpts from a fictional oral history, allowing readers to gain more insight on the politics and rules of this world.
Within this chaos, the comic also addresses a country that is divided, with the nation separated into numerous areas that have no contact with each other and a government has yet to be seen. Through this, the writers explore whether the foundations of the nation can hold true when there is no unity. Common phrases embodying the American Dream such as “This land is my land,” is used to a perverted extent, showing the darker side of these ideals. “Live free or die'' is no longer a motto meant to inspire rebellion against monarchy, but a twisted choice.
While placed in a fictional world, the message of the comic is relevant to the polarizing state of the U.S. today. For instance, white supremacists in our society have broken away from the simple truths the U.S. promised, wanting to keep the benefits of living in the U.S. to a select group of people based on their skin color. Instead of realizing the necessity of unity and tolerance, prejudice and unjust murders are no stranger to the news. “Undiscovered Country” contains villains who believe it is their destiny to have an iron fist over the people, but this reality is found in how our real-life government sends armed military to peaceful protest, such the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
“Undiscovered Country” is the breath of fresh air I needed from the repetitive cycles of Marvel and D.C. The same stories of conflicts between the same villains and heroes are always told in these two houses, with any major event being quickly undone and/or forgotten. “Undiscovered Country,” not only has a more grounded plot, but stakes that endanger and motivate the characters. Through it all, the need for a cure for the deadly virus hangs over the characters, especially Charlotte, who has been traumatized by having so many patients die because of it. When the Destiny Man kidnaps them, the panels feel bleak and hopeless. When Sam Elgin dies, the realization that this is not an easy journey sinks in. With every issue, the image of a once-glorious United States continues to unravel.