Written by: Scott Snyder & Charles Soule
Layouts by: Giuseppe Camuncoli
Finishes by: Daniele Orlandini & Leonardo Marcello Grassi
Coloured by: Matt Wilson
Lettered by: Crank!
Edited by: Will Dennis
Assistant Edited by: Tyler Jennes
Published by: Image Comics
Undiscovered Country has a pretty simple premise: What if one day, out of the blue, the United States Of America suddenly decided to close its borders and for all extent and purposes cease to exist to the outside world?
It’s a simple premise, and depending on who you ask that question to you’ll get some pretty varying answers. As someone from the UK I’m fairly confident in saying a lot of people would see it as a positive idea, but one that would dramatically change the global landscape on just about every level.
In the case of Undiscovered Country, the absence of the United States is largely shown in flashbacks and through end of issue quotes from people around the world talking about how it’s affected them. This is largely because the narrative opens with a group of seven individuals being invited into the USA, the first outside visitors in thirty years. They’ve been invited into the country after receiving a surprising message offering a cure for the Sky Virus, which is threatening to wipe out all human life on Earth in the not so distant future.
The individuals invited are all asked for by name and consist of: representatives from the Alliance Euro-Afrique and The Pan-Asian Prosperity Zone – Janet Worthington and Chang Enlou respectively – Journalist Valentina Sandoval, Dr. Ace Kenyatta, a man who’s dedicated his life to studying and theorising about the U.S., pilot and war veteran Colonel Pavel Bukowski, medical doctor and scientist Dr. Charlotte Graves and her estranged brother Daniel, the person who’s come closest to getting into the States since “the sealing”.
“Who invites them?” I hear you ask, well the message they receive is from Dr. Sam Elgin, a man who has a clear resemblance to Uncle Sam, and a man that the Graves believe used to work with their parents, two scientists who remained in the U.S. after it was sealed off. This leads to Charlotte and Daniel taking the place of our main protagonists, though each of the core characters has a reason for wanting to visit the mysterious country, and when the characters are divided into smaller groups in the second volume it does feel like they’re all allowed to share the spotlight equally.
This is however, the kind of story that has an interesting cast of characters that are rarely allowed much attention. There’s a grand concept behind the book and it does at times feel like the characters we’re presented with are there to guide the story rather than be its focus. It’s entirely understandable why this is, as the story within the United States has a lot of potential to run away with itself.
Upon reaching the United States we’re treated to a Mad Max style nightmare within the Destiny Zone, a portion of the country were seemingly society has crumbled to be ruled over by an enigmatic leader known only as The Destiny Man. Luckily, the group are aided by Sam Elgin and The Silent Majority, though seemingly not the same Sam that invited them into the country. He fills them in about The Spiral, a path they must travel that will lead them through all thirteen zones of the United States, at the centre of which they’ll find all the answers they’re looking for and fulfil a prophecy they’re all somehow tied up in.
While this is the story behind the first volume, the second arc progresses towards Zone Unity, which shows a very different possibility for a country sealed off for thirty years, one with advanced technology that makes just about anything possible in a near utopia.
I’ll be honest, Undiscovered Country is kind of a lot…and explaining it is a lot more confusing than reading the book. So if you’re feeling a little bit lost right now I can’t really blame you. From the very first issue this feels like a series with a simple premise, but one that involves an incredible amount of set-up and exposition. At the outset, it also feels like a series that’s going to spend a little bit too long dwelling on how important the United States is to the global landscape, a concern that initially put me off reading the series in singles. I’ll be honest, there are moments where that does feel like the case. However, at its core Undiscovered Country is less of a celebration of the United States and more of an exploration of what it is as a country at both it’s best and worst. Each of the thirteen sectors represents a different interpretation of what the country could be, both good and bad, if certain groups were allowed to run wild.
Judging by Robert Kirkman’s quote on the first trade, it seems some have compared Undiscovered Country to The Walking Dead, and I can understand why, both of these series explore a version of the world vastly different to the one we’re used to while presenting us with a ragtag group trying to navigate the strange new world they find themselves in. I do, however, think Undiscovered Country brings to mind other series such as Nowhere Men, Paper Girls or Low, while forging its own path.
As a series Undiscovered Country is filled with interesting concepts, many of which appeal to the science fiction fan within me and have me immediately wanting more. One downfall is that the series is overwhelmingly built upon the United States. On some levels it feels unavoidable, that’s where the book is set and the plot revolves around the possibilities the country presents under a very specific circumstance. However, there are times where this book can feel like a history lesson, as someone from the UK it’s more of a “hey I understood that reference” thing than an interesting lesson though, and I’m left wondering what the intention of Charles Soule and Scott Snyder was here: to create something informative and interesting, or to never consider the wider world as an audience. The latter is something I think the North American comic book industry is often guilty of. With that being said, the writing duo do a great job crafting an interesting world that’s full of surprises. If you’re familiar with their past works that probably won’t come as much of a shock, nor will the ease with which this story can move from character work to immersive science fiction and unsettling horror.
Throughout these volumes Giuseppe Camuncoli, Daniele Orlandini and Leonardo Marcello Grassi’s artwork suits the story being told, moving from the awe inspiring to the horrific as necessary, all while showing clear emotion in characters. I will say that the character designs throughout the series so far are great, each of the core cast of characters is immediately distinguishable from one another, and the designs of the inhabitants of the different zones are really interesting to me. The Destiny Man in particular looks incredible, lurking somewhere between Mad Max inspired nightmare and classic science fiction. Thinking about him will keep you awake at night. Matt Wilson’s colouring is also integral to making this world work, perfect for every setting and showing a clearly considered change of how one zone would differ from the next.
So two volumes into Undiscovered Country and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it as a series. As I’ve mentioned previously, there are aspects to the world that really appeal to the science fiction fan within me, and I do want to read more and get some answers. There’s no denying that the creative team have come together to craft a really intriguing series. However, every aspect of this series is so deeply entrenched in United States history and iconography that it can at times feel alienating to a reader from another country. In some ways it feels like there are walls built around Undiscovered Country making it mysterious and impenetrable to the outside world, just like the United States we are presented within.