Every once in a while a book comes along that you can't help but feel like you're reading something special as you turn the pages, The Underwater Welder is one of those. The story centers around Jack, an underwater welder who is addicted to his work, which is putting a significant strain on his relationship with his pregnant wife, Susie. With his son due in only a few weeks, Jack leaves home for a two-week stint on an oil rig off of Nova Scotia. On his first day in the water, while working Jack has an encounter with a strange object. He chases after it, losing contact with the rig. On board, noticing an issue with Jack's oxygen supply, his friend Trapper panics and quickly raises him to the surface. When Jack tries to explain what he had seen, it's written off by everyone as nothing but a side effect of the stress of impending fatherhood combined with exhaustion due to his work habits. He's ordered to take a leave of absence, to take some time to rest and to be with his wife while they prepare for the arrival of their son. Jack can't rest though, he can't shake the feeling that something important is at the bottom of the water. When the strain of the constant fighting between he and Susie becomes too much for him to handle, he decides to dive one more time into the darkness of the ocean, to figure out what exactly it is that's been pulling at him from the bottom.
I left the synopsis purposely vague, as everyone simply needs to experience this book for themselves. At it's heart, The Underwater Welder is a dramatic character study that will speak to anyone who's ever felt the pressure that comes along with impending fatherhood for the first time. It's in that regard that this book really spoke to me, as I can remember all to well being both excited, and scared shitless at the exact same time before my son was born. The constant questioning of not only if you're ready, but if you're even capable of being responsible for the care of a new life is an overwhelming feeling to say the least. I felt like that's why Jack threw himself into his work, and on that note I can certainly relate to him as I can remember spending some long hours at the hospital during that time . Then there was the fighting with Susie, which of course stemmed from Jack's behavior, but also from her own issues with dealing of the stress of pregnancy combined with the feeling that she was in it alone because Jack was gone from home for weeks at a time working. I couldn't help but feel for her, but at the same time think back again to the state of mind I was in during the months before my son was born, and the things I couldn't see then, but should've been doing differently. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Impending parenthood isn't the only theme touched on in The Underwater Welder, but it would ruin a bit of the story to elaborate further, so I won't.
If you're thinking "Damn, this doesn't sound like the kind of book that you would be into, Bonesy. I mean, there's no Batman, and nobody even gets their head ripped off.", well you're right friend. While I like to think I have a pretty broad palette when it comes to reading, I can tell you that if it hadn't been a creator whose work I admire the way I do Jeff Lemire's, I may not have ordered it. Thankfully, I was introduced to Jeff's work a couple years ago when his creator-owned Sweet Tooth began from DC's Vertigo imprint. I was highly impressed with it, and have read everything he's done since. As with Sweet Tooth, Jeff both writes and does the art in The Underwater Welder, both beautifully so. This is easily the best work I've seen from him thus far, I'd even go so far as to call it an achievement. This book is an absolute must-read. It's a shining example of a master storyteller putting his heart and soul into his art. In this medium, they don't get much better. Clear some space on your shelf for your Eisner's, Mr. Lemire.