By Robert Johnson Jr.
Arts and Features Editor
Full disclosure: I hate centipedes.
Like, I really, really hate them.
Enough to the point where I bought my own bug spray during the summer, stashed underneath my computer table, just in case one decided to sprint its way along my walls.
Surprisingly, none of them showed up in my proximity this summer, but “Submerged” makes up for that lack of insectoid interruption tenfold.
“Submerged,” aside from being the current instigator of my multi-legged fears, at least for the first half of the story, is more than that – it’s a compelling and moving fantasy-adventure that adds dashes of psychological horror to really drive the point home.
Written by Vita Ayala, drawn by Lisa Sterle, and published by Vault Comics, “Submerged” is a fast-paced but short read that drives home how scary finding a sibling really is, and how useful public transportation in a time of crisis can really be.
In it, the reader follows the Puente family – a family that, while appearing to be your average Latino family on the surface, is a real circus of abusive interactions among different family members.
For most of the story, however, you spend your time focused on two particular members: Elysia Puente and her brother, Angel, who, in this story, gets lost in the New York City Subway prior to the story’s events.
Now, from experience, I can understand how Angel got himself lost in the NYC Subway – that system is bizarre and requires a lot of research for one to truly understand.
Suddenly, I am more thankful for the MBTA.
That’s beside the point, though – in Elysia’s mission to recover her not-so-dear brother, she has to overcome a series of difficult encounters and learn a thing or two about sacrifice.
That would be easy at face value, but there’s also that whole “being submerged” problem she has to worry about, too, which I should probably describe.
As Elysia embarks on this quest, New York is getting slammed by, as the first page of chapter one quotes, “the largest hurricane in recorded history.”
There is not an exact amount as to how much rain is coming down, but it’s an amount that would get someone to say that it looks like the plot – and setup – of Genesis: a world-consuming flood.
I never thought I’d make a Biblical reference in a column, but I’m sure my mom will be proud of me for this one.
As if that isn’t enough, Elysia has to protect a dog – which, I am sad to write, does not survive – and a little kid who, while being the source of much of Elysia’s annoyance, ends up being a close companion.
Oh, yeah, and she also has to go toe-to-toe with monstrous beings, like a giant bird wearing a cloak and one of those extremely large centipedes. This, as I’m sure we all can agree, is not a fun situation.
Throughout the book, Ayala’s writing is peppered with Spanish phrases and the occasional bit of Spanglish, which made me feel really guilty about forgetting all the Spanish I learned in high school.
It should also be noted that I am Afro-Latino, so this is especially embarrassing to admit.
Sterle’s art is realistic and gritty, while also being tense and powerful. It gets the reader to clutch their chest in anticipation for what could come next as things progressively get worse for Elysia.
There’s also a unique panel layout used midway through the third chapter which the reader has to turn the book sideways to look at everything. That’s brilliant!
If you’ve been looking for a read that’s not only compelling, but also scary, look no further than “Submerged.”
Though, if you’re scared of insects with an ungodly number of legs, look elsewhere.
I’m not kidding.