Graphic novel review: Undiscovered Country: Destiny (Volume 1) by Scott Snyder & Charles Soule

(cover image courtesy Image Comics)

There is such an extravagance of imagination, such an exhilarating deep dive into fantasy and wonder and weirdness on a grand scale, to Undiscovered Country that it is safe to say that it is one of the best graphic novels to come along in some time.

The writers of the series, Scott Snyder and Charles Soule, have taken their premise and run with it with such an enthusiastic commitment to seeing where the story could go with no limits that there are more than a few minutes where you gasp both in surprise and amazement at the sheer depth and breadth of the narrative ideas entertained and explored.

The premise in and of itself is a doozy.

Sometime in the near-to-medium future, the United States, beset by economic issues aplenty and enthralled by an isolationist mentality in a world which is now largely split between two empires, the Alliance Euro-Afrique and the Pan-Asian Prosperity Zone, has sealed itself off with walls, physical and electronic, and ceased any and all involvement with its global neighbours.

It is, in effect, the ultimate hermit kingdom, and for some 30 years, no one has heard anything from the now mysterious entity, until one day a video message arrives from Dr Sam Elgin pledging reengagement and a cure for the Sky Virus pandemic ravaging the planet which has, at its most optimistic assessment, got about six months to run before civilisation is toast.

By any estimation there’s a lot riding on this trip to the United States and everyone involved from Dr Charlotte Graves (fighting to find a cure for Sky), her brother Major Daniel Graves (a military black sheep who is reputedly managed to sneak into and out of the walled-off USA), pilot Colonel Pavel Bukowski (PTSD from being a prisoner of war), Dr Ace Kenyatta (foremost US authority but seen to be mentally unstable), journalist Valentina Sandoval (committed to journalistic truth but at great personal cost), and envoys Janet Worthington (the Alliance) and Chang Enlou (the Zone) knows it.

What they don’t know, and what infuses Undiscovered Country with such riotously off-the-wall storytelling zest, is just how little anyone knows about what’s going on in the USA and how different it actually is from what anyone even begins to imagine.

You can’t really say too much about what’s going on in the Stars and Stripes Hermit Kingdom without giving away a raft of majorly delicious spoilers, all of which add to a narrative of dizzyingly satisfying imaginative breadth and substance, but to say that Undiscovered Country makes good on its premise and then some by a phenomenally impressive margin.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

It is a masterful piece of stupendously clever storytelling that benefits from artwork so vividly and fulsomely realised that the world of the future feels like a living, breathing entity, full of the kind of realpolitik and head in the sand refusal to acknowledge reality with which we are sadly already familiar with an added note of absurdity that for all its outrageousness always rings true with real humanity and honesty.

That’s the genius of Undiscovered Country really.

There’s a huge amount going on, a thousand different moving pieces that because of their profusion and complexity should either unravel into an unedifying mess of muddy narrative loose ends or clump together to tightly that all you see is the mass of what could’ve been with no clear resolution.

Instead what you get in Undiscovered Country is a story that defies the odds spectacularly well, marrying up the mad with the sagely sane, the fanciful with the cold, hard real, the sensibilities of Catch-22 with the humanity of a thoughtful thriller, and which never ever puts a single foot wrong.

It’s damn near magical how Snyder and Soule manage to accomplish what they do, aided by a team of people whose artwork, colouring and lettering serves to elucidate and enlarge the story in which that make an already profound narrative even more impactful and meaningful.

Helping matters is how rich and involving the character drama accompanying the more action-oriented moments are.

In most big blockbustery stories of this type, the characters are cardboard cutouts, there simply to serve the needs of a pell-mell, ceaselessly moving narrative which only wants to reach the finish line, the better to impress you with its massive narrative chutzpah.

That’s fine if you want big, empty, escapist action and nothing more, and sometimes that is enough.

Not for Snyder, Soule and the rest of the team who have taken a globe-trotting story full to the brim with elements massively real and outlandishly fantastical and made it deeply, affectingly personal.

You won’t appreciate just how brilliant an act this is until you read Undiscovered Country in all its sprawling, colour-rich glory but read it you must because it is one of the best stories to come out in the last year or so in any medium and missing diving headlong into its marvelously mad but recognisably human world is something you do not want to miss.

(image courtesy Image Comics)

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