Submerged, Vol. 1
Writer: Vita Ayala
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Colorist: Amy Stelladia
Letterer: Rachel Deering
Issue Covers: Jen Bartel & Tríona Tree Farrell
Publisher: Vault Comics
How do you forgive yourself for the harm you’ve done to your loved ones? How do you forgive your loved ones for the harm they’ve done to you? Vita Ayala and Lisa Sterle’s Submerged asks these questions as it explores the complicated relationship between Elysia and Angel Puente, two siblings with a family history that’s not doing either of them any favors.
When a major storm hits New York City and the subways close, Ellie descends into the tunnels hoping to find her brother and save him from a tragic end, but once she enters, she’s in an entirely different world. There, she finds three guardians and a dog, a ferryman, and a lost child searching for his family… But finding her own brother means confronting the parts of herself that she doesn’t want to acknowledge.
Intertwining Greek mythology with complex storytelling and stunning art, Submerged forces its characters to reckon with every part of themselves: good, bad, and ugly. In the process, the meanings of their names (Elysia, Angel, Puente) come to devastating fruition.
Over the last year, Vita Ayala has rapidly become one of my favorite comics writers. Their work is incomparable, particularly on this series. Ayala’s exploration of queer identity and familial obligation in Submerged hits hard. Even as Ellie’s family’s nature is revealed, it’s still difficult to watch her try to extract herself from her their collective grasp. Her relationship with her brother is the core emotional conflict of the series, but their parents are big presences — both literally and figuratively — that cast long shadows. It is heartbreaking to see Ellie struggle to make amends, all while trying to push down the darker memories that hold her emotions hostage.
Meanwhile, Lisa Sterle’s art is breathtaking. As we jump from panel to panel, the story moves just like a heartbeat. Amy Stelladia’s colors work perfectly in tandem: they are the ideal balance of light and dark, bright and muted. Nothing goes to waste, not even blank space — each visual plays a part. Sterle manages to capture the ethereal creepiness of the Otherworld, as well as the terrifying realness of Ellie’s memories through her line art, with Stelladia’s colors enhancing each moment. At any given time, Ellie faces questions about what is happening. Likewise, the reader has questions. Sterle manages to make the art flow in spite of those questions, which is a feat; the world of Submerged is largely revealed through shadows. It would be easy for us to be as lost and anxious as Ellie.
In many instances, we are, but that feels purposeful. Ayala and Sterle evoke plenty of emotion through their storytelling, though the plot itself is slowly revealed, inch by inch. Moments of realization feel earned, even for someone familiar with the Greek myths herein. It’s easy to root for Ellie and Angel, which makes what happens at the end of their story all the more upsetting. Along the way, learning about these characters, what they’ve been through and what they’ve done is enough to make even the most battle-hardened reader feel a little weepy.
Submerged is a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice that flips the original myth on its head. The comic relies on vastly different character dynamics and introduces a much more modern setting; however, the beats remain the same. Whether or not you are familiar with the original myth, Submerged will grab your attention from the jump. I suggest you dive right in.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bitch Media, The Mary Sue, Bustle, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is the managing editor at The Beat, as well as the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Montana with her partner and cats.