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Recreating The World In Earthdivers #1

Stephen Graham Jones – writer
Davide Gianfelice – artist
Joana Lafuente – colorist
Steve Wands – letterer

“It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

― Jeremy Bentham

What would you do if you were given the means to take a single trip back in time and change something? Visit a loved one? Invest in Apple? Maybe alert the proper authorities to prevent 9-11? Or try to stop TFG from being elected. Stop the people who committed the atrocities of war and genocide in the 20th century?

Or would you decide to use your trip to the past to effect even more sweeping and radical changes? This is the concept explored by writer Stephen Graham Jones and artist Davide Gianfelice in the new five part limited series Earthdivers. They’re joined by Joana Lafuente and Steve Wands, colorist and letterer respectively.

By the year 2112 climate disaster has radically changed the earth and civilization is crumbling as a consequence. The ultra wealthy and powerful depart for destinations in the stars promising a better life and perhaps new opportunities to exploit. Four Indigenous outcasts – Tad, Sosh, Emily, and Yellow Kidney – have discovered a time travel portal in a desert cave and deduced that America is the starting point where every thing begins to change for the worse. The plan is to travel back in time to kill Christopher Columbus before he makes landfall in 1492 but the stacked against them are astronomically high. The portal transports a single person. Tad is the best choice among the four, not for any tactical skillset, but because his linguistic knowledge will allow him to blend in better among the crew. The best laid plans often go awry, do they not?

The quote above by Jeremy Bentham is especially relevant to the plot and to Tad’s fate. Bentham, who lived from 1748 to 1832, was the founder of modern Utilitarianism among other things. Jones bakes this philosophical principle into Earthdivers. Achieving the greatest good involves sacrifice and Tad almost immediately learns that impersonating a 15th century sailor is much more challenging than imagined. Situations arise and require a shifting moral compass to make difficult choices. Highlighting this ethical quandary are two connected scenes in which Tad reflects about family plans with his wife Sosh (who makes her own sacrifice) and symbolically commiting filicide.

Jones weaves the Indigenous Sky Woman creation story into the series, using it as inspiration for the title and as a metaphor for the quartet’s hopes of remaking the world. Sky Woman floated in a canoe on an endless sea. Desiring to make land, Sky Woman first sends a duck, then an otter to dive into the waters and return with mud. After these failures Sky Woman sends a muskrat who dove deeper and deeper and returned with mud for the mother goddess. In this issue Jones also touches on another Indigenous character, Unktehi, the water monster, who is associated with a great flood and the discovery of the sacred red pipestone which, once carved into pipes, becomes the means for smoke to carry prayers to the Great Spirit.

Despite Tad, Sosh, Emily, and Yellow Kidney being presented as united in the mission of recreating the world, tension exists among the four of them. Questions are asked and mysteries arise – about Tad being the only choice; how the portal was even discovered; and why is there distrust among the group; is Yellow Kidney more than he appears (perhaps in more than one way) or has he simply taken the name in honor of the Piegan chief who fought the United States?

Davide Gianfelice and Joana Lafuente are a great pair to visualize Jones’ script and ideas. Gianfelice’s layouts are quite beautiful, at turns sweeping and majestic then narrowly focused and intimate. Curving and angular lines combine to create figures, animated with deft gestural qualities. This may be the first time I have seen Lafuente’s color work. Her range from light to dark, conveying depth and expanse, and creating atmosphere and mood is masterful.

Readers who like alternate history stories will find much to appreciate in Earthdivers. Earthdivers has a level of complexity in theme and character in this first issue that is exciting and thought provoking, two qualities which remind me of N K Jemisin and Jamal Campbell’s Far Sector.

Earthdivers #1 is out now in print and digital in advance of Indigenous Peoples Day on October 10th.

October 5, 2022
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