Comic Reviews: The Wake!
Superstar writer Scott Snyder returns to Vertigo with The Wake, his newest foray into horror. With Punk Rock Jesus creator Sean Murphy on art duties, the hype around this book is extremely high, and I’m pleased to announce that the debut issue definitely lives up to it, setting up a compelling mystery that will leave you hooked and waiting for the next issue.
The debut issue introduces Lee Archer, a marine biologist studying whales off the coast of Washington, who’s called in by Homeland Security Agent Astor Cruz. Some mysterious whale calls have been captured in Alaska, and the department thinks Lee is the best person to help them figure out what it is. Even though she’s not on the best terms with the department, Lee accepts their offer, as it will not only lead to more stability in the finance department, but also help her gain custody of her son. After travelling to Alaska, Lee meets the rest of the crew she’ll be working with: Brown University Folklore and Mythology Professor Dr. Marin, Bob Wainwright (Lee’s old boss from her time at NOAA), and the mysterious Meeks. After hearing their stories, Lee realizes that the other members of her group have been given a different story from Cruz to bring them to the northern state. While the team members argue with Cruz, the “underground camp site” they are in is revealed to be a submarine, transporting them to an underwater drilling facility. Once there, Lee tries to confront Cruz one more time, but is stopped by the sound of someone screaming down the hall. When the crew looks, they see a bloodied man being detained by scientists and medical workers, exclaiming that the man had “opened the tank for just a few seconds”. In the chaos around her, Lee sneaks a look into the room the man came from, and finds a horrifying creature submerged in a tank.
Once again, Scott Snyder proves he can do no wrong. From the opening pages of The Wake, he hooks us in with an excellent futuristic opening, only to turn back the clock to fill us in on the main story. Bookended with a short scene from the far distant past, the alternating time frames strengthen the core story in the middle of the book, and adds to the mystery of the title before the plot kicks in. There’s something ancient and possibly evil at work here, and it’s definitely something that our hero should not get involved in.
Snyder’s gift for characterization is in full force here, and I’d say that it’s even stronger than in his work on Batman. Within a few pages of the book we are introduced to Lee Archer and get a full grasp on who she is, what she does, and what she wants in life. She’s passionate about her work, but also desperately wants to spend more time with her son. Her relatable circumstances only enhance our connection with her when things start to get weird, and we’re just as confused as she is when she arrives in Alaska and tries to understand why she’s been called in. Snyder gives us just enough information on the other members of the crew to pique our interest with them, and peppers some intriguing flashbacks from Lee’s past to sweeten the mystery.
Pairing Sean Murphy with Scott Snyder is ingenious, and seeing these two work together again is pure comic book magic (they had previously teamed up for the American Vampire mini Survival Of The Fittest). The same kinetic fluidity that Murphy put on display in Punk Rock Jesus is here, but it’s his depiction of Quasimodo the Whale greeting Lee early on in the issue that really stands out. For an artist so well known as a master of action and pacing in the comics world, it’s refreshing to open up a full page and take in the breathtaking ocean floor scenery he creates here. There’s also a very cool shout out to PRJ for fans of Murphy’s excellent solo series from last year (which if you haven’t read it, you really, really should). The reveal at issue’s end of the creature in the tank would certainly not be as effective without Murphy drawing it, and it’s certainly one of the creepiest/most awesome things I’ve seen in comics all year.
The Wake was an easy sell for me: I love the ocean, I love sea monsters, and I love Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy. While I’m totally biased towards this book, I honestly believe that there’s something here that will interest any comic fan. There’s an intriguing mystery, and a definite sense of “we’re all in way over our heads” that can already be felt amongst our crew. If you weren’t excited for The Wake before, you should be, as all signs are pointing to yet another slam-dunk from Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy.