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The Wake

Review

The Wake

For millennia, the ocean has captivated the human mind in much the same way as the stars. Some of the greatest and earliest works in any language touch on this fascination, as with Homer’s “wine-dark sea.” When facing something so massive and mysterious, humans seemingly have no choice but to contemplate its potential --- both for beauty and for horror.

THE WAKE, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s limited series for Vertigo, primarily deals with the latter. Lee Archer is a star cetologist with less-than-friendly relations with the Department of Homeland Security. But when a DHS agent appears at her research facility offering her an opportunity for amnesty --- an opportunity involving researching a mysterious whale-like call --- she has no choice but to take the bait.

"The resulting tale serves as a creation myth for mankind, a postapocalyptic escapade and a deep look into the complicated relationship between humanity and the sea."

Unfortunately for Archer, DHS agent Victor Cruz and their research companions --- an old adversary of Archer’s, a famed marine criminal and poacher, and a professor of folklore and mythology --- they are about to become bait as well. The government is hiding something, something that has woken in the deep ocean. And human interference has not made it happy.

Fast forward 200 years. The lands of Earth have flooded, and vicious Mers rule the seas. Leeward, a fugitive of the thirteen American Territories and their de facto dictatorial government, hunts the oceanic beasts for their poison sacs, which carry a powerful and popular hallucinogen. In doing so, she stumbles upon the secret Archer found nearly two centuries before --- the secret of men, Mers and memory that the American Governess is desperate to contain.

Snyder and Murphy are two rising stars in contemporary comics, and they have crafted a tale that not only jumps in eras but in genres. THE WAKE blends science fiction, survival horror and an 80s action thriller feel with high-flying adventure reminiscent of classic pulp comics, and Matt Hollingsworth’s gorgeous colors --- inspired, as suggested by Murphy, by Japanese woodblock prints --- lend the work an almost hypnotic mythological texture.

Murphy’s art, as always, is impeccably detailed, the roughness of his lines fitting well with Hollingsworth’s almost superhumanly consistent coloration. Although the sheer busyness of the story occasionally makes for some jumbled panels, the overall effect is of a disorientation resembling the hallucinations caused by Mer poison --- or being drowned in the story.

And what a story it is. Snyder has made waves in DC with his current Batman run, and as a result, Vertigo seems content to let him play. The resulting tale serves as a creation myth for mankind, a postapocalyptic escapade and a deep look into the complicated relationship between humanity and the sea. The dialogue occasionally veers toward the over-explanatory, even in the face of crises, but the overall detail and comprehensiveness of Snyder’s research into oceanic science and folklore more than makes up for it.

On beginning THE WAKE, it’s hard not to think of how perfectly it would translate to the silver screen. On finishing, it’s hard to imagine how, exactly, that could ever work. The story is massive and outlandish, ambitious and far-reaching. And yet, in a world where THE HOBBIT gets three movies, the supposedly unfilmable A Song of Ice and Fire series is the most successful program in the history of HBO, and James Cameron is exploring the deepest reaches of the ocean in his private submarine, perhaps anything is possible. Well. Let us hope.

Reviewed by John Maher on November 11, 2014

The Wake
by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

  • Publication Date: November 11, 2014
  • Genres: Comic Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vertigo
  • ISBN-10: 1401245234
  • ISBN-13: 9781401245238