The Wake is many things, with several common threads running throughout, any of which Scott Snyder (W) and Sean Murphy (A) could bring to the forefront of the story. The first issue was really solid world building; the second issue was told out of order, presenting us with a narrative as curious to the reader as it was to the characters; this third issue, though, represents to me the culmination of the story thus far. It represents to me the conclusion of the first part, or at least the first movement, of the story.
As I mentioned before, through all of the three issues thus far, there are common threads: history and evolution, the sea, claustrophobia, fear, hallucination, danger, etc. As the climax of the first movement (I think I’ll stick with “movement;” to me it implies an easy transition to the next segment of the story), #3 takes all of those common threads, expanded in the previous two issues, and blows the story wide open for the reader and the characters; at last, everyone is on the same page. And oh God, what a horrifying page it is.
We finally see the raw, terrifying power of the mermaid creature that Dr. Lee Archer and her team have discovered. Within moments, using hallucinogenic toxins it can spray (and also huge teeth) it kills at least two people, most likely more. Its serpentine body, powerful jaws, and vaguely human torso lend the creature both a strangeness and a familiarity, which makes its bloodthirsty actions even creepier. You can never quite guess how it will act. Combine the creature’s physiology with Murphy’s cramped and dank design of the underwater rig, and the book instantly becomes more horror than anything else. We all have a fear of the dark and of the unknown, which the creators of The Wake mine in this issue more than the previous two. (And I’m so glad this book is at Vertigo, where Snyder and Murphy can really let loose.)
Not only do we finally understand the power and abilities of the creature, we also understand its biology a little more; we understand that the echoing noises it makes aren’t screams of pain or anger, but rather a language. It’s calling for its brothers, and its brothers respond. The final splash, showing divers in the foreground, and what could be hundreds of the mer-creatures in the background at the top of the page, signifies a new status quo for Lee Archer and her team, as well the reader. Now everyone knows that the creature they captured isn’t the last of its kind at all. The next movement of this story should be full on claustrophobic, psychological (and literal) horror. I’m excited to see what happens in the second movement.
And I can’t end any review of The Wake without mentioning the stellar art (once again) of Sean Murphy. His character design is tremendous: his characters are angular and strong, and while they aren’t realistic, he’s taking realistic human attributes and heightening them to something more. To their extreme. Knees are pointy; fingers are crooked. It matches the realistic-but-more feeling of the underwater oil rig, as well. Like the creature itself, everything is recognizable but also alien, providing the book with its most potent source of horror.
Let me also take a moment to point out Matt Hollingsworth’s colors. The rig and characters are awash in pale colors: blues and greens and purples. This makes the flashes of violence (the red of blood, the orange of the muzzle flashes, and the glow coming from the creature itself) almost luminescent. There’s really nothing about this team on art that I take issue with.
The Wake is one of those books that makes me glad that I’m not waiting for the trade. Each individual issue has so far been an expertly crafted piece of art, making the wait between issues bittersweet; I can’t wait to dive back in a read #3 again, but I know it’s going to make the wait a whole lot harder.
Story: Scott Snyder Art: Sean Murphy
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy