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Intrigue Abounds In Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy’s ‘The Wake’ #1 [Review]

I didn’t really think I’d be comparing Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s new, 10-issue Vertigo series The Wake to Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder after the first installment, but here we are.

For a comic that’s ostensibly a “thrilling, underwater horror adventure,” The Wake’s got quite a mythic spin to it.

(Be warned that minor spoilers for the issue follow.)

Like Aaron and Ribic’s Thor, the book bounces between three time periods: the present (which is more like the near future), two centuries from now, and at the end, the very distant past. It imbues the entire issues with a sense of foreboding and inevitability. Dr. Lee Archer, the main character of the portions of the book set in the present — and that’s most of it — is almost certainly going to discover the answers to some mysteries and potentially blow the lid off of some great secret. But there’s a feeling that she only plays a small part in something much larger.

That said, much of this issue focuses on introducing Archer and a team of scientists the Department of Homeland Security teams her up with to investigate some capital-U Unexplained phenomena taking place in a secret underwater oil drilling facility. It’s all set, as I said, in the present or very near future, but I can’t help but get a 1980s feeling from the story itself. In a good way.

When I talked to Snyder and Murphy about the series back in April, we discussed how movies like James Cameron’s The Abyss and John Carpenter’s The Thing definitely had an influence on the story. We talked about those movies’ settings, but there are also a lot of similarities here in terms of character. I also think a lot of, weirdly, action films like Predator and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Archer is a semi-disgraced, roguish loner who loves her work above everything else, for instance. The Homeland Security guy who recruits her is scruffy and tight-lipped. The team she works with is full of potentially difficult personalities, including a former boss (and a guy who is a dead ringer for Carl Sagan; how’s that for ’80s-style?).

The 1980s feeling seems pretty intentional in Murphy’s art. The opening scene set in the future gives a sort of neon/New Wave look to the survivors of some watery apocalpyse, for example. The present scenes take place in an industrial setting. A shot of a helicopter as it approaches the base camp as the sun sets is awash in pink and just immediately sets a mood. It’s like I can hear the theme from Commando in my head as I look at it.

That may sound like I’m saying the whole affair is kind of cliche, but that’s not the feeling at all. It’s more just a particular type of storytelling, almost a kind of shorthand to get things moving as quickly as possible. And with all the ground (or I guess, water) this book is trying to cover in 10 issues, that’s pretty necessary.


That necessity — introducing characters, explaining the setting — means that readers barely get a glimpse of the big mysteries under the surface in this first issue. It’s a panel here, a panel there. But that, of course, is the nature of a good horror story. Another movie I talked to Snyder and Murphy about is Jaws, and that movie is, of course, known for how little it actually showed its titular shark. The creative team seems to be taking that tack, here, too, relying on what’s unseen to unsettle the audience more than what they see. So far, it’s really working.

Of course, the real question is whether it’ll all pay off when everything comes to a head. I can’t predict whether that’ll live up to the very creepy bits and pieces we’ve seen so far, but I can say that this taste has me salivating for the meal.

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