This review is for an advanced reader’s edition uncorrected e-proof.
“The Wake” is a comic limited series, available now in graphic novel form, that tells the story of a group of scientists and specialists pulled together to study a strange life-form discovered at the bottom of the ocean. Dr Lee Archer has studied Whale calls and associated marine phenomena, and soon suspects that the creature and it’s call is of significant importance. What follows is a rapidly developing story that expands over a larger and larger canvas. The creature gets loose and decimates the population of the rig before calling a huge papa creature and loads of mates. These turn out to be the harbingers of a wider apocalypse on mankind, as cities flood, and the creatures invade. The second part of the story follows an enigmatic young woman called Leeward and her Dolphin pal, inhabiting a post flood apocalypse continental mass that still centres on a remnant of American military power. Leeward find a piece of radio transmitter and picks up a signal, seemingly from Dr Lee Archer, which may hold the clues not only to humanity’s salvation, but to its origins.
If this seems to hold a massive amount of imaginary conceit, it does. Whether it holds together this ambitious narrative into an integral whole is debatable. The story begins with riffs on ‘Alien’ and sundry other “team of scientists investigate and then are pursued by a new horror” stories, whilst also channelling H.P Lovecraft’s “Shadow over Innsmouth” and his other stories of a terror from the deep. It has also that Lovecraftan emphasis on monsters that can control and turn the human mind, and are reptilian, cold and utterly alien. A word here on the creatures, the “Mers.” Their design is one of the most successful components of the series. Shadowy echoes of the Mermaid myth, they are a fast, deadly combinatios of razor claws and teeth, with a haunting whale like cry and abilities to shoot out a substance from their eyes that can cause people to hallucinate.
So from the “Alien” like first quarter we move on to a greater threat of numbers and a larger parent creature as with “Aliens,” before a huge change of gear that plunges us into post apocalypse drama, before referencing “Chariots of the Gods” and some very high concept science fiction. For me the last sections were not wholly convincing, way too much of a stretch, and not entirely clear. But still, it is good to be stretched and challenged and not dumb down. But there is a sneaking suspicion it does not add up, or make sense. But this is far outweighed by the massively entertaining ride of the story as a whole. Scott Snyder’s writing powers the story along and is as immersive as its ocean setting. Sean Murphy’s artwork and Matt Hollingsworth’s colours conjure a world of dark, cold underwater spaces and also in other sections, a shimmering, almost washed out quality to the colouring, as if the pages had been retrieved from the sea. It makes the whole thing dream-like, as if things are always not quite in focus, which fits with the stories understanding of the human predicament. The style also gives the Mer’s a shadowy menace, as if you are catching them out of the corner of your eye, a feeling the first ‘Alien’ film established so well.
This is an ambitious ride of turbulent imagination.