By: Scott Snyder (story), Sean Murphy (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)

The Story: We have a lot more to fear from the sea than the urine of our fellow swimmers.

The Review: Coincidentally enough, yesterday morning I happened to catch a clip of Animal Planet’s pseudo-documentary on mermaids, which, if you can believe it, apparently captured the largest audience the channel’s ever gotten for a program.  Even though the whole thing was expressly made up, quite a lot of people tuned in anyway to watch scientists (Real?  Fake?) feign astonishment and amazement at fake footage of humanoid sea creatures.

I have to admit, I did find eerie this one part of the clip where the scientists are watching a video taken deep underwater, and suddenly, breaking the pitch darkness, you see an illuminated, finned hand briefly slap the camera with a startling thump.  It had the same vaguely chilling effect of an alien movie, not the kind where the aliens are already rampaging about in droves, but when the humans are only just starting to see incontrovertible signs of their existence already on the planet.  It reminds you just how mysterious and threatening the ocean remains in our knowledge.

Snyder taps into this notion for The Wake, and the issue does wind up with an extraterrestrial invasion vibe.  Animal Planet described its documentary as entertainment based on scientific theory, which seems like a pretty apt encapsulation for what Snyder does here.  Although the appearance and structure of the issue is distinctly sci-fi, Snyder is determined to make it as scientifically convincing as possible.  Make no mistake, the man did his research; to explain why the rapidly descending sub can maintain its pressure, he writes, “The atmosphere in here is designer breathing gas, to safeguard against the speed of the descent.  Helium, oxygen, and a touch of sulfur hexafluoride to even out your voice.”  Not until the last page do you get a suggestion that this series will cover the technologically fantastic as much as the biological.

Even with all this conceptual work, Snyder doesn’t lose sight of the importance of good character development.  Lee Archer, our protagonist cetologist,* arrives packaged with some fairly dramatic backstory: expulsion from the NOAA,* losing custody of her son Parker, and a traumatic accident on the sea in her youth.  It is her current tension with the government and their sudden need for her skills, however, that’s set to drive the story’s conflict.

By now it’s so expected of the government to be involved in any encounter with the unknown that it’s almost cliché, but Snyder has not yet revealed exactly what part the government has in this story.  What we do see bodes ill; Agent Astor Cruz clearly has no hesitation to emotionally manipulate people or conceal information (“I didn’t say anything about there not being a sub.”) to achieve his goals, and when confronted with a secret and illegal “ghost rig” at the bottom of the sea, he merely says, “it has the potential to extract nearly two hundred thousand barrels a day,” as if that’s justification enough.  It’s a sign that if there’s a connection between this narrative and that of the drowned, cataclysmic world we see 200 years later, it may be that humans sowed their own destruction.  It’s significant that by the time Archer arrives at their destination, things are already starting to get out of control.

I’ve heard much of Murphy’s art and seen some of it in flipping through Punk Rock Jesus, but this is the first time I’ve been treated to a whole issue of it.  It’s a really interesting style.  With his hair-thin linework, he’s capable of capturing an enormous amount of detail, using strong shading and hatching to create depth from his largely flat figures.  He’s helped in that regard by Hollingsworth’s colors, which takes Murphy’s narrow range of perspective and makes it look astonishingly dimensional.  Between the two of them, you can have confidence of their ability to draw almost anything with the perfect emotional resonance, whether it’s the joy and wonder of a whale breaching the surface of Gig Harbor, Washington, or the unsettling chill of a massive man-made structure secretly operating at the bottom of the sea.

Conclusion: Snyder explores yet another side to the horror genre, plumbing the depths of the sea for the terrors it holds.  Everything, from the narrative structure to the character work, puts his talent on display.  Murphy’s art, given color, is completely supportive, enhancing the impact of every beat in Snyder’s script.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Cetologist: one who studies whales and related aquatic mammals.

* NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.