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

I have a bad habit to confess.  I’m one of those jerks who like to flip to the end of a book to see what happens.  It’s wrong, I know, but I can’t help myself.  The good thing is this doesn’t really harm my enjoyment of a story because then I get so eager to see how it winds up where it does.  Spoilers actually have the opposite effect on me than it does for many other folks.  It’s just one of the many things that make me dysfunctional.

Consequently, serial fiction is a really good medicine for me because it forces me to anticipate and speculate like everyone else.  There’s no skipping ahead with comics.*  This can be quite frustrating when you have a writer like Snyder, who revels in dragging out the suspense, adding one mysterious layer on top of the other in such a way that you can’t see the entire cake until he’s finished with it.  You know it’ll be a treat when he gets there; that’s what makes it so delightfully painful to be patient.

Thus far, Snyder’s skipped us around several periods, going as far back as the earliest points of human (rudimentarily speaking) history.  Here, he goes beyond that, suggesting our origins, and the origins of these aquatic creatures, began outside of Earth.  We see, 3.8 billion years ago, a pristine Mars, lush, verdant, covered with oceans.  Snyder gives us only a single hint as to how it goes from this to its current deserted state, and how this might tie into the development of life on Earth: a smoking, flashing, unidentifiable celestial object, striking Mars in an explosive way.

So you have no shortage of clues on this series.  Putting them together is the real difficult task, made even more so by the distraction of Lee’s storyline, urgently grabbing for your attention at every moment. The Wake may be a sci-fi epic in the abstract, but right now it functions as your typical horror, trapping our cast in the most claustrophobic, threatening environment possible, along with an impossible foe who outwits them at every turn.

It’s clear that Snyder’s composition of the cast was precisely made to demonstrate how ineffectual all our human competence is versus this seemingly feral creature.  It’s not enough that it has superior speed, strength, and physical traits, nor that it shows strategic intelligence at least on par with all the analytical skills Lee or anyone else has to offer.  The creature can disorient the human mind, shutting down the rational centers and using dream-logic to catch people unaware.  Judging from Meeks stand-off with the creature, it’s possible it comes with tech of its own, beyond its physical prodigiousness.

If Meeks does nothing else before his untimely end, he represents humanity’s enduring arrogance.  He believes that he’s sparring with “the last of a species,” even though there’s no evidence to suggest the creature is alone in the world.  How can something so perfectly evolved become endangered?  Obviously, we’re much smarter than Meeks is; even without Lee spelling it out for us until we get to the inevitable reveal, we know our characters will be dealing with much more than one monster in the water.

Speaking of Lee’s explanations, I’m always amazed that Snyder can get away with these long, almost windy monologues in a comic, but he just has a gift for keeping you focused on his narrative, no matter how long they ramble.  He takes these inexplicable scientific phenomena and gets you obsessed with their mysteries.  The story of “the fifty-two hertz whale” is an outstanding example of Snyder’s craft: intelligent without dryness, cunningly told yet totally natural—and so perfectly timed, as he ends on a note with all the darkness of a death knell.

Not that earlier issues lacked in action, but action is front and center in this issue.  Murphy’s lines are sharp and sleek, almost as if instead of drawing he took quick flicks of knife against the page, making the characters’ reactions more sudden and panicked, and the creature’s movements impossible to defend against.  Murphy’s half-underwater perspectives are brilliant, allowing you to see the terror of the people above the surface, while beneath you see the creature in the blaze of his hunt.  Hollingsworth keeps his colors muted and shadowy, amplifying the paranoia and heart-thumping tension of these embattled characters.

Conclusion: As close to delivering the visceral fear of a horror film in a comic as you can get, Snyder and Murphy work in perfect unison to produce a top-notch sci-fi thriller with actual scientific thought behind it.

Grade: A

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Unless you wait a year or so for the whole thing to be over and then read it all at once.  But the point is you’re still waiting for the ending.