By: Scott Snyder (story), Sean Murphy (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)
The Story: Don’t look behind you—what you see might make your head explode.
The Review: When it comes to writing fiction, going with the flow is a pretty good rule of thumb. Often, the worst pieces I ever read in my creative writing days were the ones where the authors had such a specific vision for their stories that they snuffed all sparks of originality, failing to develop the little details that could have given their stories life. But I think there’s a happy middle ground where you have room to improvise, but a clear plan as well.
That’s the sense you always get from Snyder-written works. These opening bits have all been rather obscure, even seemingly random from their lack of contextual connections. You can sort of shape a vague narrative from them, using quite a bit of guesswork, but for now, you must have faith that Snyder will weave them all together in the end. He can’t do that by just writing off the cuff, however. It’s clear that he knows exactly where this story is going and he knows precisely what information we need and where.
For now, while the story remains an underwater horror, Snyder has no need to distract us with excess exposition; he wants us focused on the immediate danger of the here and now. The same thing applies to our characters. They already operate at a disadvantage in this environment, and the only things they need to know at any given moment is what will help them survive to the next moment. This is the trademark of the best horror stories: when the situation is so unstable that you constantly feel the whole status quo can change in an instant.
The suspense ratchets up even higher when you recognize just how screwed our characters seem to be in their current position. Trapped in a secret deep-sea rig that’s actively falling apart around them, surrounded by enemies who are faster, stronger, and nearly as cunning, and pressured by natural forces that make their bodies and machinery seem completely superfluous, things look so bad for our crew that you don’t blame them for momentarily wanting to sit down, eat a luxury candy bar, and wait to die.
The odds are so stacked against them that it actually would be kind of anticlimactic if none of them manage to survive. Heck, Meeks seems like the type that can keep coming back no matter how many times he’s taken down. As reprehensible as he is, you can’t help feeling reassured by his presence; he may be the only one aggressive/dumb/crazy enough to show these creatures that humans aren’t totally dead in the water. But with Agent Cruz no longer around to rein him in, you have to wonder if Meeks will turn more of a hindrance than a help.
Snyder also knows the value of breaking up the pace so you don’t get completely winded halfway through. Dr. Marin’s folktale is the kind of thing lesser writers would easily mess up, either by poor timing or clunky narrative or otherwise. But nothing demonstrates Snyder’s gifts as a storyteller than his way of inserting these interstitial bits at just the right moment, keeping you enthralled with its steady rhythm and substance, and all the while discretely build up the tension so that your return to the present action feels natural, not sudden.
These action-driven stories tend to suffer in a comic since they don’t have the benefit of radical camera angles and frenetic movements to amp up the energy. Murphy doesn’t seem to recognize these limitations at all. He conveys a brisk, pulsing pace to the story by, like Snyder, knowing what to reveal and when, and by leveraging his medium to its maximum potential. Check the opening page to the “Toll” chapter, specifically that middle panel: when your eye naturally looks to the left, you see a crewmember swimming as fast as he can, barely lit by his electro-stick, stretching out his arms in a gesture of both desperation and fear; as your eye scans to the right, Murphy reveals the cause of his anxiety: a horde of the creatures, gliding in circular formation, a living whirlpool that rips apart anything caught in their grasp. It’s a perfect transition from instantly sensing the menace to gradually understanding its scope.
Conclusion: It’s not often that a piece of horror can also feel profound, but Snyder and Murphy manage it, even if they’re a bit coy with the plot development.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – A bit hilariously cruel of letterer Jared K. Fletcher (or Murphy) to make one of the doomed divers named Snyder.