By: Scott Snyder (story), Sean Murphy (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)
The Story: There are worse things, it seems, than living in the gullet of a giant mutant fish.
The Review: Only two issues left after this, which leaves Snyder only a short time to wrap up this beautiful, desolate world that he and Murphy have crafted. I understand all the practical reasons why an ongoing Wake series wouldn’t have worked for them, but I still feel we’re all missing out on what might have been one of the great comic book stories of the decade. What we ultimately get is worthwhile and memorable, but without the epic quality it truly deserves.
And that’s all a product of not having enough time to let certain moments land, to explore certain settings, to give certain developments to make their impact. Ever since we started the second half of The Wake, the pacing has been like a tour guide on a cheap package, rushing you to one sight and whisking you away to another right after you’ve taken a picture but before you’ve really absorbed the experience. Events that should take place over a span of many issues get compacted into a few pages, making Leeward’s world-changing quest feel like a one-hour adventure.
Like I said, Snyder has little choice in the matter. With a ten-issue cap, that means the ninth issue has to be devoted towards building up to a climax and the tenth must decide the fate of the world, one way or another. That leaves only this issue for Leeward to find the means to get that far. Snyder squeezes in as much substance as he can between the necessary beats—the Outliers’ subsistence deep sea creatures, their pirate society and class system, bits of their origins and history—but all these things are ultimately subject to the plotting Snyder has to get done.
Of course, Snyder doesn’t help matters by filling whole pages with ambiguous, metaphor-laden monologues. Our first comes from Captain Mary (after the island St. Mary) of the Outliers, who observes that the Mers seem to pay special consideration to the most curious humans, the mariners and explorers. Interesting musings, to be sure, and certainly to have some connection to the similarly ambiguous flashbacks of the ancient past we saw in The Wake‘s first half. But here, it’s mostly a convoluted way of throwing Leeward off-track, which doesn’t work, obviously.
Vivienne uses a similar tactic, reciting a cautionary tale about a little girl whose obsession with things before the flood lead to her sordid end, all to keep Marlow from persisting with questions about the signal Leeward heard. The problem is this is too close to the same thing she pulled last issue, with that whole story about birds following a misleading beacon to their deaths. The point is easy enough to pick out, but it’s not a new one, nor does it give us greater insight into her motivations.
There’s one new spin to this otherwise redundant scene, which is that Marlow, under the hallucinatory effects of Mer venom, sees Vivienne as a beautiful nude woman, who then kisses him as she sings a seductive, dreamy rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” When the illusion ends, we see Vivienne clutching at one bare shoulder and grinning mischievously at him with an inscrutable, “Heh.” It’s worth noting that despite indiscriminately killing anyone who even heard Leeward’s signal, Vivienne has deigned to let Marlow live, even though he directly pushes her on the subject. It’s not clear how Vivienne’s possible attachment to Marlow will affect the story, but it’s an intriguing connection, no?
But the most intriguing connection by far is between Leeward’s signal and the origins of the Outliers, who reveal themselves to be progeny of some kind from Meeks, who according to their history manned a ship to the port where they now reside. But if Meeks survived, as this revelation suggests, and if Leeward’s signal was “fresh broadcasting,” what does this mean for Lee’s fate? “I’ve alive down here,” her message claimed. Now you have to wonder if it was meant literally.
All along, Murphy has been doing his part to give the story the substance that the narrative itself doesn’t deliver. His conceptual designs offer only hints as to the world’s history, but they are deeply engrossing hints nonetheless: the gasbags keeping the massive Alamo aloft, the use of old automobiles (wheels removed) as platforms, the Outliers’ hunting trophies and choice of dress, Captain Mary’s missing hand and the various instruments he uses to replace it. And over all this you have Hollingsworth applying the most vivid colors with the softest hand possible to draw your eye without overwhelming it.
Conclusion: Once you resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never get as much out of The Wake as you want, you’ll see what it does give you is more than what many other titles with longer runs do.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I get really nervous, seeing Dash exposed in the dry air like that. Hope they put him back in water between the beginning and end of the issue.