June 2, 2013

Vertigo Comics Reviews: The Wake #1

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Written by: Jeff Lake
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imageThe Wake #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Sean Murphy
Publisher: Vertigo

When Vertigo first announced The Wake back in October, my immediate thought was: bought. A ten issue, limited series featuring two of my favorite creators collaborating on an underwater sci-fi epic? Yeah, that’s pretty much guaranteed awesome. Days turned into weeks, weeks to months, and now issue #1 is finally nestled in my sweaty grasp. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely and unequivocally, yes.

Co-created by superstars Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy, The Wake is a mystery thriller wrapped in a sci-fi shell. This first issue introduces us to Dr. Lee Archer, a cetologist (whale whisperer) and single mother struggling to stay afloat in more ways than one. On the self described shit list of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Dr. Archer is given a shot at redemption (and reinstatement) by the mysterious Agent Cruz of Homeland Security. Tasked to identify a strange noise recorded by Cruz and his associates deep in their oceanic “Ghost Rig,” Archer descends into the Alaskan depths where she discovers that things aren’t exactly what they seem…and they aren’t alone.

Snyder does a great job of setting the tone in this first issue, balancing an array of set pieces (and time jumps) easily and organically. The plot is intelligent and well crafted, the characters instantly engaging, and we as readers are immediately concerned for their well being. Though some may see the initial setup as formulaic, I think Snyder does a wonderful job of steering the metaphorical boat into uncharted waters. The Wake is remarkably stripped down and self contained, each scene tight and concise with no added fluff. It’s 100% character driven with zero needless exposition or explanation; this really adds to the atmosphere of the book, as we know just as much (or as little) as the characters themselves. The issue ends with a bevy of WTF moments, made even scarier when you realize that this is just the beginning. Though Snyder has always done horror well (American Vampire, Severed), The Wake is a truly unsettling animal that sets a high bar.

Not to be outdone, artist Sean Murphy again proves he belongs in the upper echelon of today’s comic artists. Seriously, this guy is ridiculous; his panels are so fluid, so expressive, so fully realized that even a simple “talkie” scene draws the eye. Much like his work in the creator owned Punk Rock Jesus (eagle eyed fans will notice a PRJ Easter egg), Murphy showcases an amazing attention to detail, everything from buttons to bolts painstakingly rendered. His hyper-realistic style is the perfect complement to Snyder’s writing, particularly so in the more atmospheric scenes. Some of his imagery is downright haunting – one flashback sequence in particular caught me transfixed – and as things get darker the art can only get better. Oftentimes a good artist can make a good book great; Murphy makes The Wake exceptional.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi horror, literally deep mysteries or armored dolphins, pick up this book. Snyder and Murphy come out swinging, delivering a truly impressive debut that leaves you wanting more. With an eerily intriguing plot and truly mesmerizing art, The Wake is my favorite debut of the year and well worth the plunge.

Jeff Lake



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