William Rosenthal ’16 / Emertainment Monthly
The Wake sees the collaboration between writer Scott Snyder and artist Sean Murphy. The last time these two worked together was on American Vampire; Survival of the Fittest, and since then, Snyder and Murphy found individual success. Now, they’re back with a horror book that draws from both their strengths.
The character set-ups are a large part of this issue. While each character feels distinct, they come off as archetypal, like we might have seen similar characters in popular media. For instance, looking at the protagonist Dr. Archer, we learn that she’s an intelligent woman with a tragic past and a crumbling family life. So, when the mysterious Agent Cruz comes to her to solve the threat in Alaska, she has the opportunity to take this job and earn back her reputation and son. From this, Archer feels more like a stereotypical protagonist, because her character is mostly parts pulled from other classic horror stories and placed in a more aquatic setting. In his other stories, Snyder takes classically composed characters and throws them into very dark situations where they come out with the fresh, original feeling you craved at the start.
Snyder grips the reader in the first issue using the mystery rather than the characters. The first hook came with the opening scene where we’re given a brief glimpse into a future 200 years after the events with Archer. There’s a city flooded to the roofs, a mysterious woman who works with an armored dolphin, and, finally, the eyes of what we can assume is the monster at the end of issue one. These eerie details leave the reader with a disturbing curiosity to continue and see how the events in the present create this future.
Snyder understands how to write a horror comic book. It’s been the foundation of his career. In fact, this book is quite similar to his other series, Severed, a limited series from Image, almost point for point for the first issue.
To begin, The Wake starts off with the scene 200 years after the events of the story. In this scene, we learn that there’s an unknown force, possibly connected to the events of the present, which caused untold destruction and survived 200 years. Looking at Severed, which starts with a scene in the future after the events of the story, we learn almost the same bullet points. I can’t help but feel that opening of The Wake recycles the opening of Severed.
To compliment Snyder’s writing, Murphy adds some unique art for the characters. Looking at the protagonist again, Archer, Murphy’s design of her did more for me to relate to the character than the writing. Murphy adds a realist level to all his characters, and it really stands out for Archer. It’s the little details that make her feel human: her long, messy hair and unplucked eyebrows from long outings at sea, the stress lines in her smile when she sees her son, all while not clouding the image and keeping the character looking attractive, but not sexualized. For an artist who earned his fame rather quickly, Murphy draws with a maturity that is rare in the medium.
Although, the monster has to match the man, and, from Murphy’s art, I’m more interested and curious than disturbed by it, which is not what I wanted. The monster looks like a mermaid with a b-movie monster face in a strait jacket. I wasn’t afraid by the time of its appearance since it’s essentially a more revealing version of the cover art. There isn’t much mystery about it anymore and, for that reason, the horror atmosphere isn’t felt as much as in the beginning when its eyes opened. It’s the lynch point of the story and settings, so I wish it had more intrigue surrounding it, or as much as intrigue as its origins received.
That being said, Murphy’s art adds to the horror atmosphere in almost every other aspect. This art, especially his human characters, comes off as stylized to the point where the line is blurred between human and inhuman. His art is similar to living statues. The characters are quite composed and gritty, but they have details in their motions that feel very organic in contrast to their stone-like presentation. This effect comes from some great pencil work which uses hard, straight lines and long dark shading. A great example of this is in this screams, like in Archer’s flashback. The jaw is so long and shading so wide and dark that it gives this impression that this character’s jaw is about to come off. In the previous page, we see her reserved and cold, but this detail into her emotion is almost surreal. It’s a wonderful style, just as captivating as the writing.
I plan to follow The Wake until the end. For all the times I felt the first issue let me down or I’d seen it before, there’s enough to keep me invested. I want to see the outcome of these characters, Archer succeed and get her son back, and how these different times link up, as well as Murphy’s excellent interpretation onto the page. This will have its place in my stack for the next nine months as this combination of talent is a joy from the first issue.