December 13, 2016

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The Wake by Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth

Written by Scott Snyder
Line Art by Sean Murphy
Color Art by Matt Hollingsworth
Published by Vertigo/DC

Dr. Archer is drawn into a mysterious undersea project by a government that's previously rejected her, leading to the discovery of creatures at the ocean's floor who may hold a key to her past, even as they threaten her future. In another time, a flooded world tries to recover while rumors fly of a way to recover from devastation, if only the right people will listen. It's all woven together in The Wake, a great mini-series that won an Eisner, which is hard to argue with.

There's a wonderful sense of horror and mystery in this one, as we first need to discover just what it is that's hurting a top-secret drilling project and then seek a way to save humanity. Snyder really understands the pacing necessary to make a horror story work, and this case is no exception. We open with a mysterious project, find a creature that man thinks he can contain, and when he can't, no amount of preparation can save him from the consequences.

Once that arc is completed, the story pivots to a different kind of horror story--one in which the worst has already happened and the devolution of humanity into something savage and barely recognizable. That's when our second heroine, Leeward, must evade both the dangers of the world and also what's left of the American government in order to bring about change. It's a story of hope against the odds, and my only complaint is that, given the world we're set in, I'm not sure that the ending exactly fits. I think Snyder tries a bit too hard to provide a moral lesson, and the in-world logic really gets dodgy, at least to me.

What is not dodgy is Murphy's art, combined with Hollingsworth's coloring. Here's one of the first pages from the book, where Murphy is establishing the world that Leeward lives in:


We can see right away that things are flooded, Florida-in-ten-years style. Buildings are falling over and falling apart, so we know that humanity isn't doing well, even if our protagonist seems to be doing okay for herself. We see she uses an animal for help and is athletic. Leeward is also alone, further indicating bad things have happened, and the waves at the bottom, along with the cut-in panel showing the concern on her face, tell us that something is very very wrong, even above and beyond the overall wrongness of the situation. All of this is conveyed in the space of two pages.

Snyder does a great job of using Murphy's extreme talents to tell the story, rather than talking over it. We don't need to get into endless explanations, except in a few parts, because Murphy makes the scene to clear, in panel after panel. That means that the characters can talk and interact instead of being exposition factories. Additionally, each ones gets their own distinctive voice, even as they are archetypes of horror characters, ranging from the lawman, the outlaw who isn't all bad, the dreamer, and the heroine. Cleverly, each role is doubled in the dual narrative, too.

I really dig Murphy's art style, which is rough but still structured, reminding me a lot of Matteo Scalera. His added lines and extremely thin pencil work combine to create a very strong atmosphere, and his panel construction is unbelievable. Here's another example, when Dr. Archer meets the monster:


Just look at that structuring! It's one part Mignola, one part Sienkiewicz, and maybe just a bit of Frank Miller thrown in for good measure. Murphy is an amazing talent, and even if you find the story running out of steam, his art pushes you past the rough edges. Combined with Hollingsworth's excellent coloring choices, this is one gorgeous book.

I wish I'd read this one sooner. It's a great horror story, and one I definitely recommend. Snyder's totally wasted doing superhero books--his horror stuff is just so damned good. Make sure you check this one out, if you haven't yet.