For those of you late to this particular party, the final issue of The Wake came out this Wednesday! This epic aquatic adventure is a Vertigo Comics published book, created by Scott Snyder (writer of things like Batman, American Vampire, and Severed) and Sean Murphy (artist of things like Punk Rock Jesus and Joe the Barbarian). It also just won an Eisner for Best Limited Series! As such, in the wake of my Eisner reviews I felt compelled to give this issue (and series) some special attention, but also because after reading the final issue there is no way I will be able to stop talking about it. What Snyder and Murphy have done is take a story and make it one part mythology, one part horror, one part sci-fi, and then wrap it all up with a bow in one big, fat creation myth. Which is honestly mind boggling, and well deserving of that Eisner award. This comic needs to be talked about! And not just because it’s got mermaids and pirates in it. But also because it’s got mermaids and pirates in it.
The whole story starts out on a submarine. For any of you familiar with Snyder’s work, you might already suspect that there is going to be something truly horrific about this set up, and you wouldn’t be wrong. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a long time Snyder fan, it’s that he never disappoints, and this time it’s with the most horrific of all sea creatures. At the beginning of the story Marine biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security, who want her help in dealing with a new, mysterious underwater threat that is a mystery to everyone around her, but Lee might have come across it before. Before Lee knows it she is letting herself be led to a secret, underwater oil rig in the depths of the Arctic Circle where a team of scientists, folklore experts, and hunters have discovered something both miraculous and horrifying – a sea creature with the body of a merperson and the face of a monster. Giving a whole new, frightening meaning to the phrase “There’s something down there.”
By issue #10, things have drastically changed in this story. The first couple issues are the perfect horror movie set up; a team of adventurers trapped together in an underwater oil rig with an unknown creature that’s itching to break free, it’s creepy and enticing to anyone who’s a fan of the horror/sci-fi genre. The scene where the creature uses its weird, hallucinogenic powers to make Matthew believe his wife is on board and tricks him into setting it free gives me chills every time, as does the unholy watery hell that is unleashed on the crew directly afterward. From there we jump backward and forward in time, after the Mers flood the world and long before it to the beginning of the world’s history itself. The really unique thing about this book is that over the span of a mere ten issues, Snyder covers centuries of history and lore into this single story that makes for a compelling and dramatic end result when we finally reach the grand finale. Also, considering the world he paints for most of the story is almost entirely covered in water, this is no small feat.
Two stories inevitably and finally collide in this final, mind-bending issue which ends this incredible series. The stories of Dr. Lee Archer and her doomed expedition, and a woman of the future named Leeward who risks everything to uncover the truth with her sonic dolphin sidekick, intertwine to conclude a mystery at the bottom of the ocean that neither could have ever predicted at the start of their journeys. Both women have a mission to discover the answers at the heart of what’s down there, and in the end, they find a lot more then that. They find peace, and the mere fact that this story centers around not one, but two female leads, is one of the strongest points of this miniseries. Two hundred years have passed since Dr. Archer and her team’s discovery. Two hundred years since the flood. Most of the world is covered in water and things aren’t looking good for Leeward and what’s left of humanity. She’s managed to align herself with a group of pirates (yes, pirates, this book is that awesome) to follow her in a crazy, possibly suicidal pursuit to the ends of the earth after Leeward has heard a message from Dr. Archer herself, convinced that she can either find Dr. Archer or discover the truth behind what happened before the flood, and what these Mer people really are. Without spoilers, I can tell you that the end result of what she finds is nothing you could have ever imagined or guessed, but maybe the truth you’ve unknowingly been waiting for.
Murphy (who won the Eisner award for Best Penciller/Inker this year for his work on The Wake) illustrates a beautiful, near mythical world that’s also steeped in realism, giving us a glimpse of something we might still recognize. The intricate detail and preciseness of his art is only further illustrated by Matt Hollingsworth’s gorgeous use of colour. Snyder’s writing is full of hope and hidden meaning, as deep as the depths of the ocean world he explores. Read this great interview with Snyder and Murphy that fully illustrates their intentions with the end of the miniseries, but beware of spoilers! He breathes new life into those long dead while creating a refreshing, meaningful story of Earth’s history. In so many ways this comic transcends all ideas of a traditional horror/sci-fi genre and tacks on a creation myth at the end that surprises and delights. As a reader, I felt a real sense of catharsis, the final issue’s message of finding hope for the future in the face of all odds and the bravery in exploration is as bold as is the meaning of The Wake’s title itself. Discovering peace beyond the veil, the power of memory, and the hope that comes for those left behind to carry it for them.