Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing The Wake 2, originally released June 26th, 2013.
Patrick: Michael Crichton made a career out of crafting exposition that was interesting in and of itself. Starting with Congo in 1980, all of his books hinged on impossibly high-concept ideas that were so close to being fact that reading his books felt like learning something. You know that moment in Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum’s character edges forward in his seat as he listens to Mr. DNA’s explanation of the cloning process? That’s what 90% of the experience of reading Crichton’s books is like. The science, the history, the psychology — it all manages to contain just enough truth to spark a reader’s imagination. Reading the book becomes an act of discovery, both in terms of the fictional world and your real world. The effect is propulsive, and makes even a simple dinosaur adventure seem revelatory. Scott Snyder employs the same trick as he anchors his monster in myth and evolutionary science. Not a whole lot happens on the page, the story instead plays out in your own head.
No foolin’: the only thing I can say for sure that happens in this issue is that the assembled team of experts talks about what they think the creature is. There are the characteristic flashes back and forward, the former depicting prehistoric ape creatures using a woolly mammoth as bait to catch a giant shark, and the later showing the moon exploding in a Waterworld-esque future.
But that’s not all — people are also experiencing vivid living-nightmare hallucinations. Archer sees her son, soaking wet, at both the start of the issue and again at the end. It’s unclear if these are the same vision, or a recurring vision, or even if Parker is actually there the second time. Our clues as to what’s causing these hallucinations are minimal — but it seems like the creature’s cry is responsible. Poor Brenner, who was attacked by the creature when they discovered it, sees his naked wife bathing in a waterfall — only… well, that ain’t his wife.
She asks him to turn on the waterfall by pulling a lever. In actually, that lever sets the creature free.
All of that is interesting, but I can’t help but feel like we simply lack the information necessary to dig into what’s happening here much deeper. The driving forces behind this issue are the twin explanation of the existence of these water-men. Dr. Marin — the folklore expert — declares the creature “a raindrop,” or a real-life source of myth. Y’know, like how ancient sailors were out at sea so long, manatees started to look like beautiful half-fish women. Archer offers a more detailed explanation — that these creatures are evolutionarily divergent from a common ancestor with humans. This is based on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, which is a real (if largely dismissed) theory that posits that many of our distinctly human characteristics evolved when we returned to the water. I love this shit. There are just enough good points in here to trick my imagination into thinking that I’m exploring actual evolutionary biology. It’s playing the game of “if this is true, then what else is true?” but the starting positions are all true.
Of course, Archer’s experience with these things is more than just a well constructed set of hypotheticals. We get another flashback to what I can only assume is one of these creatures pulling her under water, but she doesn’t mention the incident to her compatriots. But the fact that we’re privy to that information lends a lot of authority to her assertion: “I think it’s us.”
Sean Murphy’s art is enchanting as ever. Just as the last issue began with the unreal spectacle of a city underwater, this one opens on this predatory ambush that manages to convey ridiculous scope.
That’s a big damn shark. If the monsters we’re dealing with in this series are in fact descendant from these Aquatic Apes, then they’re far more organized, fearless and capable than would be suggested by the lone scout we’ve encountered so far. And that’s all conveyed without a word. Nice work guys.
There’s also something terrifying about the monster having so much in common with humans. Not only does it raise ethical questions about treating it like a monster, but their behavior can serve as a funhouse mirror of our own behavior. One of the scariest things about the aliens from Alien is how they ooze human sexuality — just never in a sexy way. Alien reproduction is violent and invasive, but it is a distinctly sexual act, and the xenomorph’s slender bodies and giant-phallus-heads continue to confuse the sexual imagery. Whatever similarity The Wake‘s monsters have to our protagonists has yet to fully reveal itself, but Archer’s theory is more than enough to suggest that a connection is forthcoming.
Drew, how did you find the second issue? I know it was mostly info dump, but the kind of information being bandied about almost made me feel like I was eavesdropping on a really cool science fiction brainstorming session. Did you wish there was a little more exploration and a little less talkin’ about it?
Drew: I have to admit, this issue felt more than a little bogged down by the exposition. There are explanations of just about everything here: Meeker’s background, how they caught the creature, what a raindrop is, more about Archer’s background, what the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is. My eyes started to glaze over around the third info dump. Fortunately, the exposition is couched within several compelling wordless (or nearly wordless) passages which can’t help but convey story happening right now (even if it happened 5.1 million years ago). Curiously, several of those passages are every bit as expository as the monologues, but they come across much more naturally when not crammed into a single speech balloon.
This passage brilliantly conveys almost everything we need to know about these characters without ever needing to mention anything about homes in international waters or expertise in folklore. I’m particularly enamored of the detail that Wainwright is reading the article on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis Archer brought up earlier, suggesting that he probably isn’t on her level, after all.
Patrick, your Crichton comparisons are spot-on. The comparisons to Jurassic Park are obvious, as are those to his less-beloved (but appropriately deep-sea) Sphere — both feature scientific teams brought together to examine some kind of exotic, otherworldly entity, which ultimately goes awry and threatens to kill all of them. I like both of those stories enough to relish a simple retread, but I also trust that Snyder has his sights set much higher. In fact, one of my favorite things about both of those Crichton stories is the bait-and-switch they both pull. Jurassic Park ends up being much more about chaos theory than it is about dinosaur genetics, and Sphere ends up being a psychological thriller, rather than the sci-fi story it seems to be up front. The thought of the excess exposition serving as misdirection actually makes it much more palatable — I’m almost certain one of our intrepid scientists won’t make it through the next issue. Plus, there’s this whole thing about the moon blowing up, which suggests that the story really is bigger than whatever happens on this deep-sea oil rig.
Like Patrick said, Murphy is absolutely killing it here. As I mentioned last month, everything is spot on, and I love the extended inking techniques he employs here — note the fingerprints all over that exploding moon. Still, I’ve got to chide him a bit for drawing the ascent stage of a lunar landing module still attached to the descent stage (something I called out Fernando Pasarin for in Green Lantern Corps 16). I know this is nitpick-y, and I fully appreciate that the only reference photos would feature the ascent stage (since it was the photographers’ ride), but it also strikes me as an obvious, easy-to-avoid mistake (bearing in mind that I may be the only person on the Earth or the moon who could possibly give a shit about this).
The volume of exposition in this issue may have made it a sleepier installment, but it’s got more than enough giant sharks to make up for it. (Boy, this has been a great month for giant sharks, huh?) I may not love every second of the exposition here, but I think this issue may have successfully gotten it out of the way. The monster is on the loose — no more time for monologuing. Now we just wait and see if he can open doors.
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