The Wake 4

wake 4

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing The Wake 4, originally released September 25th, 2013.

Shelby:  Like any good nerd, I love me some board games. I like the strategy games a lot, but I’m not great at them. I played the Game of Thrones board game at my LCS recently, and I lost miserably. But, like anytime I find myself at the losing end of a game, I refused to give up until the bitter end. Whether it’s high-level strategy or something as simple as Plants vs. Zombies, I will play it out until it’s over. There’s some small hope that I might miraculously win, sure, but mostly it’s because I refuse to go down without a fight. I will make it as difficult and painful as possible for those around me until I have truly lost. I don’t know if this makes me admirably defiant in the face of certain doom, or just no fun to play games with, but it is how I roll. Lee Archer and the (very few) surviving crew members of the ghost rig find themselves in a similar “give up or go down fighting” sort of situation, but for them the stakes are a lot higher than comic shop bragging rights.

Things are going from bad to worse. The subs are gone, the rig is overrun with murderous mer-people, and the only survivors are Lee, Capt. Mackelmay, and Dr. Marin, the folklorist. They manage to hide in the pipeline, but are soon driven into the drill itself where they find Meeks, who survived because he is a badass and a huge dick. Inspired by Marin’s story of the Dutch town of Saeftinghe (who defiantly feasted and rang the town bells in the face of destruction), the team decides to turn the giant drill on full power, hoping the terrible noise will drive the creatures away. It works for a bit, until Grand-daddy Mer-Monster makes an appearance.

mer-monster

What we have here is a classic defiant last stand, otherwise known as the “there’s no hope in hell you’re going to make it” situation. The best part is, the characters know it. Mackelmay even makes the comment that they COULD head into the drill, but it would be “like sealing ourselves in the basement of the farmhouse when the zombies break through.” They’ve seen horror movies, they’ve asked those characters why they would do something as dumb as head to a place where they will be trapped by the monsters. Only now do Mackelmay and the gang understand that sometimes you go into the dead end (pardon the pun) because it’s the only option you’ve got left. Whether they’re going to go out proudly defiant like Marin or still hoping for that slim chance of escape like Lee, they are going to fight to the last.

I adore the tension Scott Snyder has created in this book. He keeps creating means for the remainder of the crew to potentially escape, only to dash our hopes with more of those fucking mer-monsters. The most heartbreaking is, of course, Lee, who refuses to give up because she didn’t have time to get her son his HDMI cables. It’s a mundane detail, but Snyder uses it so effectively to represent all the things Lee hasn’t done for her son and wants a chance to do. The best part about Snyder’s story, though, is when he knows to shut up and let Sean Murphy’s art and Matt Hollingsworth’s inks tell the story.

they're coming

This is that point in the movie when you know the monster is already here, and you find yourself holding your breath with the characters, hoping you won’t be discovered. I love effective uses of silence in movies, and this is what I would call an effective use of silence in comics. Murphy uses a lot of expansive black space in this book, which makes complete sense. They’re at the most bottom of the ocean you can get to, it’s always night. Plus, it really adds to the oppressive, isolated mood; if being along is bad, being along in the dark is one hundred times worse, and these guys are as alone as they could get.

There’s still just so much we don’t know about this story. We only got one flashback this issue, and it featured a tribe of Neanderthals trying to establish contact with a tribe of Homo Sapiens (presumably) on the plains of Africa (again, presumably) 100,000 years ago.  The Neanderthals get a face full of some sort of laser gun for their troubles.

ancient weaponsHahaha, what?  We’ve got this and the ancient cave painter whose eyes exploded when he looked through some sort of future-y device, plus that whole Earth-covered-in-oceans future that we still don’t have any where near resolved yet. Not to mention Lee’s connection to the mer-monsters; remember, she has encountered these creatures before, and survived. Now there’s a GIANT one who looks pretty pissed off, plus the chance this is all a hallucination brought about by the monsters, and everyone is already dead (Meeks showing up, unharmed? I don’t know, seems pretty convenient…). This book amazes me month to month, because even though I feel like I’m watching an amalgamation of Sphere, The Abyss, and The Thing, I still find myself surprised by the twists this book takes, and have no idea where it’s going to end up. Patrick, what do you think? Any chance any of our survivors are going to make it to the surface?

Patrick: Well, there’s some chance, sure. But Snyder and Murphy do an admirable job of making me doubt that. Shelby, you’re right to say that the last surviving quartet has the deck immeasurably stacked against them, but they also have a set of abilities that always proves to be relevant in this world: Dr. Marin tells folk stories and Dr. Lee divines actual, life-saving wisdom from them. Oh, and Lee’s wisdom is always related to sound and/or sea creatures. Ideally, this is how all thrillers would work – you put a group of people in a situation that they are uniquely capable of surviving.

Mind you, this situation is looking pretty grim so, what the hell do I know? I love all the examples of really oppressive atmosphere that Shelby pointed out above, but it should also be noted that this issue finds Murphy at his most chaotic. While the previous issues have shown us how dangerous one of these creatures is in close quarters or terrified us with how a group of them is able to shut down the rig, we’ve never quite seen them swarm like this before.

merpeople feast

It is violent and overwhelming. There’s a wonderful balance between cold foreboding plodding, and this fiery hot action. Each extreme benefits from the existence of the other. And really, it’s just smart pacing – the looming threat is so immediately horrifying that there’s even some urgency for Marin to spit that whole story out in a single page (which is naturally beautifully rendered by Murphy).

Actually, there’s very little here that Murphy doesn’t excel at. If there was a tool box full of narrative tricks, Murphy might have cleaned it out with this issue. The way he wields perspective is absolutely incredible, and those long dark hallways of the rig feel interminable. But I think my favorite trick of perspective is when we can see Lee and Cruz in their scuba suits, complete with Tony Stark-esque heads-up display. Because we’re on the other side, the HUD appears to be displaying its information backwards, which is already pretty disorienting and cool (and allows Murphy to slip in an opaque Punk Rock Jesus reference, and name one of the randos from the rig after Snyder). But the center-piece is Lee’s head, floating alone in the blackness, surrounded by luminous data we can’t read or understand. I mentioned Tony Stark before because I know we see this exact visual used in Iron Man, but it doesn’t really mean anything there. It’s Tony’s interface with the suit and Jarvis – who cares? The Wake uses that display to highlight the isolation of the characters, and to point out that we — as the audience — are kind of at the mercy of the characters to divine meaning from data we’re presented with.

Right? No matter what we postulate about our flashes forward and back, we’re so far away from being able to solve the puzzle. It’s like we’re given the letters R S T L N and E and only one panel lights up. We need to have the experts guess the right letters and solve it for us. Normally, that kind of thing frustrates me — I don’t like it when I’m invited to play along with a mystery, only to discover the characters have some information I could never have. But Snyder is playing with stories, concepts and theories that exist in the real world. The keys to survival in this situation are a real-life folk tale, and evidence that marine life can be harmed by extremely loud noises. Snyder’s not withholding these pieces of information from us, he’s revealing them to us in the most dramatic and meaningful way possible.

Goodness, we do go on, don’t we? I think this series has been really great so far and it’s certainly the most effective thriller I’m currently reading, but some of the emotional beats aren’t playing out as successfully for me. Shelby, you mentioned Lee refusing to die because she never bought her son the HDMI cables for his game. The specificity of that detail trivializes their relationship – it’s not even like she had some extra insight into the kid or anything, it’s literally just a piece of equipment that he asked for. By contrast, Cruz’ dying words telling her to fix the heater on her boat because he always hated how cold he was when he visited his father is basically a perfect emotional moment. It suggests generations of sea-bound scientists being sorta-shitty to their kids and the steps the current generation can do to fix it. Lee’s mortified response “…I will” kind of summarizes her whole mindset. She’s going to survive so she can get back and be a better mother. HDMI cables are just awkward dressing on that theme.

Okay, you can stop digging for it – here’s the Punk Rock Jesus reference:

susej kcor knup

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

6 comments on “The Wake 4

  1. Also, on the mini-sub HUD where we see the random crew member named after Snyder, there’s another crewman named McCogan, a character in American Vampire, from a story that’s another Snyder/Murphy collaboration apparently.

    NERDY!

  2. Shelbs, those two panels of the crew standing in waist-deep inky water seems like explicit references to Aliens. You know that scene where Newt’s in the water and the alien tail snakes its way out of the water? I wonder if there are more of THOSE that I’m missing. It’s not just a general vibe this thing cribs from my favorite sci-fi horror flicks, but specific scenes and images — all while maintaining its own identity, of course. I love that.

  3. Just when I think I have some clue as to where this thing is going, Snyder introduces high-tech weapons 10,000 years ago. I’m reminded of what he told me in that interview: “I wouldn’t even say it’s the creatures’ story. I would say it’s the story of human evolution, with some mysteries that we haven’t really revealed yet. It’s more about this question of ‘what are these creatures trying to tell us about ourselves?’ Over and over in this weird call they make.” I think we still don’t have enough information to really get a handle on the scope of this series.

    • We only get the one flashback in this issue, and I think it’s to the series benefit. As much as I love getting glimpses of the bigger picture, I feel like this issue is unusually focused on the here and now and it’s that much more engaging because of it. Like, it was a big deal in the past to get a huge tease from the future or the ancient past on the final page, but seeing Mega-Mer-Man on the last page here is SO much more rewarding than an exploding moon or whatever.

      • But seriously: what does this story have to do with a bunch of neanderthals being blasted by some futuristic weapon? Or the moon Blowing up? Don’t get me wrong — I’m enjoying the thriller being told in the present-day sections, but for me, the thing that really sets this series apart is the notion that these things somehow fit with something bigger.

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