Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing The Wake 5, originally released November 20th, 2013.
Shelby: I love being surprised by a story. There’s the smug satisfaction of thinking you’ve figured it all out, followed by the shock of things playing out completely differently. If the storytelling is good, you don’t even care that you were wrong; it’s like the ground just opened up beneath you and you find yourself dropped into a totally different story. These last five issues of The Wake have given us a sci fi, underwater horror tale as Lee Archer fights horrifying mer-monsters at the bottom of the ocean. We’ve gotten glimpses at a much bigger picture, but the bulk of the story has taken place on the ghost rig. At the end of the book, Scott Snyder tells us that was all setup, that now the real story starts, and shit is gonna get crazy. That’s a paraphrase, mind you: Scott Snyder is far more eloquent in his delivery.
Lee, Mackelmay, Dr. Marin, and Meeks hole up in Meeks’ secret hunting lodge room on the rig. He’s got a vehicle in there meant for killing deep sea animals, and it’s looking like that vehicle is their only shot at stopping the monsters. You see, Lee has figured it all out; the first creature was just a scout, sent to see if the rig was a threat. Now that it’s definitely not, Papa Monster and all his chillins are headed for their real prey: the surface. Remember those flashbacks to Lee’s first encounter with the creatures? She was in a boat with her father when the heard the creatures call, and she was knocked below the surface. There she saw a beautifully morbid vision of a city of the dead beneath the water.
She now thinks her vision was a prophecy foretelling the people of the world at the bottom of the ocean, that a school of creatures that size could easily flood the mainland in no time. Since they’re completely stranded and going to die anyway, the team decides to take out Papa Monster, sacrificing themselves. As they sink, Lee calls her son only to discover the invasion had already begun all over the world. A brief prologue explains that water was pushed 100 miles inland in a only a week, and that the monsters had taken over. This is now the story of Leeward, our mysterious hang-gliding, dolphin-listener of the future.
Even though we’ve known all along something about what is happening on the ghost rig leads to a watery end to the world, the finality of it was still pretty surprising. And sad: the final image of Lee talking to her son made me tear up the first time I read it.
It’s a moving moment that owes a lot of credit to Sean Murphy. He’s made very effective use of black throughout the series, but I think this is the most effective yet. As the blackness if the bottom if the ocean takes over the sub, it narrows our focus on Lee and Parker. The other members if the team, even the rest if the vehicle fades away. Instead of pulling in on Lee and the console, however, Murphy lets the page fill in with black, and the facing page as well. It’s a final depiction of the enormity if the threat compared to the rest if the world. Earth is 71% ocean, and 95% of that remains unexplored; Murphy and Snyder do not want us to forget how little we know about what lurks below the surface. That has been one of the strongest aspects of this story. There’s just enough fact to make the fiction seem a little more plausible and a LOT more scary for it. I wonder how the story will progress in a more strict science fiction; will it be as engaging without those bits of fact to tether it to reality?
Which begs the question: what’s next for this title? I’m guessing Leeward is the granddaughter of Lee, and that the family’s inability to produce enough tears is going to prove advantageous somehow, but beyond that I haven’t a clue. It appears Snyder and Murphy are going to be trading in the claustrophobic ocean floor for an open, air-based society. It makes sense; when land is at a premium and the water can’t be trusted, where else can you go? Patrick, what do you think, do you think Snyder will be able to maintain the horror aspect of the title now that we aren’t trapped at the bottom of the ocean? Were you shocked like I was with the sudden and almost casual end of the world as we know it?
Patrick: I had this third-act twist spoiled for me at NYCC – both the Vertigo panel and the DC panel had Snyder talking about the wild left turn the series was going to be taking starting with issue 6. It’s a powerful, powerful device – so powerful, in fact, that it runs the risk of upstaging the wonderful storytelling that’s going on in this issue. Like, right now, all I really want to get into is what could happen next, what the rest of the series might be. That’s the mark of a truly wonderful story – one that makes a cynical asshole like me tingly at the thought of what comes next.
But damn it – let’s focus on the masterpiece in front of us. The very first panels of this issue broadcast everything that’s so special about it – both what it is and what it will become. What’s more tranquil and unassuming (and yet froth with sci-fi danger) than a gorgeous star field?
The second image places something familiar in that context: Dr. Lee’s hand. And while it is familiar, we don’t quite know what it’s doing there. It’s not until that final panel that we realize what we’re looking at, and the reflections on the surface of the water become apparent. If you look back to the first panel, you can see that there’s a symmetry in the stars, but you don’t know to look for it until Lee comes in to help us discover it. That’s been the role of all of our scientist friends… as they’re picked off one-by-one. They give the mysteries context and when we discover what it means at the end of the issue, we’re able to put a lot more capital-M Meaning behind it.
The same can be said of the preposterous flashes forward and back – they provide the context that allows our stomachs to drop when Snyder and Murphy reveal that Parker is witnessing the monsters’ initial attack. We’ve written a couple times about how the series was starting to fall into a little bit of a Michael Crichton pattern, with all its explanations and theories stated explicitly rather than woven in to the storytelling. That’s still true, but those dramatized pieces at the beginnings and ends of the first couple issues further expanded on ideas we didn’t even know we’d ever be confronted with. I love the moment when Dr. Marin is listing the various flood myths, and he comes to the conclusion that the surface world has been at war with these things forever — suddenly those battles between mermaids and apes aren’t just random slices of the universe, they’re indicative of a larger pattern. And fucking-A, now that we’ve seen the big guy in action, our first glimpse of the future in issue 1 makes a hell of a lot more sense. Who’s the giant humanoid capable of freshly flooding Manhattan? Oh, this guy.
Murphy is absolutely unapologetic about stressing how large this creature is. It never appears unless it can take up the entire length of a two-page spread or the entire height of a page. Our heroes land one decent blow against it, but like, come on – it’s just an animal: there are bound to be more of them.
There’s also just something to be said for ending this story with humanity failing. And not in any half-assed way where we don’t really know what happens: shit is explicit. Most importantly, we get to spend our final moments with Lee as her heart breaks for the son and the world she wasn’t able to protect. That’s real and it’s earned. I can’t help but compare it to the Trinity War, which ended on a similarly dour note, but shied away from the physical and emotional consequences for the heroes. Sure, we’re still watching the DCU go to shit in Forever Evil, but that moment of loss was lessened because he have no idea what happened. Here, there’s no mystery — we’re not afforded that ameliorating illusion any longer — just the cool, detached certainty of our hero’s death.
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?