I’m not a huge fan of horror comics. Most tend to be overly violent and full of gore simply for the sake of being overly violent and full of gore, something I find neither terrifying or a sign of good writing. Some just forget to add any sort of meaningful sense of suspense. Others put the focus on the characters, twisting the horror concept in a way that, while creative and lending to good storytelling, takes away from the overall scariness and suspense of the impending horror. While I admit many of those comics are necessarily character driven because of the long runs of these comics, Vertigo Comics’ The Wake has found a hearty balance of these negative aspects of the horror genre quite early in its relatively short run.
The Wake involves a government organization discovering a single creature living in the depths of the ocean. After gathering a team of scientists in a deep-water drilling platform to examine different aspects of the creature, the beast breaks loose from his cage and quickly goes on the warpath, sending the human characters scurrying for protection. The beast continues to hunt its captors until it ultimately escapes back to the ocean. Soon, however, the creature returns, but he is not alone. Hundreds of monster mermen begin attacking the underwater rig, adding even more problems for our group of scientists.
Writer Scott Snyder is telling a really fun horror story without putting too much stress on any one thing. Yes, there’s violence and plenty of gore, but there is nothing overtly excessive about the violence. Yes, there is a certain focus on the characters, and they are all intriguing in their own way, but the book is in no way driven by the characters. This wonderful balance affords The Wake to be a plot-driven story focused on suspense, making it reminiscent of sci-fi horror classics like Aliens, which is quite refreshing to see in a comic book. The care Snyder has taken to find and preserve this balance can be seen in the detail of his writing and the overall thrilling pace of the story. Likewise, Sean Murphy’s pencil work and Matt Hollingsworth’s touch on colors helps to sell the changing tone of the evolving moments of suspense, as well as continually cementing the pace as it shifts from one exciting scene to the next. The artists seamlessly and brilliantly take the reader from moments of thrilling escape, to moments of cautious security, to moments of calm reflection, and back again while remaining consistent throughout, while murky hues and shadowy blacks truly put the reader in the dark, crushing depths of an undersea horror story.
Many elements of The Wake seem quite derived. The aforementioned Aliens movies, as well as flicks like The Abyss, have proved that the formula works, but The Wake seems almost too close to that formula to make it feel like something genuinely new. While this recipe may not be seen in comic books as much, there is still something very reminiscent about the story. Additionally, the character-building elements used early on in the run just don’t seem very impactful in this issue besides further developing the main character’s desire to escape her current situation, which I found quite meaningless and somewhat forced. There’s also a side-story being told that deals with ancient apocalyptic events akin with the sinking of Atlantis, but there is, as of yet, no apparent link between the two stories besides them both having to do with the ocean. Although it is only four issues into a ten issue run, the lack of insight on this component of the overall story takes away from an otherwise solid tale.
If you are a fan of the mainstream offering of horror/suspense comics this may not be a book for you. The Wake is certainly not the typical violent, gore-filled blood fest found in the pages of most horror comics. The focus on the story instead of stereotypical concepts sets The Wake apart from the majority of horror comics full of flesh-eating zombies and homicidal, knife-wielding maniacs. Different, however, does no always mean great, and The Wake is not without problems. While it still has six full issues to correct these flaws, I’m not convinced it will be able to hold onto its focus on story, and not adopt more of the stereotypical horror elements of other titles. I have strong faith in Scott Snyder and his impeccable track record, however, and I suggest you give The Wake a try. At worst, you’ll have a well-written, amazingly drawn and colored horror story sitting along-side similar fare. At best, you may just be getting a special twist on the horror genre rarely seen in the pages of comic books.