This article was originally published at DC Comics News on March 3, 2014.After a three-month hiatus, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s The Wake returns now set two hundred years in the future. The Wake #6 acts as both an introduction and continuation of the series so far. The tone, setting, and characters are so far removed from what came before that it is possible to not have read the previous five issues and still enjoy the comic. It does not discard what has come before though, but evolves it both in scale and ambition into something much grander.
The series dramatic shift in tone is marked on its cover. Before The Wake’s covers were engulfed with deep, dark colors, drenching the pages in shadow. Now it is a shining lemon yellow beacon. That shift in color scheme holds true for the interior art as well. Almost all of the panels are prominently presented with yellows, greens, oranges, and blues in a bright tone. They provide a visual delineation between the two halves of the series and adjust the genre (even if temporarily) from horror to adventure. The deep blacks, pale blues of the mermaids are still around, but only lurk on the edges of panels. Matt Hollingsworth is at the top of his game in coloring this issue; the colors tell the story as much as any other component.
The shift in color palette is important for readers, because Snyder has set out to tell a very different story here. The scope has widened considerably. Although the book still centers on a single protagonist, the world around her is much larger. Dr. Lee Archer’s story took place in an oppressive atmosphere under the ocean. Leeward’s starts out far above it, flying through a futuristic city built on the ocean’s edge and indirectly covering the new shape of the United States.
The tremendous changes undergone in two hundred years are covered in a visual manner that does not slow the pacing of the story. Rather than discuss the new living situations, snapshots and scenic vistas provide rich details that readers can dissect. A map is used to detail the changes in territory and some of the history behind it. At no point is the narrative slowed or diverted in order to explain the new world order. Everything that is needed rests in available in the art. Murphy’s work is a testament to how well the comics medium can provide exposition in a natural and enjoyable manner.
The visuals are consistently engaging as well. Set pieces like a crashed plane turned into a tree house and gigantic underwater aquariums provide a powerful vision of this dystopian future. Overhead shots of Lee climbing about lend a sense of vertigo to the way in which society has been forced to build upward, rather than outward. Every panel is well crafted to engage readers with the new status quo.
That status quo, written by Snyder, is one that will most likely leave readers wanting more after the series ends. Leeward’s map is filled with clues to a rich history. These hints ignite the imagination and provide The Wake #6 with a world that feels lived in. This may be Leeward’s story, but it is part of a grander narrative. If Snyder decides to return to the world of The Wake one day, there should be a great deal of interest.
Snyder and Murphy’s craft in this issue is near perfect. They understand how to tell a graphic narrative and it shows on every page of this very ambitious re-introduction. The only potential problem is one of moral philosophy and potential creator laziness.
The mermaids have been established as an intelligent race of beings directly related to Homo Sapiens on the evolutionary tree. They are with consciousness, unlike zombies, and are of natural origin, unlike vampires. Their monstrous nature is more comparable to that of a Great White Shark than Frankenstein’s monster. Yet in the opening pages of the comic, Leeward decapitates several of the creatures. She does this not to protect herself, but in order to sell the heads as a drug supply. Lee is not only a drug dealer, but one that relies on killing sentient beings in order to maintain her business.
Perhaps Snyder and Murphy expect the audience to pick up on this nuance, but their presentation allows for the problematic nature of these scenes to be easily overlooked. They are laced with jokes and present Lee in a very heroic light. Leeward is best defined as an anti-hero. She is certainly far from the heroic standard, but does represent some ideals that the audience can sympathize with. Hopefully, those ideals and the antagonistic nature of her pursuers do not overwhelm her own failings.
The Wake #6 reads like a very different comic than the previous five issues, and that’s a very good thing. Snyder has crafted a great setup for an adventure story dealing with themes of survival and independence. Yet it’s Murphy’s art that truly pushes this comic to its limits, capably world building, while maintaining a brisk pace. Together, these two collaborators are putting out the best work of the series so far.