I find environmental dystopians to be a rather fascinating genre that seems to have only gathered steam as the debate about climate change ramps up and becomes more important to people in general. Whatever your view on climate change, the idea of the oceans swallowing large parts of the world we have come to know or finding out that we’ve irrevocably doomed ourselves to live in the garbage are rather disturbing thoughts. I hadn’t quite intended to, but this week I’ll be following last week’s environmental dystopian with another environmental dystopian. Instead of the garbage world of Debris, I’ll be taking a look at Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s vision of Waterworld gone wild. The beauty of science fiction is that there’s a million different scenarios in which humanity’s survival might be threatened by its own actions and The Wake starts with a rather interesting one. The series starts as standard, if rather disturbing, story of monsters from the deep and slowly morphs into a strange tale of the long history of humanity and troubles with the ocean. As a mini-series, The Wake is comprised of just ten issues, written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Sean Murphy.
The first half of the story starts with a marine scientist, a cetologist (person who studies whales) to be exact, named Lee Archer who has been approached by a shady government agent to study a rather unusual whale call. Dr. Archer is taken down to a deep sea lab with a team of other individuals who have been roped into this study and they come face to face with a monster that might just being the most terrifying mermaid the world has ever seen. The second half of the story shifts two hundred years in the future with a scrappy adventurer named Leeward who spends her time hunting said scary mermaids in order to get enough cash to find the mythical net which will finally save humanity from the monsters.
If you pick up The Wake, prepare to be constantly confused and muttering “what the fuck…?” every time you turn the page. The transition from scary monster tale to dystopian water world is a strange one, made even stranger by Snyder’s writing choices. It’s an interesting concept but executed extremely poorly. Although the second half of the story is when the future picks up with Leeward, there are constant time jumps and references to things you cannot possibly understand until the second half. If this was built right, it would be fascinating to go back and see what you missed. Instead, it’s so jumbled together that it’s just a mire of confusion and disbelief. I lost count of the number of times that little details completely ruined my suspension of disbelief.
I can’t get too into the details of the second half of the story without spoiling the series so in the interest of being nice to those who might want to read it, I’ll keep it brief. Snyder is usually one of my favorite writers. He’s great at taking a monster whose scariness has been diminished by pretty fairy tales and making them absolutely horrifying. He did a superb job with that in American Vampire and the first half of The Wake takes mermaids from busty sirens to “oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die!” It’s wonderful. But Snyder’s attempt to create some unnecessarily complicated and pretentious myth that’s tied to humanity’s origins and their fight against sea monsters completely derails the entire story. By the end of the second part, there are big gaping holes in the story that make no sense and are never explained. It’s like Snyder just expects the reader to just fill in the holes and chalk it all up to his writing being just too good for them to understand. I don’t mind some ambiguity, but if I’m more confused at the end than I was at the beginning, you have failed Storytelling 101.
The good news is that Sean Murphy’s art is at least interesting. There are times that it feels a little too American Vampire-esque but I suppose that’s to be expected. Murphy’s mermaids are scary enough to carry the first part of The Wake despite Snyder’s strangely mediocre writing. But even that cannot save the story in the second half.
As a huge Snyder fan, it’s hard to admit that he can be wrong but I hated The Wake. If you don’t mind being confused for most of the story and having an ambiguous ending that leaves you with WAY more questions than answers, you might like this one. It makes interesting points about how humanity develops myths and the terrors of the deep. But the end goes so badly off the rails that it destroys any semblance of credibility as a story and completely ruined it for me. Unfortunately, The Wake is not a Snyder story I can recommend. If you really want to read Snyder, try American Vampire or his new 52 Batman series instead.