Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy have found a way to tap into our most primal fears with their brilliant creator-owned miniseries "The Wake," concluding their first arc with a deliciously horrifying finale -- though not without a dash of hope. "The Wake" #5 finds Lee Archer and the surviving members of her team trapped deep underwater with an ancient, gargantuan predator that poses a threat not only to the crew but to civilization itself. With astounding depth and poise, Snyder and Murphy construct a highly sophisticated plot that effortlessly blends science and mythology together in a gripping horror tale.
If a reader's ability to get more out of a story with subsequent passes is a testament to the skill of the creators, this issue does Snyder and Murphy a great credit. The story operates with a layered approach. For instance, in addition to looking absolutely gorgeous, Murphy's opening rendition of the ocean mirroring the night sky adds nuance to the comic as a whole, implying that we know as little about the sea as we do the universe -- and, with Lee's extended hand, suggests that we're just caught in between. Their emotionally charged moments are executed just as gracefully; as the buildup surrounding Lee's inability to cry culminates in a beautiful panel that emphasizes her tear-filled eyes, the whole page emanates her abject terror. Such scenes are masterfully placed in the story, never overbearing or distracting from the plot. With all of Snyder and Murphy's subtle themes, it's easy to get lost in this book time and time again.
Likewise, Snyder and Murphy are spot on in their character development. Through a series of flashbacks, Lee's background comes full circle and the payoff, though expected, is worth the wait. As all of the pieces click together, every character's personal strengths play a huge role in determining the magnitude of the threat, reflecting Snyder and Murphy's excellent buildup and foreknowledge. Likewise, the characters themselves are immensely enjoyable; in the span of only five issues, their personalities become distinct enough to endear them to the reader, which leads to an immensely effective tearjerker ending for this arc.
Murphy's artwork is nothing short of stunning throughout the issue. His character work emanates emotion so powerfully it feels tangible, from Meek's psychotic enjoyment in the hunt to Lee's relief at seeing Parker to Parker's wide-eyed fear. The action translates fluidly, especially the creatures' serpentine movements through the water. In order to show the colossal size of the creature, he carefully places it near and around the rig, which provides a fantastic frame of reference for its sheer enormity. The closing splash page is particularly effective, employing a largely black spread to show the cold, crushing isolation of the deep sea. Matt Hollingsworth pitches in with some lovely blues and other dark shades that enhance desolate atmosphere, with occasional sparks of bright color that leave lasting impressions against such dismal colors.
With a story almost as deep as the ocean itself, "The Wake" #5 showcases an impressively original world that captures the very essence of the horror genre by basing itself in fact and culture. As the book prepares to veer in a very different direction, Snyder and Murphy promise to keep shocking readers with its inventiveness and beauty.