Welcome to Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week we take a trip into the depths of the ocean in The Wake, and join the first ever all-female mutant book in X-Men #1.
The Wake #1 (by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy) This book could have easily been crushed under the weight of its clichés, but luckily Scott Snyder is more talented than that, and Sean Murphy is an artist that can make any story worth paging through. Perhaps cliché is too harsh a word, maybe "familiar" or "Well charted territory" are closer to the mark. You've seen (or read) Jurassic Park, right? A mysterious and powerful person shows up at the doorstep of two rogue archeologists, he has a proposition for them that will not only benefit them personally, but will give them what they've been searching for all their lives. The Wake is kind of like that. Replace the Archeologists with an expert in Cetological Vocalizations (Whale songs, and other undersea sounds), and swap the Über rich theme park builder with a shadowy fellow from Homeland Security. He brings a recording of an undersea sound to our protagonist, Lee Archer. It’s very close to a whale song, but not quite, and it may be something she’s heard before, somewhere in her past. If Lee will play ball and join him for a week at a research facility in Alaska, he’ll get her old, prestigious job back, and even pull some strings so she will get custody of her son. It’s an offer she can’t refuse, and before we know it she’s being whisked away to a world of super hi-tech submarines, and secret, underwater bases. Lee is not alone, there are a few other handpicked scientists with very specific knowledge that can help with whatever made that eerie sound on the recording (and to be fair- none of them look like Jeff Goldblum).
Despite a few more familiar Sci-Fi/Action beats, what really sets this story apart is how Scott Snyder frames his story. The book actually opens 200 years into the future, where a hang gliding girl meets up with her cybernetically enhanced pet dolphin, just before a giant wave, and something giant swimming in it, comes crashing towards them. The book ends 100,000 years in the past, where a caveman digs out a strange device he’s been hiding from the rest of his people, only to have the device violently latch on to his face. These bookends make the meat of the story that much more intriguing. I can see how the caveman idea will play into what we see in the present, but jumping into the future has me intrigued to find out just what game Scott Snyder is playing. All of this is made that much more vital by Sean Murphy’s incredible art. His scratched kinetic style brings a depth to the story that sells every moment, and will have you flipping back to admire his work. The first issue of The Wake has successfully put its hooks in me, and I would wager it will do the same to you.
X-Men #1 (by Brian Wood and Oliver Coipel) This isn't a one-shot, or some special team-up issue, the X-ladies have their very own book, and it's the latest incarnation of the staple X-Men title (Vol. 4) that launched back in 1991 with Jim Lee's 8-million-copy-selling, 5-cover-havin', megaton bomb. This is pretty darn cool, to be sure, but it's also a little weird. I'm all for an XX-Chromosome book, but in this first issue there's almost zero X-MEN (there's a few students in the background), it's like Marvel's version of Y the Last Man, except they forgot Y. Now, I'm not saying there has to be male mutants featured in the book, but when you don't even have Wolverine sniffing around the halls of the X-mansion, it feels a bit odd. Even if there was a scene of the X-Ladies deciding to strike out on their own because Beast leaves too much hair in the drain... Anywho, this is a decent first issue. The set-up is a bit clumsy- Jubilee is heading home to the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, mysterious baby in-tow, when she thinks someone is following her, and calls the X-mansion in a panic. Instead of waiting for Jubilee's train to arrive, the X-Ladies (Storm, Rogue and Shadowcat) decide to preemptively get to the train, even though the guy following Jubilee has been doing so since Europe. Jubilee's explanation for the baby is also a bit thin- "He's Mine. Sorta. I rescued him. There was this terrorist bombing, but some people said they saw a meteorite... I dunno, it's a long story" Good 'ole Jubilee, still a slacker 20 plus years later! Also, and this is Über nit-picky, Jubilee uses a payphone to call the X-mansion. I'm sure it was an attempt to show the dire straits she's in, but if there's any character you would expect to have a cell phone, it would be Jubilee.
Now for some positives- Brain Wood writes this issue at a nice clip, never getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition, yet also delivering enough plot and character interactions to make the reader feel they've just experienced a story with some meat on its bones. Wood doesn't try to start back at square one, these characters have a lived-in feel that, at this point in the X-verse, is almost refreshing. Storm doesn't have to remind us that she can control the weather, and Psylocke shows us she's a badass with her actions. It's hard to put my finger on why, but this book actually has a similar feel to that Jim Lee/Chris Claremont #1 from way back in '91. Maybe it's because the mutants in the Marvel U are no longer on the fringe, and this book jumps right into the proceedings as if there's no other book you should be reading. Oliver Coipel's art is as clean and fresh as always. His style brings that event feel to any book, and I think that's very much to this title's benefit. If you're gonna finally feature the women, you better show them in the widescreen world we know the X-Men can inhabit. Curious to see where this one goes.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.