6 Rated Books 7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Graphic Novel Double Feature: The Wake by Scott Snyder & Survivors’ Club by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halverson

Buckle up your seatbelts, kiddos. Today Thea reviews two horror standalone comics that are pretty gruesome and a whole lot of meta-fun.

Title: The Wake

Written by Scott Snyder, Art by Sean Murphy

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Dystopia

The Wake

Publisher: Vertigo
Publication date: June 2015 (this edition)
Paperback: 256 pages

Winner of the 2014 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series

New York Times bestselling author, Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Sean Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus, Joe The Barbarian), the incredible team behind the miniseries American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, are reuniting for the powerful miniseries: THE WAKE.

When Marine Biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security for help with a new threat, she declines, but quickly realizes they won’t take no for an answer. Soon she is plunging to the depths of the Arctic Circle to a secret, underwater oilrig filled with roughnecks and scientists on the brink of an incredible discovery. But when things go horribly wrong, this scientific safe haven will turn into a house of horrors at the bottom of the ocean!

Stand alone or series: Standalone

How did I get this book: Bought

Review:

The Wake tells two stories: one that is the future, and one that is the past.

In the past, a marine biologist named Lee Archer is summoned on a secret mission that takes her to the darkest, coldest depths of the ocean. Lee, an expert in cetacean behavior and communication (that is, whales, porpoises, dolphins), is whisked away by a government agent to the Arctic Circle and then down to a deep sea illegal oil drilling operation on the ocean floor to decipher what the drillers have uncovered.

What she doesn’t expect to see, however, is a mermaid. Well, a nightmarish mermaid in the form of a humanoid-fish, captured and shackled in the rig.

The Wake

The mermaid is pissed. And the mermaid has a lot of friends who come to the rig, ready for a fight. Lee and the motley crew of researchers, drillers, and government-type killers are all that stand between humanity and a war that could end life as we know it. In a last ditch effort to alert the world to the impending calamity, Lee broadcasts a message from the Arctic depths, hoping for change.

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In the future, the world is a post-apocalyptic floodland. The humans above-ground on dry land are split into different factions, fighting and protecting their resources. A young woman, Leeward, with a head for ancient technology picks up a mysterious signal from the ocean and decides to pursue it. A lot of people don’t want her to listen to that message, though, and will do anything to stop her. Her journey takes her to places humans haven’t been in generations–but this enterprising young woman is able to discover just what happened to the world that was, her ancestors, and the rift between the people above the salty sea, and those creatures below it.

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The Wake is, for the most part, successful in its storytelling vision. I loved the initial jump into action with Lee Archer’s story, as she begrudgingly joins the expedition and discovers the horror that has befallen the oil-drilling team. The discovery of other intelligent life beneath the surface of the ocean, the rage of the mermaid creatures against their human counterparts, the impending apocalypse–all of it is awesome. Part two with Leeward’s story is somewhat less well-polished, lacking the empathy and power of Lee’s story and character arc (as Lee grapples not only with the future of humanity but her own personal drama, her son, her family). Leeward jumps from action scene to action scene, evading the warring troupes of remaining hyperviolent humans, who feel very Waterworld-y in terms of aesthetic and in terms of overall development (that is to say, there isn’t much of it). Still, I love me a good post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Waterworld was fun despite its many flaws. The grand revelation that Lee discovers, from the radio signal of the past, the real story of humanity and its origins, is actually pretty cool, too. My only regret is that it was executed so quickly–there was a lot of exposition in the last few pages of the comic, which could have been drawn out a smidge more.

The saving grace for the infodumping at the end of the book, however, is all thanks to Sean Murphy’s art. I loved the perspective shifts, the sense of linear progression both horizontally and vertically, especially in those last pages. Beyond that, this is a complicated comic to visualize because it’s so dense, dark, and transcends several planes of consciousness (literally, by the end). Murphy does a beautiful job of capturing the abject terror and claustrophobia of the first part of the story, the hopeful quest for knowledge in the second part, and the hopeful, ultimate transcendent ending. Instead of being dreary, repetitive, or dark, the art and clever use of color and shadow captures all of this emotion beautifully. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan.

If you’re a fan of horror, standalone contained comics about the end of the world (and the hope that comes afterwards); if you liked The Abyss and Waterworld, you’ll love The Wake. Definitely recommended.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Title: Survivors’ Club

Written by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halverson, Art by Ryan Kelly and IΓ±aki Miranda

Genre: Horror, Contemporary

Survivors Club

Publisher: Vertigo
Publication date: September 2016
Paperback: 190 pages

One was possessed by a poltergeist. Another was trapped in a haunted house. A third had a killer doll. Ever wonder what happened to these children of the 1980s? Find out in Survivors’ Club, a new series co-written by renowned horror novelist Lauren Beukes and award-winning cover designer and illustrator Dale Halverson, with art by Ryan Kelly (Northlanders).

Having found each other over the internet, six grown-up survivors are drawn together by the horrors they experienced in 1987 when a rash of occult events occurred around the world–with fatal results. Now, there are indications that it may be happening all over again. Is it possible that these six aren’t just survivors–but were chosen for their fates?

Stand alone or series: Standalone

How did I get this book: Bought

Review:

In 1987, very bad things happened to six individuals around the world. A young girl named Alice had a doll that looked just like her–and it would also come to life and kill her enemies. A young man named Teo discovers a seductive blood-sucking monster of nightmares. Another child, Simon, is possessed by evil spirits in the now-infamous Muskogee house; meanwhile a girl in Japan named Kiri finds her own possessive spirit to fight the monsters who are killing her classmates. A girl in South Africa, Chenzira, is obsessed with an arcade game that controls the portal to hell itself, and a boy named Harvey develops an imaginary friend, Mr. Empty, who takes care of all of his problems.

Now, nearly thirty years later, Chenzira has assembled all of these strangers to fight a stirring evil–the video game from her past is back, and it’s going viral. Chenzira knows that the game has always been looking for her, all this time, and she knows she must finish the last level to stop hell from being unleashed on Earth. And she knows that these five other people must be involved in some way–even if she isn’t sure quite how they fit in just yet.

Oh, Survivors’ Club. Your premise is absolute Thea-crack–a group of misfits from the 1980s, now grownups, ready to face down the evil that terrorized them as children? It’s one of my absolute all-time-favorite horror tropes. And I love that Lauren Beukes, of

But then, there’s this other story with the haunted Muskogee house from Simon’s past–now, Simon is a D-list horror celebrity, doing the horror fandom circuit–and Mr. Empty, the imaginary friend tied to a haunted mask from Harvey’s past, and it all feels rather… messy. Not that I don’t love a good haunted house/possession story, but it’s hard to grasp why Muskogee and its particular secrets tie in to Chenzira’s game, or how Teo, Kiri, Alice, and Harvey actually have any integrated roles in these two master storylines from their childhoods. There is a last ditch effort to unite these stories together in the form of green lollipops at the very end of the story, but it’s too little too late–and as the series is complete, I’m left wanting more.

Everything felt a little dreamlike, a little rushed, and the vanquishing of the big bad also felt very easy and quick, given the buildup promised by Survivors’ Club. Similarly, a few central characters bite the dust REALLY quickly, and that’s sad. These criticisms said, these flaws are very much in line with the ouvre of 1980s horror films, so… there’s that.

While I was hoping for more depth from Survivors’ Club, overall, it was a fun dive into horror tropes and gore. Recommended for those who are looking for a little blood and haunting in their lives.

Rating: 6 – Good

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