A team of experts have been gathered by a government agent deep below the ocean off Alaska to study a strange creature who emits a haunting call. There's a hunter, a folklore expert and a pair of marine biologists. The opening issues of this Vertigo series saw the team members introduced to one another and the creature, a mer-mortal whose elegance belies its savagery. It may be the missing link between man and fish, but if so, it really doesn't like its relatives.
Because this issue sees the beast, free of its containment tube, rampaging through the hi-tech submarine, attempting to kill every person it encounters. And it doesn't simply attack, it seduces with a venom that convinces victims they're in a moment of bliss - folklorist Dr Marin suggests it inspired the legends of sirens, beautiful creatures whose song lured sailors to their deaths.
Central protagonist Dr Lee Archer almost succumbs to the thing's bite, only to be saved by one of her colleagues. But can she in turn rescue another member of the team?
Author Scott Snyder and artist Sean Murphy have conjured up another compelling chapter of their aquatic thriller. And while the scenes are fast-paced, there's plenty to get your teeth into - even a mer-creature would be satisfied. As Archer and co struggle to survive, there's compelling interaction between them, along with a peek at their private desires. And the real-life tale of 'the loneliest whale in the world' leads to one almighty cliffhanger.
One thing I really appreciate is that when faced with a threat that could kill them in an instant, the players act like real human beings - yes, hunter Meeks goes into attack mode, as he should, but for everyone else it's a case of getting the hell out. And the scene does give Meeks the chance to spit out the line of the issue.
Snyder's script is tight and entertaining, mixing fast-paced mystery with science-based suspense. The loneliest whale exposition doesn't slow down the story for a moment - Archer narrates it over Murphy's convincing scenes of the survivors preparing to flee. Visually, the characters are distinctive, with the only design I'd tweak being Meeks, who looks like a cross between two Spider-Man villains - head of the Vulture, dress sense of Kraven. As for the creature, it's sheer horror, malevolence with gills (click on image to enlarge).
Colour artist Matt Hollingsworth keeps the general mood sombre, making the occasional explosion of brights all the more effective. Dream sequences and this issue's prologue set millions of years ago - events in the current day somehow connect to the unfathomably distant past and comparatively near future - give Hollingsworth a chance to vary his palette. And letterer Jared K Fletcher has chosen a main font that resonates with me on a pleasingly pulpy level - it's reminiscent of the Commando books from UK publisher DC Thomson.
I was a latecomer to this series - so many books, so little time and all that - but I'll be camping out at the comic store for future issues of The Wake. It's that good.