Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


Wake, vol. 4:
The Sign of Demons

2003 - available in soft cover

Written by Jean David Morvan. Art and colour by Philippe Buchet.
Letters: Ortho. Translation: Joe Johnson.

Originally published in 2001 in Europe

96 pages

Published by NBM Publishing

Cover price: $14.95 USA

Wake is a European graphic novel series -- now being re-published in English by an American company -- that can be seen as a bit of a hybrid of Star Trek/Star Wars. The setting is an armada of spaceships cruising through the galaxy, looking for planets to colonize or otherwise contact. And though ostensibly benevolent, there is corruption on board, as evidenced in one of the stories here. The inhabitants of the armada are multi-species, but the central heroine is Navee, a spunky human -- vaguely North American Indian -- but who seems to be the only human in the fleet (a mystery that, presumably, both she and the reader will unravel as the series evolves).

Initially, NBM Publishing had started out releasing English translations of each 46 page graphic novel one story at a time. But, either because they were falling behind, or perhaps for sales reasons, with this volume started publishing two stories per volume, the first story being (#4) "The Sign of the Demons" and the second (#5), whose title is written in an alien script and so can't be reproduced here.

The first story in this collection, "The Sign of the Demons", has Navee and some compatriots arriving on a primitive planet, looking for some observers who were sent ahead of them but have gone missing. The planet is in the throes of a revolution, as a slave class has risen up against the ruling species, and our heroes get embroiled in it...and learn of a sinister conspiracy in their own fleet, the conspirators having been exploiting such worlds in the past.

I'll confess, I've had some mixed feelings about European (and non-North American in general) comics that I've read over the years. For all that fans of them often cite these as more sophisticated, more mature than American comics, I often don't feel that way. Not only do they frequently seem shallow and thin, but many times they evince a smarmy, sophomoric sense of "humour" and a "sense? who needs to make sense?" approach to plotting. For that reason, I was pleasantly surprised when this European product turned out to be an enjoyable adventure. It's coherent, with a nice mix of larger-than-life comicbooky action, and light-heartedness, with some genuine character detail and serious undercurrents. It's briskly paced, and just complex enough -- in story and character development -- to adequately justify its page count.

There's even a cute, if problematic, gimmick whereby some of the planet's inhabitants talk in a way where their dialogue is spelled out phonetically...meaning you sometimes have to sound out a word balloon in order to "hear" what they're saying.

The art has a certain manga influence, with a cartooniness, and Navee as a perky, big eyed heroine. But it's effective and expressive, keeping a jaunty tone and, given the series' emphasis on non-human looking aliens, serves the needs of the different species. The backgrounds are beautifully detailed with an at times extraordinary sense of perspective that really makes the vistas seem huge, and Buchet often employs panoramic angles that really make a waterfall, or a sprawling city, fairly leap off the page. The bold, cheery colours help, of course, as does the fact that it's printed in an oversize format that really shows off the art (Buchet often employing 10 or 12 panels per page). Oh, why mince words? The art was enormously attractive and helps to let you lose yourself in this alien environment.

There was one peculiarity of the lettering, which I'm guessing is a result of translating the dialogue into English (and therefore, employing different numbers of words) while employing the original word balloons: The size of the words can vary from balloon to balloon. Not a problem...just peculiar.

The second story in this collection ventures into more political territory with a plot involving an underclass of aliens aboard the Wake itself who have begun suicide bombings to draw attention to their plight. Naveen becomes involved when they try to kidnap her to blackmail the governments into providing them with greater aid, and she gradually begins to sympathize with the terrorists.

It's an interesting, probably controversial story, to craft a tale that is so clearly meant to show the human/sympathetic side of terrorists (even as the writer is not endorsing their actions). It's an ambitious notion...even as the issues are maybe overly simplified. But the result is well told and well paced.

By telling two self-contained stories each in 46 pages (with lots of panels) Morvan and Buchet have crafted a well told, interesting collection, deftly mixing fun and light-heartedness, with seriousness and even poignancy. For fans of science fiction TV series like the various Star Treks, Wake will be a welcome experience. With breathtaking sets and scenery, and weird and diverse aliens, this volume of Wake seems like a couple of episodes of a TV series -- a TV series with an unlimited budget and special effects, with effective and appealing characters, and an intriguing reality against which the stories can be set.

Visually appealing, and highly entertaining, Wake is quite enjoyable. In fact, it's easy to get dragged along in its...Wake (oh, I couldn't resist).

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

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