Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tommy's Take on The Vessel of Terror

I've been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately, so it was probably a pretty appropriate time to have The Vessel of Terror fall into my lap, as it wears its Lovecraftian influences on its sleeve.

***WARNING: I TRIED TO KEEP SPOILERS TO A MINIMUM, BUT BEWARE***

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Vessel of Terror is a graphic novel currently slated for an October 2011 release by Markosia Enterprises and will retail for $17.99 in print (judging from the links on the Markosia website, I would guess that digital versions will be coming as well). You can pre-order it at the link at the top of the page. Written by Magnus Aspli with art by Dave Acosta, the graphic novel is primarily in color, with "historical" segments in black and white.

The primary story thread follows the crew of the research vessel Alesia, where they find a bizarre squid-creature in the depths of the ocean and then bizarre behaviors begin to befall the ship. The second story arc is a flashback to The Black Plague around 1349, following the efforts of Dr. Ludwig Virchow as he tries to save his small village from the Plague and begins to sense that there is...something...else out there, in the water.

The writing is good and easy to follow, even in the face of a couple of odd word balloon placements. It is a little stiff throughout the story, more noticeable in the modern day story thread (I think I've just been conditioned to expect dialogue to be stilted in period pieces).

Every character in the back stands out with a unique appearance, so you never have to struggle to figure out which character is which while reading the book. The men are especially distinct from one another...the women, as it often the case, tend to fall a bit more into the realm of "same person, different hairstyle/hair color" (at least in the modern story thread).

The content is very graphic, with some rather gory scenes of murder depicted, as well as some nudity. None of it feels out of place or gratuitous, however.

WHAT WORKS: The story feels very much like a Lovecraftian tale, with mankind helpless in the face of things that it just does not understand (in both time frames). The squid...good grief, the squid. It goes from a "creature we haven't seen before" to "GOOD GOD WHAT IS THAT" by the end...and in true Lovecraftian fashion, we have no idea what it is by the end.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Probably the only character I developed any kind of investment in was Dr. Virchow, with the fates of the other characters coming like story beats and not something that I "felt"...although, to be honest, I tend to feel the same about the fates of most of the characters in the Lovecraft stories I've read, so maybe that "works" better than I think. There was one scene that broke my suspension of disbelief (based off of the internal logic of the story, entirely), in which a possessed character seemingly takes forever to strike a helpless target in a secluded room, but manages to lash out and attack a third character when they enter the room, and another that seemingly wasn't followed up on (implying that the ship's captain was at greater fault for the events of the book), although that may be chalked up to "hallucination".

CONCLUSION: The Vessel of Terror is definitely a case in which the story is stronger than the characters, but again, there's a reason why people know the names Cthulhu, Hastur and Nyarlathotep rather than many of the hapless souls that lost their lives and minds in his tales. The artist brings some great imagery to life in both eras, and the afterword that explains where the inspiration for the story came from frankly creeped me out. The story itself has a slow first act, but builds to a very appropriate climax that should please genre fans.