In the latest edition of Strange Comic Books, I’m taking a look at the very eerie Aquaman #42, published by DC Comics in March 1998. This issue came out towards the end of writer Peter David’s superb four year stint penning the adventures of the King of the Seven Seas.
Prior to David’s work on Aquaman, I really had very little interest in the character. I was a fan of David’s work, though, having very much enjoyed his writing on Incredible Hulk and X-Factor at Marvel, as well as his Star Trek novels. Even so, when he began writing Aquaman for DC, I was only mildly interested. True, having Arthur Curry, aka Orin, grow a beard & adopt a cool new costume made a nice change of pace. An even more dramatic change was having his left hand eaten by a swarm of piranha and replaced by a honking big harpoon!
But despite all that, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I started picking up Aquaman on a monthly basis. That’s when Jim Calafiore became the regular penciler. I had loved Calafiore’s artwork on Magnus Robot Fighter for Valiant Comics. So the combination of David’s writing and Calafiore’s art was irresistible.
Aquaman #42, “Necessary Poisons,” is co-plotted by Peter David & Jim Calafiore, with a script by David. Calafiore’s interior pencils are inked by Peter Palmiotti, with Mark McKenna doing the brushwork for the cover. David spends a good portion of this issue advancing his major subplots. Triton, son of the Greek sea god Poseidon, is still dealing with a humiliating defeat handed him by Orin, one made even more bitter by his divine father’s criticism. Over in the undersea city of Poseidonis, Aquaman’s chief advisor Vulko, after years of urging Orin to be a more assertive ruler, is now upset that the King of the Seas has done just that, regarding his actions as heavy-handed & imperious (i.e. Orin is no longer consulting with Vulko when making decisions). Tempest is wondering what role he ought to play in guiding the city’s political future.
While all this is going on, a brutal assassin for hire named Lawrence Huff, aka the Sea Wolf, has just committed his latest contract killing at sea, slaying a man named Albert Munson. One of Aquaman’s dolphin friends comes across the corpse in the water and summons him. Arriving at the murderer’s boat, Orin pulls the killer overboard. Upon contact with the water, the Sea Wolf violently transforms into a ferocious aquatic werewolf. During their struggle, Aquaman gazes into the gaping hole where the Sea Wolf’s left eye ought to be, and is horrified to behold the faces of hundreds of trapped souls, screaming out in agony. (Click to enlarge.)
Realizing that the Sea Wolf isn’t anything even close to a living being, Orin impales the monster with his harpoon, destroying him, and setting free all of the souls who were trapped. Orin departs, leaving the Sea Wolf’s corpse to be recovered by the authorities. However, a short time later, unseen by anyone, the Sea Wolf revives. In a chilling final twist, the Sea Wolf is now guided by the soul of its last victim, Albert Munson, who, like Lawrence Huff before him, is cursed to hunger for the souls of other human beings.
Brrrr! That was seriously creepy. David and Calafiore came up with a very strange, original variation on the werewolf concept. As I understand it, the Sea Wolf had previously appeared in the series Young All-Stars, working for the Axis Powers during World War II. I haven’t seen any of those issues, but from what I gather, he was simply an amphibious lycanthrope. It was David and Calafiore, in the pages of Aquaman #42, who revamped him as a soul-devouring supernatural entity.
The artwork in this issue by Calafiore & Palmiotti is just amazing. They really make the Sea Wolf a horrific, scary figure. And that scene when we view all the souls of his victims is just so eerily rendered, a very striking, dramatic moment.
Interestingly enough, that last aspect of “Necessary Poisons” very much reminded me of a completely different story. “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” written by David Morrell, originally saw print in the 1988 horror anthology Prime Evil edited by Douglas E. Winter. It was later collected in Morrell’s short story collection Black Evening. “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” is definitely one of the scariest, most unnerving stories I’ve ever read, and it has stuck with me all these years. So it is no surprise that Aquaman #42, which (no doubt coincidentally) contains a very visually similar sequence, also looms large in my memory.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the four issue Time and Tide miniseries, none of Peter David’s Aquaman issues have yet to receive the trade paperback treatment. So if you want to read this issue, you’ll have to search out a copy in the back issue bins. Keeping that in mind, David’s entire 46 issue run of the series is well worth seeing out.