Before opening The Vessel of Terror we are presented with a front cover which perfectly encapsulates the tone of the book; eerie, intriguing and a little frightening, it’s adorned with the image of a human figure with small tentacles erupting from its head. It’s striking with its white background in contrast with the shadowy figure and gives us a taster for what’s in store.
It’s a tale about madness, which blurs the line between reality and the surreal. Wearing it’s Lovecraftian influences as a badge we are treated to a claustrophobic horror story, which involves the discovery of a unusual squid. Aquatic themed horror can sometimes descend into silliness as most narratives try to replicate the success of Jaws(1975), but The Vessel of Terror looks elsewhere for it’s framework. It is reminiscent of Alien (1979) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). It has the same air of tension as those films and the settings are equally confined and isolated. However these familiar elements don’t overwhelm the narrative, instead they are
merely the tools the writer, Magnus Aspli, uses to shape his narrative. A narrative about the effects of madness, as the antagonistic squid reaches out with it’s crawling tentacles and bends the crew’s notion of reality.
The actual beginning events and the actions of main character Maria Boreas echo the real worlds encounter with this mysterious type of squid. In 2007 an American rig in the Mexican Gulf caught the first video evidence of the Magnapinna squid. Before this moment this ten-tentacle beast was considered a myth. Therefore with this in mind, the reader can understand Maria’s determination to capture and examine the squid for scientific purposes. Her reluctance to believe that the increasing strange and murderous actions of her crew are due to the squid is a believable stance. It isn’t the most original angle for a character, but Maria is given a depth that sells her conviction. In contrast to Maria, the readers get the gruff Captain Lars. Instantly wary of the aquatic beast, Lars attempts to warn the crew but it is too late as one by one they succumb to the creature’s influence.
Even when the ship reaches landfall, the effects of the creature seem to increase. Anyone who comes into contact with it experiences something. But Aspli is a clever writer and there is a sense that what the crew is experiencing are merely hallucinations. Even though the art depicts characters with ink black eyes, there is still a challenge to the reader to accept the book on face value. Like the best Lovecraftian stories the reader themselves question the hallucinatory nature of the narrative. Is it the squid or just the crew?
Adding another layer to the story are a bunch of flashbacks. Set in the 1300s, they deal with Dr. Vichow and his experience of the Black Plague. It actually fleshes out the squid’s backstory as the village Vichow is trying to save suffers from the real life horror of the plague. These moments really stand out as the artistic high of the book. The art team of Dave Acosta, Jeremy P. Roberts and Goran Kostadinoski really deliver. The flash backs are in simple black and white, but there is a horror to them that surpasses anything from the rest of the book. Dreamlike in quality they come together to create a striking backbone to the story.
But it would be remiss to ignore the art on display in the present day sequence. As this is a horror title the book is not without an ample amount of horror imagery. From Shania’s encounter to Jonas seeming possession there are some truly creepy and horrific moments. The highlight of which is face of between Maria and the Magnapinna. The colour work strikes the right tone with its muted colours and dark shadows. Acosta’s character work is expressive and really sells the full spectrum of emotions the characters experience.
All the books elements come together to create a solid horror story. Aspli has a great grasp on tension and he manages to inject the book with just the right amount. It is unsettling at times and this is reinforced by the art. It isn’t often that a horror comic comes out and actually has what it takes to actually scare you, but The Vessel of Terror manages it. The secret to its success is in its vivid
depiction of madness. It’s a book that will suck you in and keep you hooked until it’s end, where you may also question what actually happened to the poor characters of Aspli’s narrative.
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Words by Dan Cole