"Kiss of Death, Part 1: The Nine"
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Andy Clarke
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: Aquaman returns from a JLA mission and finds that in his absence, Sub Diego has fallen prey to a serial killer who has already killed eight victims by exposing them to pure oxygen, which due to their altered body function resulted in heart failure. Aquaman captures an insane man who looked good for the murders, but he's disappointed when the physical evidence points in another direction. Aquaman then turns to an unconventional source for help in uncovering the killer's pattern.
Comments: While I would normally write this story off as an inventory issue that was pulled off the shelf in order to give the regular creative team a break, I have to say this issue actually surprised me, as not only did it fit pretty seamlessly into the book's current continuity, but it also made pretty good use of its cast of characters. There are some pretty engaging character moments in this issue, as there is an intense little exchange where Aquaman believes Geist is the killer. The issue also introduces a new member to the cast who I hope will remain a regular part of the book beyond this arc, as Abbott is a surprisingly well realized character, and her interaction with Aquaman was quite engaging. Now the basic plot is a pretty standard hunt for a serial killer story, complete with a red herring plot device, but the underwater setting does give the story a new spin, as does the rather unusual method that is being used by the murderer. I also rather enjoyed the message that the killer leaves, as there's a lovely sense of desperation expressed in that message, that promises an exciting confrontation scene. The cliff-hanger moment was also a lot of fun, as I have to confess I actually have a vested interest in seeing this character survive. I will say that the choice of characters that Aquaman turns to for help when it comes to solving the riddle that the killer left behind was a little unusual. Truth be told, I can list off at least a half-dozen characters who would have been better choices when it came to recognizing the killer's pattern. Still, I'm not well versed on current events in the Batman universe, so perhaps Marc Guggenheim was forced to use this character because all the better choices had been taken off the table. One would think though he would turn to Batman for help before deciding to making the trip to Arkham.
The cover image to this issue made me smile as there's is something delightfully twisted about seeing Aquaman struggling to avoid what looks to be an open-mouth kiss from a man, and the cover text doesn't exactly help to dispel the humour of this visual. As for the interior art, I do believe this is the first time I've ever encountered Andy Clarke's art, but it's pretty impressive as it reminds me of Ethan Van Sciver's highly detailed work. He does some solid work selling the idea that the action takes place underwater, as while it's a little detail, I love that the art recognizes the idea that the hair of the characters float. The art also nicely captures the decidedly ominous quality of the scene where Aquaman ventures into the dark cavern to face the crazed man. In fact, the only complaint that I would make about the art is that it doesn't really take advantage of its visit to Arkham Asylum, as the infamous setting looks downright antiseptic, and doesn't really convey the underlying terror that it should.
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