Better the least member of the lion pack than a king among jackals. – Seawolf
Of all of the classic childhood fairy tales, my favorite has always been Beauty and the Beast. I own a beloved copy of a version by Marianna Mayer, beautifully illustrated by Mercer Mayer; I adore the Disney animated movie. My all-time favorite book, Jane Eyre, follows the same archetype, and one of my favorite movies, Howl’s Moving Castle, is really a version of the tale. Considering my love for the story, it’s funny that only in retrospect have I realized that the Seawolf-Paul love story told in Rising Tide is really the story of Beauty and the Beast, told from the Beast’s perspective.
You can’t help feeling sorry for Seawolf, though she’d probably attack you if you told her that to her face. She’s had it worse than just about any other character in the West Pacific Supers universe, simply because of how she looks. She’s got wolf-like ears and grey fur covering her face and neck; where the fur leaves off, pale green scales take over and cover the remainder of her body. Her fingers and toes are webbed, which means she needs custom footwear. Her teeth are pointed and her eyes are covered by have a second membrane that allows her to see underwater. A superazzi once said that she looked like a cross between a mermaid and a werewolf. She’s been stared at, talked about, and mistreated her whole life due to her appearance, and it’s understandably made her jumpy.
Seawolf was born Rachel Polydoras in San Pedro, California, to deeply religious second-generation Greek immigrants. It was 1974, a time when mutancy was widely considered shameful. Rachel’s mother thought the extremely mutated baby was divine punishment for having kept trying to conceive after several miscarriages. Rachel was isolated in her home, only taken out when her mother dragged her to yet another “specialist” who promised to “cure” her of her mutancy, whether through electroshock therapy, drug concoctions, or some other misguided treatment. When her younger nonmutant siblings were born, her mother’s disgust and fear intensified, especially after Rachel lashed out at her beautiful younger sister. Finally, when Rachel was 12 years old, her father, the one who called her his little Seawolf, drove her to West Pacific to enroll her in the newly opened Hodges’ Institute Academy for Mutant Youth. She spoke no English and had no formal schooling.
Rachel’s teen years were lonely; she struggled to fit in and dropped out of college after two years. But despite everything,Seawolf persevered. She’s been a West Pacific Super since the very beginning in 2000. Whether she’s facing down supervillains, mundane racists, or historic preservationists who think they should have public access to her beloved lighthouse, Seawolf never gives up, no matter what the odds are or how brutally she’s been attacked.
Once you know Seawolf’s background, it’s natural to feel sympathetic for her. But Seawolf’s personality doesn’t encourage sympathy. She tends to be caustic, to think the worst of people’s intentions, and to assume that everyone is talking bad about her the moment her back is turned. She has a particularly troubled relationship with her teammate Camille, whom Seawolf both loathes and envies. Seawolf longs for human connection, but is so inherently suspicious of people that she takes even the simplest of remarks the wrong way. I like to think of Seawolf’s psyche as being covered in quills. She’s just not easy to get close to.
Enter Executive Petty Officer Paul Rutledge, Coast Guard liaison with West Pacific Supers. If Seawolf is the Beast, that makes Paul the Beauty, but his attractiveness isn’t in his appearance. He’s about 40 years old, has a receding hairline, and a ruddy complexion caused by lots of time out on the water. He’s a quiet guy who’s dedicated to his job. He’s an ordinary a human as you can get. Yet he’s also completely extraordinary because when he looks at Seawolf he doesn’t fixate on her mutant appearance the way most people do. Instead, he sees a strong, attractive woman with similar interests and similar loneliness to his own. And in his own way, he’s just as persistent and determined as Seawolf is. They’re perfect for each other, though, just like in the classic stories, there are a lot of obstacles and enemies in their way.
I can’t help but be impressed by Seawolf’s spirit every time I write for her. I’d like to think that after all she has been through she’s finally come to appreciate the following quote from Jane Eyre: “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.” Seawolf deserves a little contentment in her life.