I bought Showcase Presents: Sea Devils Vol. 1 recently. I have a mix of reasons for being interested in the feature. I'm drawn to undersea adventure for its potential. I've become interested in DC's non-super teams of the Silver Age as they're a corner of DC's output I haven't much explored. And I want to get to know the work of some of the creators who worked on the series better.

Several issues in I'm beginning to think the real problem is the stories are never real stories: they're just strings of episodes. But I remember "The Ghost of the Deep!" from #3 as a proper story, so perhaps that doesn't hold.

The issues I'd particularly like to see are from later in the series, when it was mostly drawn by Howard Purcell and written by people other than Robert Kanigher. This is because I got interested in seeing more of Purcell's work the last time I reread the story from The Brave and the Bold #51, and because I get the impression the series took some new directions during this period. But this volume only takes us as far as his first story, the second tale from Sea Devils #16.

Randy Jackson reviewed the volume here, Captain Comics here, and Hoy Murphy here.

This post displaced the thread Informal Marvel poll. Current favorites? from the home page.

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Showcase #27

"The Golden Monster!"

Written by Robert Kanigher. Art by Russ Heath.

This first story is a book-length one.

Dane wants to win the right to wear the flippers his father won on a mission during WWII. He's searching for a sunken treasure ship because in his mind finding it will give him that right.

Judy saves Dane from a shark, and distracts it matador-style until Dane recovers from being clonked and kills it. She's an actress who's hoping finding the treasure ship will jump-start her career. She's been searching for it with her brother, Nicky, at his suggestion.

They find the ship and fall into its hold, where they find a fabulous treasure. A statue falls onto Judy and pins her to the hold. Dane can't shift it, and has to stop trying to fight off a large octopus.

Biff appears, and strains to free Judy. He's a muscleman who became a diver because he's clumsy on land. He's also been searching for the wreck. After he frees Judy, he saves Dane from the octopus, and they chase it off.

Suddenly a giant sea monster rises up through the treasure. As they escape Judy rips her air hose, but Dane helps her using the buddy breathing system. Nicky appears, searching for Judy, and spears its hand, but this doesn't help. The monster smashes the ship apart in its pursuit of the four.

The Sea Devils-to-be escape it by hitching a ride on a giant manta. But on the way to the surface they spot a drifting WWII mine. After reaching Judy's and Nicky's dinghy Dane and Biff go back down to mark it with a marker buoy. The sea monster turns up, and they separate to escape it. It goes after Dane and grabs the mine, setting it off.

Dane is knocked out by the explosion, but Biff brings him back to the dinghy. The four decide to remain together as a team and call themselves the Sea Devils.

I suspect flippers get degraded over time, and wanting to win old ones is like wanting to win the right to wear an old pair of shoes. A three-page flashback (actually, a flashback in a flashback) shows us how Dane's father won the flippers. This is a complete story in itself, and could be from one of Kanigher's WWII comics.

Divers exploring a wreck getting attacked by an octopus or squid is a cliché that goes back at least to Victor Hugo's Toilers of the Sea. But this isn't a complaint. The octopus is large but believably-sized, rather than a fantastic critter.

I thought the appearance of the sea monster took the story off the rails. Up to that point it's basically realistic, and the element comes out of nowhere. I suppose the story needed to top the octopus for its climax. The monster is also a big lizard-like critter rather than something unique to the sea.

What I think stories like this need are realistic details, like the use of buddy breathing or worries about getting the bends if one rises too fast. They make the story more of a vicarious experience. We do get those two, but in the context of the escape from the very unrealistic monster. And I've seen the buddy breathing trick before in a later episode so it wasn't new to me.

The Sea Devils-to-be find the ship implausibly easily. This kind of thing keeps happening in these early issues.

I have a problem with Dane and his father both surviving large underwater explosions. Water transmits pressure waves better than air, and I think they both would've been killed (and maybe Biff, too),

At the end the four declare themselves underwater trouble shooters. There's a lack of clarity in these early issues as to what the purpose of their group is, and I think it's one of the problems with the series.

On the other hand, the four characters have basic personalities, and the art is OK. The monster is particularly well-drawn.

Showcase #28
"The Prize Flippers!"
Written by Robert Kanigher. Art by Russ Heath.

Dane’s father means to give Dane his flippers, but Dane says each member of the Sea Devils should have a chance to win them. So they hold a competition: each will make a dive from their boat, the Sea Witch, and the one who performs the greatest feat will get them.

On his dive, Biff saves a lady underwater photographer from a swordfish. On hers, Judy saves a T-man from a diamond smuggler. On his, Dane saves a glass bottom boat from a torpedo from a sunken WWII German submarine. But when each comes back to the Sea Witch they see how much Nicky wants the flippers, and deny anything of note has occurred.

Nicky has realised what’s going on. He says they're giving him the flippers instead of letting him earn them, and refuses to make a dive. Just then the Sea Witch is attacked by an angry whale, and all but Nicky fall into the water. Nicky repeatedly rams the boat into the whale to drive it away. The others tell Nicky he’s legitimately won the flippers.

" Undersea Prison"
Written by Robert Kanigher. Art by Russ Heath.

The Sea Devils dive daily to keep in training. On one of these dives they save a lady diver from a giant sea turtle. The woman is named Mona. She reveals she was searching for her father, who was piloting a rocket that crashed in the sea. She knows he’s still alive as she feels he’s been calling her to come after him. The Sea Devils promise to help her.

On their dive Mona leads them to a spot on the sea floor and begins scrabbling at it. The bars of a cage spring up from the sea floor and trap them. Underwater men wearing witch doctor masks emerge from hidey-holes in the sea floor, and the cage sinks down into the giant underwater cavern where they live.

The masked underwater men put them in a cage with Mona’s father, before a crowd of their kind. A spokesman reveals they are telepathic and mean to attack the surface world. They gave Mona’s father telepathic powers because they wanted more captives. They give the Sea Devils telepathy too so they can probe their brains, but the Sea Devils foil them by thinking in Pig Latin.

The underwater people imprison them in Mona’s father’s rocket, which they have turned into a giant time-bomb and are about to fire at the surface. Dane devises a plan of escape. The rocket has a small rocket designed to be “expelled from a tube like a sub torpedo” to collect data. They strip out its equipment so Nicky can pilot it, form a human chain behind Biff who holds on to its rear fins, and launch it.

Driven by Nicky, the small rocket races up the shaft that leads out of the cavern. The undersea people try to close its opening to stop them, but the large rocket, previously set to launch, also takes off. They try to open the shaft cover again to let it out, but don’t manage to do so in time. The resulting explosion destroys their civilisation. In the wrap-up Mona thanks the Sea Devils for their help.

The first story really rubbed me the wrong way when I first read it a while back, because of its combination of a repetitive structure and heavy-handed characterisation. But it's really not bad. The Sea Devils' accomplishments aren't outrageous. It's implausible that they seem to come upon these kinds of situations whenever they take a dive, and they must swim a long way from their boat.

The second story is an ill-thought-out Kanigher roller-coaster. If he was headed for space, why did Mona’s father have scuba diving gear, and how is it his tanks have lasted for a month?(1) Although the small vehicle used in the escape is described as a rocket it's depicted as driven by a screw, which would be useless in space. Which is just as well for Biff as otherwise his face would have been fried by its blast.

On the other hand, giant turtles are exactly what I want in underwater stories,(2) and Heath depicts this one well. And the human chain escape is interesting, although I'm not sure it would work. (If the "rocket" is strong enough to draw all of them at speed, could Biff possibly hold on against its backwash?)

The undersea people aren't backward - they have rays they use to draw the cage and push the frogmen into the spaceship - but one doesn't get the impression they really had the resources to conquer the surface.

Judy is a liberated heroine: in the first story she says she wants to be treated equally with the men on the team, and on her dive she doesn't just save the T-man, she subdues his attacker without his help. In the second story we see she's interested in Dane. She feels threatened by Mona, but also treats her compassionately.

The first story introduces the Sea Devils' boat, the Sea Witch. The second shows they've established a business with a sign that advertises them as underwater trouble shooters. ("Have flippers - will travel!")

(1) Perhaps he had it on board in case the spaceship landed in the sea, or it was left over from a former capture, and the underwater people have been replenishing his air supply.

(2) Especially when they're Satanic monsters that kill Burl Ives, but I don't expect that every time.

This post displaced the thread John Dunbar Re-Reads Thor (starting at J.I.M. 83) from the homepage.

After you get past the Russ Heath issues, there's really not much point reading any more SEA DEVILS, unless you're a completist wanting to sample everything DC did in the Silver Age. I don't think there's any "big change" in direction to look forward to as you wade through the several years of stories they managed to milk out of this simple concept. I believe that the existence of SEA DEVILS was due to the old Lloyd Bridges "Sea Hunt" TV show from the early 1960s (and then lived on long after that in reruns).

The Showcases don't always get the credits right, so I've just been checking how the GCD credits the Devils' first two Showcase appearances. It turns out the above issues also had two-page factual items about diving drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito which aren't in the collection.

The GCD isn't sure Kanigher wrote the stories in #28: it attributes "The Prize Flippers!" to him tentatively, and leaves the authorship of "Undersea Prison!" open. Both stories read like Kanigher's work, but it could be he rewrote scripts he edited or writers who worked for him imitated his style, so perhaps that's not always indicative.

Sea Devils?

Showcase #29

"The Last Dive of the Sea Devils!"

Written by Robert Kanigher. Art by Russ Heath.

Heading out to sea in the Sea Witch the Sea Devils hear a radio broadcast saying a UFO was shot down the previous day. Suddenly, three giant prongs emerge from the water. The Sea Devils narrowly avoid a collision, and witness the spearing of a fishing boat. The prongs are part of a giant trident, held by a giant scaled hand.

The Sea Devils report what's happened to the authorities. Dane recommends they depth bomb the menace, and he and Biff dive to plant a marker buoy. On the sea floor they find a giant artificial sphere by the wrecked fishing boat, and guess it's the UFO.

They enter the sphere through a hole that's been smashed in its side. Biff manages to move a giant switch, and a recorded message informs them that the sphere is the prison of Horro, the brother of the ruler of Venus. He was exiled to space in it because he tried to take power and caused much destruction. 

On the surface Horro spears the Sea Witch. Judy and Nicky dive off and see Horro is a bearded giant who rides a giant seahorse. They escape him and meet up with Dane and Biff.

Horro destroys a submarine sent to investigate the Sea Devils' report. As he does it fires a torpedo at him, but misses. The Sea Devils release their marker buoy. The coast guard starts dropping depth charges, but Horro crushes them before they can explode. The Sea Devils swim to the drifting torpedo and direct towards Horro, and swim away before it strikes. The explosion kills him.

"Undersea Scavenger Hunt!"

Written by Robert Kanigher. Art by Russ Heath.

The Sea Devils don't have the money to replace the Sea Witch. They enter an underwater scavenger hunt that has a similar ship as its prize. The ship will be given to whichever team brings back from the sea the most unique souvenir.

Judy spots a life ring from the Marie Celeste, "the most famous lost ship of all". But she has to sacrifice it to save Dane from a swordfish.

A current drags Dane into a hole where he finds jeweled sword. But the team is charged by a killer whale, and he loses it fighting it off.

Biff spots mermaid figurehead, but he has to sacrifice it to save Nicky from underwater quicksand.

The quartet rest on a rock, and realise it has "Christopher Columbus" carved into it. Only it's not a rock, it's the shell of a giant sea-turtle! Dane guesses Columbus carved his name on it when it was small. They cling to it and mean to steer it to the surface, but a giant squid attacks. They fight the squid to save the turtle, but once it's released it gets away from them.

Thwarted, the Sea Devils surface, and see the prize ship heading out to sea. A distress flare is fired at them from a porthole, and they see a rival team has hijacked the ship. The Sea Devils halt it by fouling its screw and overcome the rival team in a fight. The hunt's sponsor explains he fired the flare, and declares the Sea Devils have won the contest by bringing back the ship itself.

In the Silver Age covers were often done before the stories. There are also many instances where the cover and the splash page of the story it matched were versions of the same idea. Saved From the Paper Drive calls these cover / splash page clones.

The cover and splash of Showcase #27 are such a pair, with the difference that in the splash the hand is reaching backward from the foreground rather forward from the background. It’s also smaller, and the Sea Devils are closer to it.

The cover and corresponding splash from #28 aren’t. The featured story was “The Undersea Prison!” Its splash shows the humans escaping. I suspect the cover was done first as it shows the undersea people wearing what look like shamanic masks. The impression is the Sea Devils are being menaced by aquatic tribesmen. In the story the sea-dwellers wear masks at first, but discard them once the Sea Devils are captured and prove technologically astute. Also, on the cover the large figure has an air hose, whereas in the story the sea-dwellers are water breathers. But the cover does indicate he's inhuman, as he has green, scaled hands.

#29 cover-featured “The Last Dive of the Sea Devils!” The cover and splash page are particularly close. I think the cover came first in this case too, as the title was apparently devised for the cover. The blurb asks “Is this… “The Last Dive of the Sea Devils!”???”, which fits the last issue of a try-out which might be the characters’ last appearance.

In the story Horro is explained in SF terms, but he looks like Neptune, and particularly so on the cover as he lacks scales there. So he adumbrates the feature’s later use of mythological figures and beasts. DC reused elements of the image on the cover of Aquaman #9. The concept of a villain exiled to or imprisoned in space who winds up on Earth is a recurring trope. Earlier examples include Satanas’s exile from Red Band Comics #1 and the three evil Kryptonians from Superman #65.

The Sea Devils assume their report of a giant hand and trident will be taken seriously - and it is! I liked that: it makes sense that in a world which has such wonders, the authorities don’t dismiss fantastic reports.

When the fishing boat is speared the Sea Devils head towards it to pick up any survivors: but they don’t pick anyone up, so apparently there aren’t any! The crew of the sub may be all killed too.

The panels about the destruction Horro caused on Venus struck me as Julie Schwartz-ish. When the Venusians sent Horro into space did they send the seahorse with him for company?

It’s hard to believe the Sea Devils escape the torpedo’s explosion at the end. They’re not even shown swimming away: that’s covered in a caption.

I think the exploit would have made them famous and rich. They stopped a murderous alien giant! There should be plenty of evidence, including Horro's prison craft.

I liked "Undersea Scavenger Hunt!" more than the first story because of its more realistic plot. The killer whale and the giant turtle and squid make up for the absence of fantasy elements.

As part of the contest the members of the scavenger teams are roped together. That sounds like a terrible idea.

It wasn’t the Mary Celeste that went missing: it was its crew! Also, the name of the ship was the Mary Celeste, not Marie.

The net tells me quicksand kills by trapping people rather than sucking them under. There’s a first hand account of being trapped in quicksand here. I would think rapid sinking would be even less likely underwater due to a diver’s buoyancy. But perhaps there was a void under the sand area, it broke open, and the sand started falling into it and sucked Nicky with it.

I doubt Columbus ever signed himself “Christopher Columbus”. That’s the English form of his name.

When the Sea Devils fight the squid they grapple with its tentacles. The suckers of giant squid are serrated. The suckers of colossal squid are worse: they have hooks!

Luke Blanchard said:

I doubt Columbus ever signed himself “Christopher Columbus”. That’s the English form of his name.

He always signed himself  "Christopher T. Columbus" for his middle name, "Throckmorton".

I thought it was for "Tiberius."

AKA Wet Silurians

The Baron said:

Sea Devils?

Doctor Hmmm? said:

I thought it was for "Tiberius."

Awesome.

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