Showcase Presents: Sea Devils Vol. 1

This volume reprints stories from Showcase #27-29 and Sea Devils #1-16. Stories are written by Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, Hank P. Chapman and France L. Herron. Stories are pencilled by Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Jack Abel, Bruno Premiani and Howard Purcell.

So, here we have the tail of four human beings--the square-jawed leader, the strong man, the girl and her teenage brother--who come together for the common good. After their spaceship is riddled with cosmic rays--er, scratch that. They meet on a dive and decide to form a salvage and exploration business.

And really, there's not a whole lot more to say about the Sea Devils, but I'm going to say some things anyway. It's a good initial concept, and certainly there are more than enough natural mysteries in the murky depths of the sea that there's no reason for the team to encounter numerous giants, aliens, giant aliens and mythical creatures, right?

Oh, wait. These stories are written by Robert Kanigher, so it's giants, aliens and mythical creatures by the shovel full. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to name any human antagonists in any of these stories.

Speaking of these stories, there's little to say. Most fans of heroic fiction--particularly ongoing heroic fiction-- understand that the hero is going to survive, so what makes the story work is how he or she manages to extricate themselves from whatever sticky situation they've inserted themselves into. Well written stories of this genre will make even the most jaded reader wonder if the hero or heroes are going to survive. Sadly, that's not the case with the Sea Devils. The vast majority of the threats they face are so fantastic that suspension of disbelief goes right out of the window.

Additionally, while each character is given some sort of motivation for what they do, it's never really expanded upon. For example, strongman Biff only feels graceful underwater, teenage Nicky "is a man when he's under the water", and Judy, the female, is just as able as any man underwater. However, the same characteristics that show up in their first appearance continue through the end of this collection. Additionally, there's supposed to be some level of romantic interest between Judy and Dane the leader, but it's rarely even alluded to, and hardly believable. Judy and Nicky are frequently left topside as backup and to man communcations. when they complain about it, Dane reminds them that they are serving an important purpose, which is true, but you never see Biff being asked to man the radios or Dane staying topside for anything.

Another thing that just took me out of many of the stories is that frequently the Sea Devils are seen performing tasks for the Armed Forces (the Navy, mostly), but there's never any allusion as to why the Navy aren't using their own highly- trained personnel for these jobs. While I can see civilian personnel being brought in to help with unusual situations where they have a high level of experience and expertise, it would be good to at minimum suggest within the story that such is the case.

Mind you, it's not all bad. The artwork, partcularly by Russ Heath, is quite good, as are the covers. There are some "stunt" issues where several different artists each take a hand at drawing a segment of a story, and it's interesting to see how much (and how little) difference a different artist can make. There's a nice story about a recurring character in Pappy the sea lion, who forces himself back into the wild after having been raised in captivity. Unfortunately, those high points aren't enough, at least for me.

If you're the sort who doesn't mind paying $19.99 for mediocre stories and nice art, this collection may be for you. However, if you're like me and read comics moreso for the stories than the art, you'll likely want to give this a pass. There's no real historical impact within these stories as none of them seem to take place within the shared DC universe. Maybe someone might like to see a story illustrated by Bruno Premiani that doesn't involve the Doom Patrol, but by and large this is one collection that I doubt I'll be re-reading.

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An excellent review, Randy!  In fact, as I was reading it, I noted how you pinpointed what made the series so tedious to me fifty years ago.

 

The Sea Devils was the fourth adventure team to come out of the house of DC.  The Challengers of the Unknown, the Suicide Squad, and Rip Hunter and his crew preceded the underwater band (and Cave Carson and his team would follow within a few months.).  On some thread, a while back, I dissected the typical formula for the membership of these kinds of teams---the Boss, the Brain, the Muscle, and the Tyro.  When a female is included in the mix, the Boss and the Brain usually combine.  This was the situation in Rip Hunter, and Sea Devils followed that formula precisely.  And thereby, it fell into the same pattern.

 

On time-travel missions, Rip (the Boss/Brain) and Jeff (the Muscle) would go out and investigate, while Bonnie (the Female) and Corky (the Tyro) stayed behind to "guard the time-sphere".  Similarly, as you pointed out, in Sea Devils, most of the time, Dane and Biff got to do the underwater stuff, while Judy and Nicky stayed with the boat to man the radio.

 

Rip Hunter and Sea Devils shared other similarites, but the most crucial one was---that both series were boring when, by rights, they shouldn't have been.  Both time-travel and the mysterious depths of the seas are inherently dramatic environments for adventure.  Yet, both series somehow managed to make their formats dull.

 

I think one of the reasons why it was difficult to be interested in what happened to the Sea Devils was because it was hard to identify with them as human beings.  They were all rather two-dimensional, conforming to their team-slot stereotypes and little more.  I'm not saying that the writers should have applied Marvel-style characterisation with a paint roller, but there should have been something more to distinguish them than the Boss, the Brawn, the Boy, and the Boobs.

 

The writers wouldn't  have even had to go too far of those stereotypes.  Make the kid, Corky, immature and impetuous, fitting his youth.  Give Judy a little resentment at being treated with kid gloves, and have her show up Dane once in awhile, by knowing something he doesn't, or being better at some diving skill.  Have the two senior Devils---Dane and Biff---disagree on tactics sometimes.

 

As you said, we know the Good Guys are going to win.  It's how they do that makes it interesting.

 

It wouldn't have hurt to give the Devils a couple of recurring foes.  That would have made their conflicts a bit more personal and it would have broken up what seemed like an unending run of the heroes constantly stumbling into menaces by accident.

 

That's how the most successful of DC's adventure teams, the Challengers of the Unknown, survived for so long.  Now, granted, the Challs didn't really develop individual personality traits until Arnold Drake took over the writing.  But the writers before Drake, including Herron, were able to distinguish each Chall by emphasising their separate skill-sets---Ace, the pilot; Prof, the scientist; Rocky, the muscle; and Red, the acrobat.  This allowed each of them their moments to shine in any particular story.

 

(And let's face it:  having, first, Jack Kirby, and then Bob Brown handling the art chores didn't hurt Challengers, either.)

 

But the Sea Devils were infected with a mundane sameness which made it difficult to really care what happened to whom.  It was "dive, win, and repeat".  Curiously enough---or, perhaps, not so curiously---the only time the Sea Devils seemed interesting to me was when they guest-starred in Challengers of the Unknown # 51 (Aug.-Sep., 1966).  That issue's tale, "Smash the Sponge Man---or Die", contained the touches I mentioned before, because the Devils had the Challs to play off of.  Musclemen Biff and Rocky did some posturing and chest-beating, while Dane and Ace conflicted over leadership matters.  It didn't help matters that Judy played up to Ace because she was tired of Dane ignoring her and constantly assigning her to "man the radio".

 

If this kind of stuff had appeared in the Sea Devils' own title, it would have helped considerably.

 

I read your review with interest, Randy. I'm another who's found "Sea Devils" stories a bit tedious, but I want to see more of their stories, partly because I'm interested in reading more of the non-superhero stuff of the era. In an article excerpted here Kanigher briefly represented "Sea Devils" as another go at "Frogmen", which appeared in Showcase #3. To judge by the cover, this was a war feature. The GCD tells me it was also drawn by Russ Heath.

I'm looking forward to this volume as I read Sea Devils #1 and #3 when they were reprinted in the 100 Pages Action Comics #437 (Jl'74) and #443 (Ja'75) and liked them a lot. They didn't appear much afterwards except for the obligitory Showcase #100, finally meeting Aquaman. Dane became one of the Forgotten Heroes like Rip Hunter, Cave Carson, Rick Flagg, Congorilla, Immortal Man, Dolphin and Animal Man in the mid-80s right before the Crisis.

Except........in Detective Comics #486 (N'79) it was revealed that Dane and Judy were MARRIED when she hired Christopher Chance, the Human Target to impersonate her injured hubby to find out who was trying to kill him!

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