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The Sea Devils proudly follow in Aquaman’s “Terrible Underwater Storytelling” footsteps – Sea Devils #29

September 3, 2012

The Sea Devils have their fans. I’ve heard them out there, waxing nostalgic over the undersea adventures of the non-superpowered aquatic version of the Challengers of the Unknown. The Sea Devils’ playground was that other final frontier, the unexplored depths of the Earth’s oceans. There was always a Jacques Costuea vibe clinging to their briny, seaweed-infused shenanigans, with colorful, otherworldly threats swimming up from the depths.

And my God, could they ever suck.

Silver Age DC has some pretty deep troughs of awful. We’ve seen examples of them that time and time again, as magazines and blogs have chronicled exemplars of the most insipid storytelling that was ever sold for a dime and two pennies. I’ve jumped onto that hogpile myself, and on more than one occasion. But this comic added a new wrinkle. You see, just when you think it’s a rather meh, pedestrian affair, with all the overused tropes and silly dialogue of the 1960s DC toolkit, a curve comes in at the end and whacks you over the head. That’s when you realize that what you have just read is insultingly terrible. Really, REALLY bad.

Let me guide you through this woeful tale.

The story (Pencils: Howard Purcell, Inks: Sheldon Moldoff) opens with the Sea Devils — head stud Dane Dorrance, Biff Bailey, Dane’s babe Judy “Yoko” Walton, and Nicky Walton — travelling with a nameless professor on a vaguely sciencey mission to investigate an underwater volcano. Trouble soon finds them, though, and it comes in the form of a huge, bipedal menace. No, not Gorgo, just a big ugly dude:

The Sea Devils give him battle before he can crunch their submarine like a soda can. In the midst of the melee, we get our first sexist line of the day. HUZZAH:

I’d think “Magnesium Flare Deployment” would be a gender-neutral task, but hey, what does a land-lubber like me know?

The volcano has opened up a fissure in the ocean floor, which sucks the Sea Devils, the professor, and the monster into the subterranean unknown, in the process separating Nicky from the group. Once in this uncharted territory, the monster shrinks down into a regular-sized schlub of a man, Lucas, who looks like a cross between Jerry Lewis and Droopy Dog:

I don’t like him…

What’s down in this crevice? Why, an undersea kingdom, of course, one filled with human-like people who are double our size and who surround themselves with all things gold. They’re ruled by a queen, the Golden Goddess (so it’s a queendom, I guess), and she’s in the market for a mate. Cue the muted trombones and bared claws!:

Dane is then put to the test of kingship, which entails fighting the monster Valdo (monsters galore) in the spiked death chamber that you see on the above cover. He prevails, impaling the snarling seahorse-ish thing on spikes, but he’s badly hurt in the process. This sends the Golden Goddess into a tizzy, and she heals her would-be king with ADVANCED CRACKLING TECHNOLOGY:

“Hey, staying with the giant big-breasted babe could be nice, I guess there’s really no downs- wait a minute!”

What follows is a rapid series of crosses and double-crosses, as the Sea Devils plot their escape, the Golden Goddess gets wind of their plans, and both play dumb as they wait to put the screws to the other. Just as the Goddess springs her trap, there’s a deus ex machina when OH S–T A GIANT GOLD GUY IN A SKORT ARRIVES:

Oh. It’s Neptimius. The International Sea Devils’ mobile walking gold giant headquarters. He’s named after the first skindiver — did you know that? Fascinating.

Anyway, so the cavalry is here, led by Nicky, who went and got help instead of drowning. The Sea Devils, the professor and Lucas/Droopy make their getaway. But here comes the swerve — Lucas is taken ill, and has a mind-numbing confession about their captors: he was really a thief trying to steal their process for extracting gold and — screw it, let him finish:

Let’s parse this. The Golden Goddess — and by extension, her people — aren’t really all that bad after all. She was just burned by Lucas’ thievery. Burned enough to want to kill the strangers who stumbled into her realm. Oh, and stage elaborate and deadly games to test whether or not the chief hunk among them could rule by her side.

And this is supposedly all wiped away by a deathbed confession of a half-nude stranger. With plenty of gobbledygook about strange rays to punish evil by making evil-doers into big ugly monsters thrown in for good measure. Here’s where we should all stand up and yell NOT BUYING IT. This all makes that last panel the cherry on top of the sundae of stupid. I mean, really, they want to go back? The slate is clean just like that? It’s not that it invalidates what was just read, it’s that it makes it even more unappealing. It’s like trying to dig out of a hole, and just making the pit deeper.

I’m too tired to smack my head against this any further.

There are no talent credits in this comic, but the Grand Comics Database (where I got the penciller and inker — they’re stuff is creditable, btw) tentatively lists the scripter as Bob Haney. Maybe he wrote this, maybe he didn’t, but I’m sure that whoever’s responsible turned in a stinker. I know there are time-related pressures with churning out a monthly comic, and the Sea Devils aren’t the most fertile narrative soil to begin with, and even that everyone is entitled to a bad day now and then, but still. This is bad. Dumb. Head-smackingly dumb.

While I was going through this comic for the first time, I noticed that someone had once burned through the margins of one of the pages with a cigarette. I now understand why. The Sea Devils’ book didn’t have much staying power, and only lasted seven more issues after this one. I now understand the “why” for that as well.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 4, 2012 6:07 am

    now I know why this book never drew me to it …

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