A Tribute to the of

As long-time readers here know, I always get a bang out of a good cameo and I recently stumbled across a Silver Age book that has more than one in the same story. How could I possibly resist?

Sea Devils editor Robert Kanigher decided to try a bold experiment with issue #13 and it even made the Irv Novick drawn cover with Ira Schnapp lettering and Jack Adler coloring and wash tone work. See it there above the title? “Sensational reader’s poll! First time in comics’ history!” Another notation on the cover offers a little further foreshadowing under the feature story title, “Secrets of 3 Sunken Ships!” authored by Ed Herron: “With Three Surprise Guests!

The final bit of hype is on the splash page, taking up about a third of the page: “Unique Reader’s Poll! You are about to choose which real DC artist—or team of artists—is your favorite! For the first time in comics history real top-notch illustrators will do on-the-scene “picture reporting” of fictitious Sea Devils adventures! Who will be your choice? Read the astonishing three-part sea-spectacular which is to follow—and make your choice on the last page! We will eagerly await your decision! The Editor--

Obviously, Russ Heath had moved on with issue #10 and while Irv Novick had been doing good work on the next two issues, editorial had decided to take this step. Let’s see what Kanigher had up his sleeve, shall we?

Page 2 wastes zero time as none other than Joe Kubert walks into Sea Devils HQ and introduces himself. Dane Torrance responds with, “So you’re the DC artist who’s going to go with us on one of our adventures—and draw the story right from life for DC readers? What do you think, team?” Judy Walton replies, “Why not? He’s cute!” Little brother Nicky Torrance retorts with, “Never mind my sister Judy! If you’re from DC—you’re okay with me!” Then Biff Baily chimes in with, “Check, Nicky! If Joe doesn’t get sea-sick! What’s your vote, Dane?” “Same as yours, Biff! You’re in, Joe!” And just for the record, as if you hadn’t already guessed, Joe Kubert illustrated this first segment of the story.

Soon the Sea Devils, along with Joe Kubert, are aboard the Sea Witch, heading for a specific spot where Dane dives from the side to check out his ancestor’s sunken ship. Captain English’s vessel had been deep-sixed by the Black Shark, a pirate raider and apparently English’s ship went down before he’d managed to fire a shot.

The sailing vessel under Captain English’s command was dubbed “Honor,” which the captain took to heart. Rallying his crew with “Death before dishonor!” they began their maiden voyage in the warship when they found themselves under attack and are quickly overwhelmed. Captain English is devastated that the ship was so swiftly defeated and predicts that his name will be remembered as having brought dishonor to the Honor until one day a relative will bring back that honor to both their names.

Inspired by the dying man’s musings, the pirates slap paint on the hull, adding “Dis” to honor and then scuttling the burning wreck.

Back in the present, Dane comes back from his latest examination of his ancestor’s ill-fated ship while Joe Kubert pencils panels on a page. Dane is outraged that he cannot come up with a plan to restore honor to his family name. Just then, Biff detects an unidentified underwater object and then an undersea rocket breaks the surface and explodes. Dane re-dons his diving mask and heads for the side, refusing any help. “Anything that happens around the Dishonor is my private responsibility!

Below the surface, Dane spots a submarine and unfortunately, they’ve spotted him, too and deploy an anti-frogman missile. The concussion seems to cause Dane to take on the thought processes of Captain English. He descends to the deck and his mind is repeating some of his ancestor’s last words: “Death before dishonor, I say…what say you…my hearties?

Soon Dane, still channeling Captain English, tries to fire an old cannon at the pirate submarine, but of course it doesn’t respond. He then uses an iron pike to smash the rudder of the sub, but the corroded pike was no match for the modern screws of the submarine.

Then in an act that smacks of desperation, Dane picks up an old cannonball and hand carries it toward the sub, tossing it at the vessel. The resulting collision between ancient armament and modern submarine resulted in a rather spectacular explosion that seemed to jolt Dane back to his senses. The rest of the Sea Devils soon go to investigate where they find Dane blotting out the “Dis” on the bow of the honor. In the final panel, Joe Kubert is finishing up at his drawing board. “What a sensational Sea Devils story this will be to draw for DC’s readers—if only I can get it all down!

Part two of “Secrets of 3 Sunken Ships!” continues a couple of pages later and this time the Sea Devils are diving away from balls of flame that are being catapulted from what appear to be Viking era ships.

The caption on the next page informs the readers that it had been about a week after the departure of the first artist. The team has spotted a giant octopus with a diver in one of its tentacles. After a short skirmish that frees the diver, he introduces himself with a written message: “I’m Gene Colan. DC sent me to draw your next adventure! I’ve been practicing scuba-diving so I wouldn’t be in your way! Okay with you?

In the next incredible moment, the sea floor divides and an ancient Greek vessel appears. As the Sea Devils investigate, they discover a cache of ancient gold coins on the deck and to their shock, the coins depict the Sea Devils themselves, being honored with laurel leaves like those given at an Olympic event. Dane then borrows Gene Colan’s board and writes out his own message, instructing the artist to stay put while they further investigate the ship. “DC sent you to draw our next adventure—so go ahead! We’ll tell you all about it—when we get back!

This time, the Sea Devils find themselves in a strong current that seems to send them back into time, where they discover they’re at the site of an ancient naval disaster. On the surface, they encounter a king and his daughter in period garb, clinging to a ship’s mast on the relentless waves of the sea.

They further observe the Persian fleet shooting balls of fire at the other ships in the king’s small fleet. Dane vows to help and the other Sea Devils follow as he swims toward the attacking vessels. The Sea Devils note that the ships have vanquished the defenders and are now hurling their flaming projectiles at the coastal town.

In the next surreal moments, the divers find themselves spotted and also under attack. They dive deeply to avoid the fireballs and then using a clever tactic, they head toward the enemy, grasping onto the anchor chains. Swiftly, they tangle up the chains to hobble the attacking ships. Soon the same current swings the ships together and their flaming armaments cause their destruction.

Later, the Sea Devils participate in a ceremony honoring them and the princess orders a local artist to capture the moment so that a new commemorative coin can be minted. Later, the divers head back to the ship below the waves that originally led them here, hoping it will prove to be a portal home.

Luck is with the team and they return to the 20th century to find Gene Colan. “There’s D.C.’s artist—we’re back!” The final panel of this part again features a prominent DC artist at his drawing board with the Sea Devils looking on. “…and that’s the whole story, Gene! Think you can get it all down?” “Once I stop gulping my heart—watch me!

As a quick side note, I’d all but forgotten that the great Gene Colan had once been in Robert Kanigher’s stable of artists. Gene’s wife, Adrienne, had spoken to me on the phone and told me that the biggest reason Gene moved on to Marvel was none other than the notorious Bob Kanigher.

And now, on to the third and final section of this book as the dramatic splash page shows our divers being shaken up on an underwater ship by a huge whale slamming into it. But first, the backstory on the following page where two figures are boarding the deck of the Sea Witch thanks to a handy helicopter. “Hi, Sea Devils! I’m Ross Andru!” “And I’m Mike Esposito!” The famed penciler and inker team soon discover they’ve boarded an empty boat, though and surmise that the Sea Devils must be diving. Then they spot some sky-jumpers and as it happens, it’s the Sea Devils in full wet suit attire, doing some sky-diving for a change. Mike Esposito shakes Dane Dorrance’s hand in introduction and says, “Gosh! When DC sent us on an assignment to draw the Sea Devils in an adventure—I expected it to be undersea—not para-gliding! When’s your next dive?” “Not this trip, Mike! We’re not diving!

The team then begin to don some period garb and explain to the startled artists that they’re baiting a trap and the Sea Devils themselves are the bait. Soon the Sea Witch encounters the Marie Celeste. The excited artistic team speculate that perhaps they’re on hand to learn what happened to the vessel that disappeared in the 19th century.

Dane explains it’s not the original ship, but an exact duplicate built by the Maritime Mysteries Foundation. The Sea Devils are dressed like period crew members in order to take the place of the missing crew that is anchored at the last known position before it disappeared. They hope to perhaps discover what the fate of the ship had been by re-enacting things today.

They then take a rowboat out toward the Marie Celeste and instruct Andru and Esposito to stay on the Sea Witch. The pair continue to work away at their drawing boards while the Sea Devils continue their journey to the doppelganger ship.

Then, to the astonishment of Ross and Mike, the Marie Celeste is drawn up into the heavens by a UFO with a magnetic ray. A non-plussed Dane instructs his team to check their chutes and tanks and the time-bomb aboard the ship, telling them that if they cannot escape, they can at least destroy the threat.

Inside the flying saucer, the Marie Celeste looks like a child’s toy in the hands of the massive green-skinned alien. The creature soon drops the ship into a massive fish tank where the startled divers discover a huge graveyard of ships, including the original Marie Celeste.

Then, to the dismay of the Sea Devils, one of the other inhabitants of the fish tank, a massive whale, proceeds to ram their ship. And as if that’s not bad enough, the blows to the ship have activated the time-bomb, giving the Sea Devils 10 minutes to try to extricate themselves. Oh, and a few sharks have joined in, too. The team deploys their underwater concussion cartridges at the threats, neutralizing the sharks, but having little effect on the rampaging whale. The larger denizen plows into the side of the tank and opens a hole, which sucks the Sea Devils out along with it.

Using their parachutes to keep them from a nasty fall, the team para-glides over to the magnetic beam that brought them aboard and use it to escape the ship. At first, it seems things are going according to plan, but then the beam abruptly reverses and our heroes are in a sort of stasis.

At that opportune moment, the time-bomb detonates and the divers are freed from the beam. The team is soon free-falling until the drop zone and then glide gracefully downward to their boat and the waiting artists. “I thought I would have to return to DC…with empty pages...on the last adventure of the Sea Devils!

The final panel has a familiar ring to it as Dane addresses Andru: “…and you saw us para-glide down! Think you can get it all down, Ross?” “We’ll make our fingers smoke trying!” The closing caption offers up the details: “Readers! You’re the judges! Which artist or team of artists drew the most exciting Sea Devils adventure? You have 3 stories to pick from—we will await your choice!” Issue #14 had another blurb above the title: “Have you voted in the sensational readers’ poll? Here’s your chance!” The cover also promises two surprise guests. Shall we investigate? I think we should… The splash page caption this time isn’t as prominent, but it heralds a “2nd Unique Reader’s Poll!” The rest of the caption reads: “DC has sent two more of its top artists to illustrate new astonishing Sea Devils adventures! You decide which one has most thrillingly brought to life the incredible undersea adventures you will now see! The choice is yours! The Editor.” Okay, I’m not going to go into this issue as deeply, but let’s see who did try-outs this time. The first is Irv Novick, sucking on a pipe. The second artist is Jack Abel. I note that issue #15 has Russ Heath doing the cover artwork again, with Irv Novick doing interiors and making another cameo appearance in the story. Curiously, issue #16 has art in the lead story by Bruno Premiani of Doom Patrol fame with Shelly Moldoff inks and the second story is drawn by Howard Purcell with Shelly’s inks. The “Undersea Breezes” lettercol also includes some voting from the issue that kicked this all off. I also see that suddenly George Kashdan is the new editor. Hmm…

Purcell and Moldoff are still the featured artists in issue #17, including a Howard Purcell cover. How long does this drag out?

Apparently on through issue #33 with Go-Go Checks and even a gorilla! (Issue #30) along the way until Chic Stone pencils the interiors on issue #34 with Shelly still inking away. Purcell and Moldoff are back on the job with issue #35 under an impressive Murphy Anderson cover, but that’s the Sea Devils’ swan song as the title is canceled.

Apparently, the try-outs 20 and 19 issues ago respectively, went nowhere or maybe went out the door with Bob Kanigher. We may never know and I’m a little weary now to plow through any other lettercol entries to see if any clues lie there. This went a bit beyond what I was originally intending, but I learned something along the way just the same and frankly enjoyed seeing the several cameo appearances of the artists of the day. I hope you did, too.

Finally, for my money, nobody did it like Russ, so it’s all kind of moot in my mind.

For a fun and unique take on things, I’ll give this one a 9 for originality.

A more reasonable length review will be here waiting for you on October 15th and meanwhile, send any feedback to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you soon and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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