One of my favorite comic book subgenres is Scuba. Believe it or not, there was actually a time when there were competing scuba-themed titles, and that’s not even taking into account mainstream war books with scuba stories. This week I’m taking a look at some titles that were dedicated to telling self contained stories featuring divers.
Sea Devils is the commercial and artistic peak of the entire subgenre. The initial creative team of Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney and Russ Heath created a wonderful corner of the DC Universe, where a group of brave divers were assigned to deal with the various menaces that popped up issue after issue. If you don’t have Russ Heath listed in you personal list of top artists, I strongly suggest you check out this series. Much of the success should go to Jack Adler, the head of DC’s production department who had perfect the ‘wash’ technique used for many of the striking covers. Heath eventually left the title, and Irv Novick took over. Howard Purcell later replaced Novick. While neither Novick nor Purcell could match’s Heath’s artwork, they maintain a level of consistency right up to the end of the series.
I’ve praised Dell’s Frog Men series elsewhere, but allow me to do it here as well. This is an incredibly fun series with a real sense of adventure. There were a lot of great series in the early 60s, but I think you’d have a tough time finding one that could match the pool of talent assembled here. George Evans, Alex Toth, Mike Sekowsky, Don Heck, Frank Springer and George Tuska all contributed to this title. Even Frank Frazetta did some inking in spots. It’s a very fun series, and still quite inexpensive in mid-grade or lower.
Sea Hunt holds a special in American pop culture history and the TV series is the inspiration for the scuba-themed series of the early 60s. Starting with some Four Color appearances, Sea Hunt was eventually given its own title at Dell. These are worth tracking down, as Russ Manning drew the bulk of the series and Alex Toth contributed to one issue. I do find that there still seems to be a premium on comic books with a TV tie-in. Too many cross-hobby collectors, I guess.
Not to be confused with The Frogmen is Hillman’s Frog Man Comics, which predates the Dell series by nearly a decade. The series didn’t last long (only 11 issues over 15 months), but like so many Hillman titles, it was a high quality affair. One issue feature Mort Meskin artwork and Berni Krigstein contributed to another (although it was on a ‘crime’ story that didn’t get anywhere near the water). I wish more Hillman artists signed their work, as I have a tough time IDing some of it and I’d like to properly heap my praise. These are not easy to find, but Hillman titles are generally on the more affordable end of the pricing spectrum.
Another short-lived scuba-themed title from the 50s is Avon’s Fighting Undersea Commandos. From the two issues I’ve seen, it’s a fun read – mixing underwater suspense with some typical politically incorrect characters. Louis Ravielli did most of the heavy lifting on the art in this series. I don’t know much about him, except that I’ve also seen his name in some pulps, but I will say that he was a very talented artist with a real gift for moving the action along. He’s yet another artist I wish had been able to stick around long enough to test his talents during the Silver Age.
U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A Agent from Tower Comics was an interesting addition to the THUNDER Agents universe. Agent Davy Jones, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy was the star of the show and he had a number of entertaining, if somewhat repetitive adventures. U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A is probably the greatest comic book acronym of all-time, as it stood for United Nations Department of Experiment and Research Systems Established at Atlantis. This series doesn’t get much ink whenever the Tower Comics line is discussed, but it is consistently strong with some great artwork by Gil Kane, Ray Bailey, Mike Sekowsky and one of my personal favorites, Manny Stallman.
There are a couple of more standalone issues worth mentioning fo those of you who really want to get to the bottom of the scuba subgenre, both from Dell’s Four Colour series. Four Color #1197 Aquanauts, which was a Four Color tie-in to the short-lived TV series. Dan Spiegle provides artwork for this issue, and although I’ve never seen it, I’m certain that I would love it. Four Color #1328 featured an adaptation of the rather bland 1962 movie Underwater City, which is notable as it was drawn by a team of EC-alumni team-up as George Evans inked Reed Crandall’s pencils. Underwater City starred Julie Adams, who also had some aquatic adventures in the Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Go ahead and head back to the boat, because we’re done here. For more comic book nonsense, stop by my blog – Seduction of the Indifferent
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