Sea Devils #3, "Ghost of the Deep!"

SEA DEVILS #3; Jan-Feb. 1962; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Rober Kanigher, editor; featuring "Underwater Crime Wave!" and "The Ghost From the Deep!", both written by Kanigher and drawn by Russ Heath. On the cover by Heath with wash effects by Jack Adler, the skin-diving Sea Devils are confronted by a giant woman directing a sea serpent to attack them!
Review by Bill Henley
When I was a young kid in the early 60's, I was fascinated by scuba diving. I never got to try it myself-- the closest I got was snorkeling in a small lake-- but I loved the TV show "Sea Hunt," and for a time I was also a fan of DC's team of intrepid divers, the Sea Devils.
I suspect the Sea Devils were inspired by the popularity of "Sea Hunt", which first appeared on TV in 1958 (though Kanigher and Heath first showed an interest in scuba diving in 1956 with "Frogmen," a one-shot tryout in SHOWCASE #3). But while TV's Mike Nelson tangled underwater with relatively mundane crooks and smugglers and the occasional shark, the Sea Devils-- leader Dane Dorrance, strongman Biff, pretty girl Judy and her kid brother Nicky-- battled an assortment of much more outre undersea menaces verging on the surreal (and absurd). The stories in this issue, which I rediscovered upon purchasing the Showcase Sea Devils black and white collection, are good examples of the true bizarreness of this series.
On the splash page (an appropriate term) of "Underwater Crime Wave," the Sea Devils ride the back of a swordfish, while holding on to a toga-clad prisoner, to attack a couple of skin-diving crooks wielding spear-guns. The story begins on land as the Sea Devils sit in a theater watching newsreel footage of "G. Nakko," a wealthy "man of mystery" with a Roman fetish who holds gigantic "toga parties" that would put Animal House to shame. While still in the theater, they are approached by a government agent asking for their help tracking down a "giant smuggling syndicate". Before they even leave the theatre, the agent is "kayoed," (it's not clear if permanently or not) by agents of the syndicate! The Sea Devils vow to carry on the mission, but first they put on a scheduled charity exhibition of their famed stunt-diving skills. Afterwards, an agent of Nakko, the "modern Nero," asks them to put on a show at one of his parties for ten times their usual fee. Dane curtly refuses; "We're not performing seals! Tell your modern Nero he hasn't enough money to buy our services!" "No one ever turned Mr. G. Nakko down before! You'll regret it!"
The next day, the Sea Devils start searching for signs of undersea smuggling but find no leads, after five futile days, the Devils spot a floating distress marker, and the three male Sea Devils dive to investigate, leaving Judy to mind their boat. "Dane-- I'll never speak to you again if you leave me here because I'm a girl!" "Nonsense, Judy! We need someone on the surface we can ABSOLUTELY depend on!" The Devils follow a line from the distress marker down into the depths, noticing an unusual profusion of sea life. Then when they follow the line into a cavern, instead of finding a trapped fiver, they themselves are trapped in a net!
They are dragged into a gigantic Roman-style coliseum which "Nero" and his gang have somehow constructed underwater! And they discover to their dismay that Judy has been captured as well, and is locked in a plastic container which is slowly filling with water. The other Sea Devils must engage in an undersea gladiatorial contest for the amusement of Nero, clad in toga and scuba gear, and a vast audience of scuba-clad spectators! If they cannot defeat all of their foes within one hour, Judy's container will fill up and she will drown!
The youthful Sea Devil Nicky is the first to fight, against a foe wielding a net. Nicky is able to escape and entangle the bad guy in his own net, with some help from a friendly porpoise. But his battle takes a full half hour's worth of his sister's precious air! Next, strongman Biff is forced to engage in an undersea boxing match, hampered by an excessively heavy weight belt. But when his opponent knocks him into an outcropping of sharp coral, The belt is severed and Biff is able to score a knockout. With just 15 minutes left-- and "Nero" silently gloating about a secret ace in the hole-- Dane has to battle bare-handed a foe armed with a sharp trident. But once again a sea creature comes to his aid (isn't that supposed to be Aquaman's shtick?) as Dane climbs aboard a passing swordfish and uses its bill to wrest away the trident.
"Nero" orders his henchmen armed with modern undersea weapons to attack the Sea Devils, but they and the swordfish counter-attack and free Judy from her prison, using "buddy-breathing" to keep her alive.
Having escaped "Mr. Nero's" undersea gladiator contest, the Sea Devils commandeer a "sea sled" vehicle from the bad guys to reach the surface. There they find a U.S. Coast Guard vessel which has spotted the Sea Devil's boat manned by members of the smuggling gang "who couldn't answer our questions." As the other gang members surface and are rounded up, Dane promises to provide all the evidence needed to convict them, including "Mr. Nero". (Just don't tell them about that whole Roman gladiator thing down there, guys, or they'll think you're nuts.)
The splash page of the second story "The Ghost of the Deep," also by Kanigher and Heath, depicts our heroes struggling in the coils of a giant sea serpent, under the cruel eye of a sub-sea goddess figure. The story begins with the Sea Devils taking a break from their watery labors by attending "a seaside night spot, the Circe Club." (Isn't teenaged Nicky a little young for a place like that?). The guys tease Judy for being entranced by the singing of a male crooner, Larry O'Day. But then, all three of them-- including Dane, who's supposed to be an item with Judy-- are caught by the spell of a girl singer calling herself Circe. "Look at you! Mooning over Circe Smith as if she were the legendary Circe! And YOU laughed at ME!"
"The next day, as the Sea Devils prepare to test some new deep-diving gear," Judy accuses Dane of still being "in a daze from that crooning female's song last night!" Dane insists that "when I'm diving-- I'm alert every second!" Not alert enough to escape a maelstrom that seizes all four Devils when they enter the uncharted waters! And finally, "in a strange, shimmering depth of the sea they have never reached before," the male Sea Devils stop and stare as if listening to some sound that Judy cannot detect, then start "cavorting like dizzy salmon! They act as if they have NITROGEN NARCOSIS!" An editor's note explains this is the dangerous. "Rapture of the deep," the result of diving at great depths, wherein a diver loses all grasp of danger and judgment."
Herself Judy seems unaffected, and tries to figure a way to get the men to surface. But then she finally sees what they see and hear-- a beautiful "sea siren" who has her male teammates enraptured! All three of them want to win this "Circe" for themselves! And none of them-- not Dane,or Biff, or her brother Nicky-- pay any heed when Judy tries to persuade them to head surface-ward!
Circe demonstrates the ability to communicate telepathically with her male victims (combined with dubious poetic skills); "Welcome to Circe's watery home! From it you shall never want to roam! To each of you, the task I give is this... Who brings me the greatest treasure,?his reward shall be a kiss!"
And so, the three male Sea Devils scatter to the sea currents, each determined To be the one to win the precious kiss! Nicky is the first to bring back a prize, after battling a "golden eel" to wrest away a golden necklace from a pirate hoard. Biff finds a jeweled crown on the figurehead of an ancient sunken ship, but to win it he must put his own brawn against the strength of the animated figurehead! As they lay their treasure at Circe's feet, she continues "tormenting them with her smile and song while she waits for Dane to come back!"
Dane discovers an "antique mirror encrusted with pearls," but has to fight a "giant otter" (drawn more like some kind of undersea Panther) to keep it. When he returns to. Circe, she reaches out for him and his gift. "She's choosing Dane! The boy I love!" (Boy? Dane seems to be a full grown man, though admittedly he hasn't been acting all that mature lately.)
As Dane approaches Circe for her kiss, he throws away his mouthpiece and air tanks! A horrified Judy darts in and presses her own tanks on Dane, then swims desperately for the surface with only the air in her lungs. The sight of this act of self-sacrifice snaps the others out of Circe's spell, and they follow her, with Dane offering his mouthpiece to Judy in the "buddy-breathing" system.
But Circe is not willing to give her love-struck victims up without a fight, and she sends her pet sea serpent after them! The four divers are caught in the coils of the serpent which threatens to crush the aqualung-dispensed breath out of them! Then the turbulent waters form another maelstrom which tears the Sea Devils out of the grip of the detention and up toward the surface.
Upon surfacing, the other Sea Devils want to know what happened to Judy's air tanks. They remember nothing of all the drama with Circe the "sea siren,' and when Judy tries to tell them about it, their response is, "Poor kid! You must have been down too long without air! You must have had a touch of-- NITROGEN NARCOSIS!"! An outraged Judy's rejoinder; "You MEN! You make fools of yourselves-- then so very conveniently forget about it! Ohh-- you're impossible!"
(Truth to tell, "a touch of nitrogen narcosis" is probably the best explanation of the goings-on in nearly ALL these "Sea Devils"stories.)