cover to Sea devils #14

Sea Devils #14, November-December 1963

Following the information received from Pat Curley (of Silver Age Comics fame) on my post covering the experimental Sea Devils #13, I tracked down a copy of the next issue at my friendly local comics emporium. Therein the experiment of allowing the readers to choose outgoing regular Sea Devils artist Russ Heath’s replacement continued…

Irv Novick arrives to depict the underwater team’s latest exploits and is welcomed aboard the team vessel, the Sea Witch. They arrive at a local sea carnival but are staggered to see the gigantic forms of King Neptune and Hercules break the surface of the sea. As the giants throw punches at one another they are unaware of the chaos and panic they are causing below.

Irv Novick arrives

Irv is left on the Sea Witch as the Sea Devils dive to investigate. They soon discover that Hercules has been given a thirteenth task by mischievous Zeus: to defeat Neptune in battle before nightfall. If he can manage this, he’ll be awarded godhood. The other gods settle down to watch and have a good laugh. Well, it’s better than TV, eh?

Despairing, Hercules calls in Hera to grant him powers to help his struggle. She offers hims some seaweed, and, once consumed, the seaweed makes Hercules grow to giant size and gives him the ability to breathe underwater.

Watching the drama unfold, the Sea Devils are in a dilemma: they can’t let Neptune lose as that “would turn the sea to chaos”, however they also can’t let Hercules lose either, “After all, he is a great hero!”

Well… what to do?

Luckily, Judy’s “feminine mind” conjures up a plan. The Sea Devils mount some sea horses and try a number of methods to distract Hercules. Hercules shrugs these off, but not quickly enough to avoid the arrival of nightfall. Breaking the surface, he sees the darkness and realises he has failed in his challenge. In anger he lashes out at the Sea Devils, but soon hears the crowd of carnival watchers (who seem to have hung around all day with nothing better to do) chanting his name and calling him “the King of the Sea.” Touched, Hercules breaks down in tears of joy.

“I would rather wear this crown given to me out of the goodness of your hearts — than be a god!”

And, with that he wanders away.

Later, the Sea Devils describe the whole affair to the impressed Irv Novick for him to draw.

Jack Abel

In this issue’s second story, the team say hello to fresh-faced Jack Abel. He arrives not long after the Sea Devils have decided to enter an underwater relay race (!) to win some money to fund a club of Junior Sea Devils. The race’s only other entrant is Karpas, an ocean scientist. The Sea Devils reckon they have it in the bag, until Karpas introduces his relay team: a “trained sea lion”, an “educated manta ray”, an”obedient squid” and a merman (who’s presumably no relation to Mer-Boy then appearing in most issues of Wonder Woman). With a team like that, Karpas knows he can’t lose!

Sea Devils opponents

The race is a train wreck. Biff is soundly beaten by the sea lion. Teenage Nicky takes on the wily manta ray and swiftly loses when his opponent throws some “dagger fish” at him. Dane gets lost in the cloud of black ink squirted by the squid, leaving Judy with a heck of a lot of ground to make up.

She does poorly against the merman at first, but then he gets himself into trouble with a net and is attacked by a giant electric eel. Judy passes the stricken merman, but feels sorry for him (perhaps that feminine mind is having an off-day), and she frees him from the net while discharging the eel. The merman swims for the finish line, while a despondent Judy is picked up by the Sea Devils’ submarine.

She breaks down, but the other inform her that she has in fact won! The merman hung back, allowing her to cross the finish line first in gratitude. Outside, the merman waves at her and smiles.

Just then, the team hear a ticking. It a bomb!! Karpas has installed a little insurance against him losing.

The Sea Devils and Jack Abel leave the sub at top speed —  Jack has no apparatus, and presumably dies of the bends and/or drowning not long after the end of this story. A suddenly current drags Karpas’s submarine towards the abandoned one, and both explode.

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Scripted by France Herron, this issue is a lot less fun than the previous one, but is even more bonkers — if such a thing is possible. The big stumbling point here is that neither artist is up to the calibre of those in #13. Irv Novick is the better of the two by far, turning in a fine, if workmanlike, effort. Jack Abel’s art is, sadly, fairly weak — though it would probably take an artistic genius to make a story involving an “educated manta ray” work well. Abel was a lush inker, but penciling wasn’t his forte.

Neither artist went on to “win” this event. That honour went to Howard Purcell, though Irv Novick appears again in the next issue — which might suggest he was Bob Kanigher’s choice for the gig.

The marvelous cover for this issue is another of the grey tone efforts coloured by Jack Adler. This process involved painting a watercolour wash directly over a tonal pencil piece, which here was provided by Russ Heath.

Images ©2011 DC Comics