Showcase Presents Sea Devils Vol. 1

seadevils1First Published: July 2012

Contents: Showcase #27 (July/August 1960) to #29 (November/December 1960); and Sea Devils #1 (September/October 1961) to #16 (March/April 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Bob Haney, Jack Adler, Irv Novick, Hank Chapman, and others

Key First Appearances: Biff Bailey, Dane Dorrance, Judy Walton, Nicky Walton

Overview: Meet the Sea Devils – Have flippers, will travel! In the spirit of other Silver Age common heroes such as the Challengers of the Unknown, the Sea Devils are a group of divers who are more at ease under the water than above the water. Biff, Dane, Judy, and Nicky comprise the Sea Devils, who seek out new challenges or missions every other month.

The stories vary from traditional “find a missing treasure” to those dealing with aliens or mystical creatures. Many times, the stories are broken up into segments to give each Sea Devil the chance to shine on their own. And over the course of the series, having served on so many dives with each other, the group develops the mental ability to communicate with each other underwater, which definitely aids in the storytelling of each issue.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: OK, this is going to rank up there (or down, depending on one’s perspective) on my list of least-favorite Showcase Presents volumes. The one redeeming feature of this book is the beautiful Russ Heath art, which kept me going through much of this book. But this title still suffers from the same issues that a title like Challengers of the Unknown faced – telling a unique story that showcases the characters skills each issue. The stories in Sea Devils are very repetitive in nature, and I often got sidetracked trying to determine if I had already read a particular story. If you pick this up, do it for the Heath art only.

 

If you like this volume, try: the Great Pacific series from Image Comics. Admittedly, once you get past Aquaman and Sub-Mariner, there are not a lot of water-based characters or comics around. (And I am setting myself up, as I am sure I am about to be flooded with book suggestions that I am overlooking here. But I digress….) So Great Pacific ran for 18 issues between 2012 and 2014. In the story, a young oil heir Chas Washington settles on the Great Pacific garbage patch and proclaims it as a new nation. But that makes a lot of people unhappy, ranging from nations to his own family. Writer Joe Harris and artist Martin Morazzo create a visually spectacular story that makes one consider the ecological impact we as humans are putting on our planet. The entire series has been collected into three trade paperbacks, so it should be easy to track down and dive into.

Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot Vol. 1

showcase_presents_war_that_time_forgot_volume_1First Published: May 2007

Contents: Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960), #92 (August-September 1960), #94 (December 1960-January 1961) to #125 (February-March 1966), #127 (June-July 1966), and #128 (September 1966)

Key Creator Credits: Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, and others

Key First Appearances: Dinosaur Island, G.I. Robot

Overview: It’s the early 1940s. The United States is fully involved in World War II. In the Pacific, the U.S. Armed Forces are fighting the enemy at sea, in the air, or on the ground of uncharted islands. But their foes do not appear to flying the flag of the Rising Sun. Instead, their enemy is a throwback to the prehistoric age, as Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Pterodactyls, and other dinosaurs are fighting our troops. This is Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot Vol. 1.

We are introduced to a mysterious island always cloaked by a fog. As our featured characters travel through the mist, they find themselves under attack by the dinosaurs. Depending on the story, the soldiers find some way to escape the non-stop threats to escape the island and be rescued to fight again another day. Over time, this location became known as Dinosaur Island, but that comes much later beyond this title.

Now, in times of war, it is quite common for the military to invent all kinds of new weapons that they hope will speed up the end of the war, or save soldiers lives. One such invention is the very first G.I. Robot, a robot programmed to respond to thousands of combat situations. Sent to the island to test G.I. Robot, a human soldier goes along (reluctantly) to verify that the soldier responds correctly when the bullets start flying.

Another creation of the military is the introduction of the Suicide Squad. Living up to it’s name, two men are sent out on a mission that they are not expected to survive. Of course, in the military’s infinite wisdom, they often pair two soldiers who hate each other, usually because one of the soldiers killed a family member of the other soldier. Not that it should come as a surprise, but both soldiers survive without killing each other, or becoming dinner for a hungry dinosaur.

The vast majority of these issues are written by Robert Kanigher, with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Towards the end of this collection, we see some other familiar names appear that are recognized for their DC war comics work, such as Joe Kubert and Russ Heath. These are generally one-and-done stories. Some characters may re-appear from issue to issue, but the stories do not carry over.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: This is an interesting situation that I see here. I personally don’t know that these stories should be featured based on their content. The stories are formulaic and safe. The art is good for its era, but it’s simplistic in detail. What makes these stories important is that these ideas and concepts introduced here were used by the next generation of comic creators, and the ones after them. G.I. Robot has been re-used many times. Dinosaur Island has become a go-to locale in the DC Universe for any number of stories. And you would have to be living under a rock not to know where the Suicide Squad concept has gone to over the last 40 years. For those reasons, I can understand and support featuring these comics in this collection.

Footnotes: In many of the latter stories in this collection, they feature members of the Suicide Squad – soldiers taking on assignments which they are unlikely to survive. However, this is not the first reference to the Suicide Squad by Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito. They introduced that concept in The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959), where a group of adventurers faced off against monsters, giants, and yes, even dinosaurs.

If you like this volume, try: Jurassic Park from Michael Crichton. Yes, the novel, not the movies or video games or anything else that spun out of this concept. It won’t hurt anyone, myself included, to put down the four-color funny books for awhile and read an actual book or two. Crichton released this novel in 1990, after working on it for numerous years. You know the story, how scientists cracked the code to bring dinosaurs back to life, and that led to a billionaire funding a dinosaur theme park, and things went down hill from there. As you can imagine, once you get past the first 50 pages with a lot of the science details, it becomes a  page turner as the dinosaurs run amuck in the park.

However, if you want to go old school, dig up a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot. Originally published as serials in a magazine, this was collected as a novel in 1924. Set during World War I, soldiers stranded in the Antartica come across a hidden land where dinosaurs still roam the Earth. In many ways, it was this novel that inspired (or influenced) Kanigher, Andru, and Esposito with The War That Time Forgot.

Essential Punisher Vol. 3

Essential Punisher Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: The Punisher #21 (July 1989) to #40 (Early October 1990); The Punisher Annual #2 (1989) and #3 (1990)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Baron, Erik Larsen, Bill Reinhold, Mark Texeira, Russ Heath, Mark Farmer, and others

Key First Appearances: Saracen, Shadowmasters (Shigeru Ezaki, Yuriko Ezaki, Sojin Ezaki, Philip Richards, Katherine Yakamoto)

Story Continues From: Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Punisher Vol. 4

Overview: When mobsters slew his family, Frank Castle vowed to spend the rest of his life avenging them. Trained as a soldier, and equipped with a state-of-the-art arsenal, he now wages a one-man war on crime! This is Essential Punisher Vol. 3 – get comfortable, as this is going to be a wild ride!

Writer Mike Baron continues the same basic formula that we saw in the previous volume. The stories run in small arcs, generally one or two issues at a time. We do see some characters re-occur from time to time. A villain introduced in the last collection, the Rev, resurfaces in Central America later in this volume. In that same story arc, we also get the return of Jigsaw, who still holds a grudge against Frank for the damage done to his face. As we saw last time, the Punisher is still partnered with his tech-whiz Microchip, but we see over the run that they may no longer be working towards the same goals.

During this era, the Punisher continued to grow in popularity, and we start to see that impacting his comic as he crosses over more and more into the Marvel Universe. Most obvious, as we see it on the cover, the Punisher gets caught up in the Acts of Vengeance storyline. That was the story where the villains unite under Loki, and swap the traditional heroes that they go up against. So to change things up, we see the Punisher traveling to Latvia to face off against Dr. Doom. Yeah, it is just as crazy as it sounds.

What makes this Essential?: Honestly, I am completely indifferent regarding my opinion on this book. I don’t think that I can recommend this unless you are a true fan of the Punisher. Conversely, I didn’t hate this collection, or struggle with trying to finish the book due to the stories. (My only struggle was finding time to read the book, as life got a little busy while trying to finish it.)

We do start to see the Punisher’s growing popularity in comics, as Mike Baron was directed/forced to incorporate ongoing Marvel events into the Punisher book, like Acts of Vengeance. He also gets into a multi-issue skirmish with the Reavers, who have been a traditional foe of the X-Men.

For the final story arc in this collection, The Punisher was one of many titles that switched to twice-a-month shipping during the summer months, giving readers two books per month. So the six-issue story arc was published over a three-month window.

Footnotes: The Punisher Annual #2 was one of the 15 Marvel annuals from 1989 linked together in a story arc titled “Atlantis Attacks.” For this Essential, the Punisher stories are included from the annual, but the Atlantis Attacks story is not reprinted here.

The Punisher Annual #3 was Part One of the “Lifeform” story arc. The other parts were in Daredevil Annual #6, Incredible Hulk Annual #16, and Silver Surfer Annual #4.

If you like this volume, try: the Punisher books from Garth Ennis. Over the last 15 years, Ennis has become the definitive Punisher writer, scripting various runs under the Marvel Knights and Marvel MAX line of books. Often working with artist Steve Dillon, Ennis has kept the Punisher as a current and relevant character in a post 9/11 world. While there are numerous trades and hardbacks collecting these runs, I would suggest tracking down the Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus that Marvel released in 2008. This collects Ennis’ work between 2000 and 2004 with the Punisher.