THE SEA DEVILSMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1960
Creators: Robert Kanigher (writer) and Russ Heath (artist)
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The early 1960s are remembered by comic book fans for the biggest proliferation of superheroes since World War II. But before the
long underwear guys took over completely, there was still room for a less flamboyant style of hero to succeed. DC Comics' Sea Devils got in just under the wire. They were conventional adventurers — no secret identities, no super powers, no gaudy costumes, just ordinary human beings. And they were the last such conventional adventurers to achieve any degree of success at DC until Captain Storm (1964).
They were introduced in Showcase #27 (August, 1960). That was the DC comic that tried out new concepts before the publisher committed itself to a full launch. Titles already launched from Showcase were The Flash, Challengers of the Unknown and Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane; and the Green Lantern title started that same month. This issue was written by Robert Kanigher (Viking Prince, Rex the Wonder Dog) and drawn by Russ Heath (Marvel Boy, Haunted Tank), and starred a team of four scuba divers. The theme was somewhat reminiscent of Frogmen (no relation), which had appeared in one Showcase issue four years earlier before sinking without a trace, but these were new characters.
They were Dane Dorrance (handsome, brainy, designed to look like a leader), Biff Bailey (big'n'strong, street-smart, ruggedly good looking), Judy Walton (Dane's love interest) and Nicky Walton (Judy's younger brother). If the structure — leader, right-hand man, girlfriend, her kid brother — sounds like something you've seen before, that's because you've seen it before, in various media. Its most famous use in comics was The Fantastic Four back before they let Johnny grow up.
The four met on a treasure hunt. Dane was looking for it to prove himself to his father, a frogman in the Navy during World War II. Biff was trying to impress a woman, who needed impressing because he was rather clumsy on land. Judy was hoping the publicity of finding it would land her a leading part in a proposed movie. Nicky was tagging along with Judy. Since their goals didn't conflict with one another, they cooperated instead of competing. It worked so well, they decided to stay together afterward. The name of the group came from the movie Judy was trying out for, which was never produced. After three issues of Showcase, they moved out into their own comic, with a first issue cover date of October, 1961.
Tho there was nothing inherently fantastic or science-fictional about The Sea Devils, they still met far more than their share of extinct monsters, gigantic aliens and suchlike — in fact, the cover of their first Showcase appearance depicted a humongous reptilian hand reaching for them from inside a sunken ship. Once, they fought an underwater gorilla. But that's how it was in DC comics at the time — even Tomahawk, who operated during the American Revolution, did that sort of stuff. A decade or so later, they'd probably have been handled more realistically, but they didn't last that long. They had a good run, but it ended with the 35th issue (June, 1967).
Once they were gone, The Sea Devils were mostly forgotten. In fact, when Vigilante, Blackhawk, Roy Raymond and practically everybody else who held down a series at DC during the 1950s or early '60s turned up in Justice League of America #144 (July, 1977), The Sea Devils weren't there. As a matter of fact, "forgotten" was sort of a theme for them, as the next time even one of the four was seen (other than a vanishingly obscure guest shot with The Human Target) was in Action Comics #552 (February, 1984), in which Dane got together with Rip Hunter, Animal Man, Congorilla and several other forgotten heroes to form a team called The Forgotten Heroes. This group is now pretty much forgotten.
In a short-lived line called Tangent, DC took a couple of weeks (one in 1997 and one in '98) in which nothing else was being released, and explored variations on some of its characters. The Sea Devils entry in 1997 was about a species of beings who live underwater. In other words, the only use DC gets out of The Sea Devils anymore is to remind readers, once in a great while, that it used to publish such a thing.