Monthly Archives: March 2010

The One Where I Lose My Lunch

16 Comic Covers Featuring Comic-Book Characters at the Mercy of Squids, Octopi and Similarly Structured Sea Creatures

1. The Brave and the Bold #24 (06-07/59)
Consider this list my feeble attempt at self-shock therapy. For the longest time, I’ve had an unnatural fear of any marine life with tentacles — not the most debilitating of phobias, sure, but hell on a person who spent years living in a neighborhood with a disproportionate number of Greek and Japanese restaurants. The source of this revulsion is anyone’s guess — a forgotten childhood encounter with an ill-tempered squid, a bad experience with a plate of calamari in a previous life — but the end result is the same: even a cartoon drawing of an octopus is enough to bring on the heebie-jeebies. This phobia doesn’t have a huge effect on my landlubber life aside from the occasional comic art featuring a character in locked combat with a multi-armed sea creature, like this classic Joe Kubert image. For some reason, this particular issue of TB&TB constantly pops up in books discussing the history of comics, and while it’s certainly a nifty example of Silver Age art and Kubert’s immense contributions to the medium, I just have one request for future comic-book historians: please, pick another issue. Thank you.  

2. Adventures of the Outsiders #37 (09/86)
In their original incarnation, the Team Formerly Known as Batman and the Outsiders managed to survive the loss of their A-list leader for another two years or so by going up against some of the downright goofiest super-villains ever imagined. A robotic Texan tycoon who called himself the Duke of Oil? A group of androids with the combined powers of an H-bomb dubbed the Nuclear Family? All in a day’s work for DC’s resident group of misfits. Add to the list the Marine Marauder, a villainess who decided to parlay her Aquaman-like talents for talking to fish (sorry, “commanding sea life”) into a lucrative gig shaking down cruise ship passengers. Become a marine biologist, use fish to rob people: it’s so obvious, you have to wonder why more people don’t follow the same career path. Alas, her control over sea life wasn’t as absolute as advertised, as (if her Who’s Who entry can be believed) “she was last seen clutched in the tentacles of an octopus, being dragged into the ocean.” Bummer. And about a 9.8 on my personal Scream-O-Meter.  

3. Batman #357 (03/83)
Not to be confused with the nebbishy “Sid the Squid” character from Batman: The Animated Series, the Squid was another in a long line of wannabe crimelords vying for control of Gotham City. His one ace in the hole: “Gertrude,” a giant squid that he used to dispose of mob rivals and nosy law-and-order types, including (as seen here) Batman himself.  He’s proven himself to be reliable cannon fodder over the years, first getting shot and killed by former employee Killer Croc during the latter’s rise to power, then (in post-Crisis continuity) returning in 2006’s 52 series to become one of several Gotham crime bosses brutally killed by Bruno Mannheim in a most hostile takeover. Gertrude could’ve done a lot better for herself, in retrospect.  

4. Challengers of the Unknown #77 (12/70-01/71)
As a non-powered precursor to the Fantastic Four, the Challs (as they called themselves) were forever getting into insane situations that, by all rights, they had no business getting themselves into. But hey, they had the matching jumpsuits and the way-cool hollowed-out mountain headquarters — what else were they supposed to do with their time if not beat back alien armadas and tackle giant sea monsters? My favorite part of this cover is the quote: “Another monstrous creature released from one of those magic bottles! We’re trapped!” I so badly want one of his teammates to follow that up with something along the lines of: “No shit, Sherlock! Howzabout you do something about that and whack him with a paddle or something?”

5. Sea Devils #21 (01-02/65)
And you wanna know something else that’s wrong with pop culture these days? No one ever makes movies or comics about undersea explorers anymore, and aren’t we about due for a Seaquest:DSV reunion right about now? In true Silver Age style, this team of deep-sea adventurers consisted of leader Dane Dorrance, Biff Bailey, Judy Walton (Dane’s girlfriend), and Nicky Walton (Judy’s younger brother). Their series ran for 35 issues in the ’60s, with the very first issue featuring all four in mortal combat with the evil Octopus Man, but this cover get my vote for most squirms per square inch. Seriously, if this is only one of the menaces in the forty-fathom doom, then I’d be cutting my air supply right now and getting it over with.

6. Aquaman #5 (01/95)
Yeah! Slice that sucker! “King of the Seven Seas” means I own your ass, you eight-legged mofo… and your little garden, too. Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. My phobia is a large part of the reason why I never got into the Aquaman books (well, that and he seriously got screwed on the “Super Friends” front. I mean, Wonder Woman gets her own plane and he rides a jet-ski everywhere? The hell?). I mean, you’re reading a taut tale of Atlantean intrigue and then — bam! — they pull back to show an octopus or squid in the background just floating on by. No, thank you. Despite my natural revulsion at this image, though, I’m intrigued by what’s going on here. I mean, isn’t Aquaman the guy who can command sea life? And if that’s the case, then why is Aquaman apparently defending himself from the hostile advances of a sea creature? Or maybe he’s being a royal dick and trying out the new harpoon hand on an unsuspecting cephalopod? Wouldn’t put it past him, frankly.

7. Aquaman #19 (04/96)
Different cover, same question. If this is a sea creature with a mad on for Aquaman, then how come our hero can’t just telepathically nudge it to let him go? The tag says “In the coils of the Ocean Master!”, but I think we can safely assume that the creature holding Aquaman aloft is not Ocean Master himself. Still, the mind reels: what exactly is going on here? Is this battle happening underwater, or has the creature lifted Aquaman aloft above water, counting on that old “60-minutes-out-of-water” plot twist to do him in? And I’m curious about the placement of the tentacles around Aquaman, as if this is the creature’s final move before bringing him closer for the first chew. I’d like to stop thinking about this now.

8. Aquaman #2 (03/2003)
Oy, again we go with the talking-to-fish dude at the mercy of a fish he apparently can’t control (I know, I know: they’re not fish, they’re mollusks). In this case, though, I’m willing to entertain the idea that Aquaman can’t control the creature because there’s no brain for him to reach out to. Seriously, Aquaman looks like he’s standing in about three inches of seawater and a giant ship is bearing down on his position. If the creature’s intention is to hold our hero in place until the boat smacks into him — OK, first, that’s a waste of a good meal right there, assuming the creature is into that kind of thing. Second, don’t you think some primitive survival instinct would tell the creature that maybe it should also get out of the way of the big giant ship that’s bearing down on them? Even pro wrestling fans can see the inherent design flaws in this death trap, at least from the creature’s perspective.

9. Sub-Mariner #27 (07/70)
By sheer coincidence, all the books on this list so far have come from DC’s stable, so let’s check in with Marvel’s own Monarch of the Seven Seas. Yep, there he is, “caught by the Kraken” and probably wishing he had some of that talking-to-fish mojo right now. What is the sinister secret of Commander Kraken and his eight-legged monster, indeed. My guess: boots with suction cups. Because how else can you explain how Kraken and his henchmen are able to stand on top of a giant sea creature that’s locked in mortal combat with one of Marvel’s heavyweight fighters? And seriously, dude: “fish-man”…? That’s the best you can come up with? Surely the itty-bitty ankle wings merit some kind of dismissive retort.    

10. Badger #5 (09/97)
I’ll confess: I’ve not yet had the pleasure of picking up Mike Baron’s superhero spoof series, which I’m told stars a war vet with multiple personality syndrome. If Wikipedia is to be believed, it’s considered by many to be one of the funniest superhero comics ever produced, so I might give it a try… though I don’t think I’ll start with this particular issue, thank you very much. I mean, I have enough trouble going to the beach and not trying to think about all the sea creatures that could brush my legs while I’m in the water… the thought of an octopus attacking me from inside a hot tub, as seen here, is just something too freakishly frightening to process. Bless the artist, though, for maintaining Image’s high standards and ensuring the reader’s view of the bathing beauty’s breasts is not besmirched by a wandering tentacle.  

11. The New Mutants #76 (06/89)
Ah, the New Mutants, forever playing the Wonder Twins to the X-Men’s Super Friends. Here is a synopsis of this issue, courtesy of the people over at The Grand Comics Database: “The New Mutants, in search of a home, go to X-Factor’s Ship; the X-Terminators find a horn at the bottom of the ocean and blow it; Ship is attacked by an octopus; Sub-Mariner and New Mutants help restore order; X-Factor invites the New Mutants to stay.” And… yeah, that sounds about right. This particular issue came along during a part of The New Mutants’ 100-issue run when a certain sense of “what the hell do we with them now?” was evident in the stories, to the point where you could almost see how hiring Rob Liefeld as artist a few issues later sounded like a good idea. Almost.  

12. The Shadow #5 (01/53)
The mysterious figure who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men has had a varied comic-book career, to say the least, from faithful renditions of the original pulp stories (see DC’s acclaimed mid-’70s series) to laughable attempts to make him more “relevant” to superhero fans (see Archie Comics’ campy ’60s series).  This 1950s series by Australia’s Frew Publications, which is better known for publishing the adventures of the Phantom, probably falls closer to the camp side of the scale, as it’s hard to imagine the Shadow in a story where he would have reason to wear a deep-sea diving helmet (and sport a full face mask underneath) whilst locked in combat with a sinister cephalopod. Perhaps the octopus objected to the Shadow’s style of racket busting?    

13. Uncanny X-Men #176 (12/83)
Sometimes, the terror is in what you don’t see. Here, we have an extreme close-up shot of Cyclops blasting away at… something that has him ensnarled in a giant tentacle, with one sucker-laden coil wrapped tightly around his neck. Eep. I think I bought this book about 20 years ago, and to this day I haven’t had the courage to take it out of the box and learn how the X-Men’s resident emo boy managed to find himself underwater at the mercy of a giant, tentacled sea creature, especially given this was around the time he was supposed to be on his honeymoon with one Madelyne Pryor. Anyone out there who feels like sending me a recap of this issue, go right ahead.

14. Red Sonja #5 (01/85)
Fans of Red Sonja need no introduction to the “she-devil with a sword” first introduced in the pages of Conan the Barbarian… though they may be forgiven for wondering if she’s wearing her trademark chain-mail bikini underneath this relatively sensible outfit. In this issue, Red Sonja and her friends rescue a merman, but they later get caught in a war between land and sea forces that sees them captured and fed to a giant octopus. I’m starting to see how pissed I’d feel about my public image if I were an octopus; everywhere you go, it’s “feed them to the giant octopus” this and “drag you down to a watery grave” that. How come no one ever talks about the friendly octopi, like… um, the one the Snorks keep as a pet? Ah well — serves ’em right for being creepy as all hell, I say.

15. X Isle #4 (12/2006)
Founded in 2005, independent comics publisher BOOM! Studios has already made quite an impact in the comic business with its wide range of genres and general envelope-pushing tendencies (it was the first publisher, for instance, to offer a digital download of a comic book on the day and date of its release). X Isle was a short-lived 2006 series (just five issues) by Andrew Cosby and Michael Alan Nelson that saw a team of researchers land on a mysterious island full of animals and plant life that had evolved along a completely different path. What secrets does this forbidden land hold? Think Jurassic Park as re-imagined by Alien designer H. R. Giger, and you get the general idea. In this cover, it appears as if one of the more hapless researchers is getting the old love-me-do from one of the island’s seafaring creatures, but that’s just a guess. The moral here: When exploring a strange island full of strange beasties, load up on plenty of hap before you go.

16. Conan the Barbarian #32 (11/73)
Oh man, this is just messed up.