“PREPARU POR LA BATALO!” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Bilingual (But Not Single)!

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It’s Event Season! And so in the much loved tradition of ignoring what you 'orrible lot want to hear about let’s look at an Event from last year involving a primitive sedentary aquatic invertebrate with a soft porous body clad in a quadrilateral outer garment covering the body from the waist to the ankles, with a separate part for each leg ,whose name contains the diminutive of Robert. Or: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!

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Anyway, this… SPONGEBOB COMICS #32-36 Showdown at The Shady Shady Shoals Parts 1 - 5 Art by Derek Drymon with Jerry Ordway Written by Derek Drymon Coloured by Hi-Fi Lettered by ComicCraft United Plankton Pictures, $2.99 each (2014) Spongebob Squarepants created by Stephen Hillenburg

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The larger corpus collectively titled Showdown at The Shady Shoals is composed of five episodic portions which originally appeared in Spongebob Comics #32 -36 , and occupied one half of each of those issues. The remaining portion of each individual periodical was given over to the regular assortment of short comedic features by a variety of talent including, but by no means limited to, Tony Millionaire.

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Image by Drymon, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

In Showdown At The Shady Shoals Spongebob attempts to sew into a friendship belt the statistics of all the battles fought by his idol, Mermaid Man. Spongebob diligently harvests this information from old issues of his Mermaid Man comics but completion of the crafted keepsake is threatened when the finale of Mermaid Man’s first battle with Viro Reganto is found to be missing. Or is not found to be not missing. Look, I don’t have time for this; it isn’t there, basically, Buster. Luckily for our porous pal and his loyal cretin of a chum, Patrick, help is at hand down the road at The Shady Shoals Retirement home, wherein resides the witless old fool which Mermaid Man has become. Is the key to Spongebob’s quest contained within the withered cranium of the aged aquatic ace? Whither Viro Reganto? Has Viro Reganto in fact literally withered, because it’s been a while and, let’s be honest,  Mermaid Man has weathered about as well as an untreated fence. Will we ever know whether Viro’s weathered and withered or whether he’s weathered with vigour?  Can you rely on the memory of someone like Mermaid Man? What if you can’t? Isn’t it sad in that movie when they point out that all we are is our memories, and when we lose them we too are lost? I don't want to lose myself!!! Will Mermaid Man stop shouting? Can a sea cucumber be found who is capable of assessing the karmic balance of events as they unfold? Will the narrative adhere to the device commonly known as Chekov’s Sentient Tidal Wave Trapped In A Decommissioned Submarine (i.e. “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a sentient tidal wave trapped in  decommissioned submarine, before the story closes the sentient tidal wave trapped in a decommissioned submarine must return to menace our porous protagonist and his aged allies. If it’s not going to menace our porous protagonist and his aged allies, it shouldn’t be trapped in there. Also, a submarine is  naval wessel, Captain. Phasers to stun!”)? Is a villain who resembles a cross between a man and a manta ray called Man Ray plain wasted on children? Are they really going to pepper Viro Reganto’s dialogue with Esperanto and provide a key to this real-life “universal language” each issue in various hilarious forms? Will you just go and track these issues down, already!?!

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Basically Showdown at The Shady Shoals is stupid from soup to nuts. It’s stupid nut soup. That doesn’t mean Derek Drymon's script isn’t very clever though. Clever croutons bobbing about in the stupid nut soup. Er. Anyway…The story is split between the “past” and the “present” and, logically enough, so is the art. In the “present” Derek “Double Threat” Drymon draws events in the style of the Spongebob cartoon with a soupçon of his own style to keep it distinctive. So far, so good but also, so far pretty much par for the course for Spongebob Comics (which are never less than GOOD!) The clever bit is having the “past” sequences drawn by Jerry “My Way or The“ Ordway. This is just a fantastically apt choice because the “past” isn’t the “past”, see, it’s actually Spongebob’s old Mermaid Man comics, and Mermaid Man is very much a ridiculous riff on Nick Cardy/Ramona Fradon-era Aquaman. Last I heard Jerry Ordway was bemoaning being out of vogue and light on work, so it’s kind of nice his  getting a payday out of hamming up the datedness others saw as a lack in his work. I say others because I, that is me, don’t think classy action dynamics ever dates and Jerry Ordway is all about classy action dynamics. So: Jerry Ordway never dates, you feel me. And before you start thinking that self-satirising is all someone as old as Jerry Ordway’s fit for, I’ll just point out he’s doing a bang up job on Semiautomagic in Dark Horse Presents for Alex De Campi. And that one’s nothing like Spongebob Squarepants. And another thing about Jerry Ordway is…no, just joking, I’m done. Just spreading the Jerry Love is all.

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

There’s a lot of cleverness in the unobtrusive way Drymon makes hay with the uh, elastic setup of Spongebob’s universe. It’s set underwater but this impacts so rarely on anything that it’s easily forgotten, so you don’t actually get the joke about rescuing people from drowning until a character points out the stupidity of this. In fact so easily forgotten is the undersea setting that this trick is pulled more than once with equal success.  Or it might be that my memory’s not so hot either. And here's another illustration of the good use the strip puts the, uh, mutable milieu of Spongebob to: well, I mean, back there it all  got a bit confusing didn’t it? With the “past” and “present”, but the “past” isn’t even the past it’s actually the comics so in effect the comics Spongebob owns are taken as historical documentation of actual events. And you don’t blink at that because, why not?

It’s Spongebob’s show, but Mermaid Man’s the star. I like Mermaid Man right from the name down. I particularly like his name because it reminds me of that time I was a young man and I had nothing in the house except some rice and marmalade. So I concocted what I dubbed Marmarice. Mermaid Man, Marmarice? Really, John? Hey, similar enough for government work, pal. Sure, I like Mermaid Man more on the cartoon show because he was voiced by the late and very great Ernest Borgnine (who I believe wiser minds have dubbed “the dreamiest”) but his paper incarnation retains the cadences of the character’s speech so well you can hear a ghostly overlay of Borgnine’s gruff blustering as you read every buffoonery filled bubble. Drymon's ability to conjure the characters' vocal counterparts isn’t limited to Mermaid Man though. Everyone sounds right and I guess that’s down to the writing. Although, on reflection the fact that I’m looking at a sponge with a face probably cues my brain in on which “voice” to “hear” with my “mind-ears”. Of course, in the case of new characters like Viro Reganto I don’t have a voice pre-loaded but thanks to the preening machismo of his dialogue and posture it’s not hard to pull a suitable voice from the memory library. (Personally, I plumped for Ricardo Montalban’s Khan.)

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Because I live in deadly fear of actually improving at this writing nonsense I’ve almost forgotten to mention what might be the most important fact about Showdown at The Shady Shoals – it’s very funny. I have quite purposefully not used any of the jokes (altho' I have shown some; there was no way round that) because while you can spoil the plot of something if it’s well written there’s still pleasure to be had (I don’t re-read Watchmen every two years because I forgot what happens, you know?) but jokes? Good jokes are hard and there’s plenty of them here and I thought it would be poor show to ruin them. All the humour is kid friendly, but no less funny for that. There’s a range of humour from ridiculous conceits, deadpan mocking of capes conventions, slapstick, wordplay and a hilarious answer to what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. Since this is Spongebob rather than, say, Miracleman’s flesh flapping on barbed wire and subsequent icily dehumanised paradise we get sink fixing and stairwell painting. It’s funny stuff; it's fit for ll ages. Although I do realise humour is personal so you may disagree, in which case you’re wrong.

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Yes, I did consider writing this in Esperanto but then I thought about the shape your face would take in response and thought better of it. Also, that's a lot of work but I did think about it. It might even have been worth the effort because Showdown At The Shady Shoals (Spongebob Comics#32-36) is VERY GOOD!


Ernest Borgnine died in 2012.

Marmarice tastes like the devil’s shit. John went hungry that night. He likes to believe he is now a much better person.

Jerry Ordway remains at large.

Hey, Kids! COMICS!!!