Showcase #79, the try-out debut of Dolphin cover-dated December 1968 from DC Comics has the kind of very specific, detailed set-up that often points to some real-world inspirations. A girl with gills is found in the wreckage of a sunken warship by US Navy divers on an important mission. But the Dolphin is in the details of this unusual little late Silver Age comic book creation. The creator of Dolphin for Showcase #79 was underrated artist-writer Jay Scott Pike, who among other things had extensive comics romance credits for a number of publishers beginning in the early 1950s and beyond. There's a VF condition copy of Showcase #79 from the collection of fellow DC Comics creator Murphy Anderson up for auction in today's session of the 2021 February 14-15 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation, Video Games & Art Weekly Online Auction from Heritage Auctions.
What is it about Dolphin — girl who can live and breath underwater — that points to some real-world inspiration? In this case, it's all about the time and place in which she is found. The tantalizingly detailed introductory paragraphs on the title page of Dolphin's debut set up this tale like so:
Time: The Present
Place: 84 feet beneath the sea, off a tiny island in the South Pacific.
Action: Sophisticated underwater detection equipment has located the hulk of the U.S.S. Arabesque, a navy ship sunk near the end of World War II. U.D.T. Divers Chief Petty Officer Chris Landau and Seaman 1st Class Ben Harkey have been assigned the task of reaching a vault deep in the old hull to recover 12 small packets of Documents… Documents that are still important 23 years after the sinking. The mission is a milk-run until something causes them to glance back… and there watching them through the murky waters, is…
The Fantasy at 14 Fathoms!
As we've seen in previous posts such as Fiction House's War Birds Comic and Operation Vagabond, and The Blackhawk Comic Inspired by Opera and Operation Vengeance, details from military history had ways of making it into comic books, and creators of that era were often veterans of that history. An important US Navy Ship that sunk in the Pacific 23 years ago at the end of WWII? And it carried documents so important that they might be worth retrieving 23 years later, long after the war? Many of the particulars in Dolphin's origin story point very specifically to one of the most important ships in US Navy history.
The "tiny island" is likely to be Tinian Island. The ship is almost certain to be inspired by the USS Indianapolis, which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine after completing a top-secret mission that consisted of carrying about half the world's supply of uranium-235 at the time and other parts required for the assembly of the atomic bomb called "Little Boy" to Tinian ahead of the bomb being assembled and then used at Hiroshima weeks later.
While tiny Tinian is a North Pacific rather than South Pacific island, numerous other details about the situation as described in Dolphin's origin story are an excellent fit — including the fact that the sunken vessel is "hanging dangerously at the edge of one of the deep chasms in the Pacific" in the Showcase #79 tale. Tinian is one of the 14 islands along the Marianas Trench — the deepest oceanic trench on Earth. The USS Indianapolis had been sunk near the Marianas Trench exactly 23 years ago from Jay Scott Pike's 1968 perspective, and if any sunken military ship was carrying documents still valuable decades later, it would conceivably be the one whose mission was to deliver the components of the first nuclear bomb used in warfare.
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis resulted in the greatest loss of life on a single ship at sea in US Navy history. A search operation funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen located the wreckage of the Indianapolis in 2017 in the Philippine Sea at a depth of 18,000 feet. The next year, the crew of the Indianapolis was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
In 1968, the story of the USS Indianapolis would have been well-known history to Jay Scott Pike, himself a Marine veteran of WWII. While Pike's penchant for romance comics certainly show through here too — Dolphin falls in love with one of the UDT divers — it's possible that incorporating this history into the backstory of the origin of Dolphin in 1968 was a method for him to memorialize it in a personal way. There's a VF condition copy of Showcase #79 from the collection of fellow DC Comics creator Murphy Anderson up for auction in today's session of the 2021 February 14-15 Sunday & Monday Comics, Animation, Video Games & Art Weekly Online Auction from Heritage Auctions.