As long as men have been going down to the sea in ships, mysteries and legends have sprung up about the vastness of the oceans and their unknowable ways. Like, what causes the tides, can whales really swallow ships whole, and how the cruise lines can keep their buffets so reasonably priced? (the answer to all three questions is "food poisoning"). But there's one legend of relatively recent historical origin that quickly spread into popular culture not just as a spooky tale to occupy otherwise bored mariners, but as a cliche that every writer hauls out of the box when faced with a nautical-themed story and a looming deadline. What tale is this? Let's see.
return with us to a time before drug smugglers were sexy, suntanned Matthew McConaughey types, back when they were creepy antisocial thugs desperate to poison America's children. Will these "pushers" succeed in their deadly maritime task?
As we all know you can't escape the long arm of the law. Our federal man blows the foghorn AND his cover in quick succession.
But it's a bullet to the gut for this government dick. That's really what they used to call private detectives and police, they used to call them "dicks". I mean, they still do, but it means something different now.
At this point you're saying, okay, drug smuggling and murder and escaping the coast guard, fine, but where's the mystery? Where's the folklore? Well, look! There's something out there in the fog! Maybe that's it.
What's that? An old fashioned sailing vessel in the middle of the spooky fog-bound ocean? With nobody on board? Looks to me like we have one nautical legend off the port bow, me hearties!
ah yes, the flawless plan of the drug smuggler - ditch our boat for a bigger, slower boat we don't know how to operate, and hope the coast guard doesn't bother us. Great plan, Pablo Escobar. Only one problem - the eerie, ghostly, period-costumed crew of this spectral vessel! Could it be?
Reaction shot, slow pan down to the ship's name, cue Rod Serling to come talk about Chesterfields and for the 8 year old reader of this mystery comic to snort in disgust at the "twist ending" that, by the 1950s, was already a hoary cliche, the lost "Flying Dutchman" of maritime legend. But that wouldn't stop mystery comics writers from hauling it off the trailer, giving it a fresh coat of lacquer, and sending it out to sea over and over again.
Within a few years the stories weren't even trying for the twist ending. Instead the Flying Dutchman was front and center, and we were left wondering exactly how our main character would wind up on her, just like the pleasure in watching Columbo is not finding out the murderer, but finding out how Columbo catches him.
Already we establish our Captain Storme as a chortling tyrant, stuffing his face while the crew starves, barely dodging maritime commission complaints, and generally being a jerk. Now hurry up you men, can't you hear the wonderful call of the open sea?
Using one nautical legend to refer to another nautical legend? A bold move, comic
It takes Captain Storme two seconds to decide to hell with fruit and contracts and boring steady paychecks, he's chasing down that Flying Dutchman payday and his crew is coming along for the ride! Who needs fruit anyways?
Okay guys, you can't catch a 18th century sailing ship? I get that you're a tramp steamer, but come on. The wind isn't blowing ALL THE TIME. Unless it's supernatural wind in service of the eerie ghost ship that haunts the sea lanes, that is.
The whole crew jumps ship rather than chase the Flying Dutchman. There should be a clause about this in every standard maritime contract, I think. Anyway, Captain Storme will just crew that ship all by himself! How hard can it be?
And hey, check it out, Captain Storme just caught the Flying Dutchman! Now all he has to do is do whatever it is you do when you tow a sailing schooner behind a tramp steamer, when it's just one man doing everything, whatever it is that all entails, he'll just do it, and bingo, he's rich.
Suddenly, paralysis. I hate when this happens!
and then, between my legs, I saw him!
Captain Exposition here explains the true nature of the Flying Dutchman, in that it sails the seas looking for greedy, hateful sailors, who are then trapped on board, while the previously held greedy hateful sailors are set free, having served their indeterminate sentence. If this isn't nautical justice, I don't know what is!
That's right matey! Now enjoy your time frozen to the deck of this wandering haunted ship, and look out for seagulls!
But is this really... the end? Is there anywhere else we can go with the whole Flying Dutchman thing? Where will mankind be sailing off to in the future? Hmmm.
Why it's outer space of course. Outer space! Home to a million mysteries, untold cosmic wonders, and of course explosive decompression. I wonder which one of those our hero will encounter first?
Well Sig, you managed to escape the exploding spaceship, and now you fall free in the midnight spaces of eternal night, as your air grows thin and the captions grow thick and ponderous.
"Man-made time drips into the huge bucket that is the universe?" Buddy, dial it back. Nobody's handing out awards for overwrought, pretentious comic book captions - not this year, anyway.
I love this era of science fiction comics when men were real men and spaceships blasted at full power all the time because that's how you know they're moving real fast, the flame spurting from their astro-jets. Sure we COULD quit blasting once we'd reached our required course and velocity, but why *not* just accelerate constantly? We'll get where we're going that much faster!
Grub coffee! Mmm-good! You know, they eat some crazy things here in the future, but that grub coffee sure is tasty! And oxygen comes in convenient packets now!
(yes I know they mean "grub and coffee." Just let me have this one, okay?)
Ships, uniforms, coffee, pipes, oceans may change, but one thing remains constant - the classy artwork of Kurt Schaffenberger, fully on display here in this story! Go Kurt go!
And another chapter closes in the mysterious cliche-ridden story of The Flying Dutchman, fated to roam the wastes of the universe, interacting with a rotating cast of unlucky sailors and spacemen. So the next time you're rounding the Cape in heavy seas and you see three masts in the distance, the wind howling through its tattered sails, a haunted crew of 18th century sailors in the creaking rigging, just remember to ask for some of that grub coffee! Mmm-mmm good.
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