Written by Derek Drymon, Scott Roberts, James Kochalka and Chuck Dixon, and drawn by Drymon, Vince DePorter, Ramona Fradon, Kochalka, Hilary Barta Jacob Chabot and others
United Plankton Pictures, $4.99
Comic book publishers used to release annuals—bigger, costlier versions of their monthly comics—during the summer, when kids had more time to spend reading more comics, and they used to do so, as the name suggests, annually. These days, the few publishers that still publish annuals tend to use them more as over-sized specials to kick-off or conclude major storylines from the regular books, and it’s a rare annual that ever sees a second issue published the following year.
I guess we’ll have to wait until next year to see how exactly serious United Plankton Pictures, the publishers of SpongeBob Comics, are about reviving an old-school style annual, but they’re off to a pretty good start with the 48-page SpongeBob Annual-Size Super-Giant Swimtacular, an all-superhero issue of the anthology gag comic featuring the usual unusual melange of creators from unexpected corners of the comics industry (As far as I know, SpongeBob is the only comic in which a James Kochalka story might be sandwiched between one drawn by Ramona Fradon and one scripted by Chuck Dixon.
There are a half-dozen stories in this issue, plus such extras as period-specific ads for a product heartily endorsed by SpongeBob’s favorite superhero Mermaid Man (Who, for the uninitiated, is essentially the Super Friends version of Aquaman wearing a sea-shell bra) and a two-page pin-up featuring all the superheroes and supervillains under the sea.
First up is “Lo, There Shall Be A Catered Affair!” written and drawn by Derek Drymon, in which Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy’s old super-team “The Aquatic Adventurers” hold their reunion in a rented out Krusty Krab. That’s followed by Scott Roberts and Vince Deporter’s “The Evil That Mendu,” in which SpongeBob and Patrick’s annoying enjoyment of playing superhero eventually drives Squidward to villainy. Both are in an extremely straight style, featuring designs, art and events that could easily be plucked directly from the cartoon show (The former may be of special interest to comic fans because it revolves around a comic book featuring the Aquatic Avengers, and Jerry Ordway draws the comics within the comic).
That’s followed by a ten-page Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (and Edwardian Age Mermaid Man!) epic written by Drymon and drawn by Ramona Fradon (If there’s a better choice for an artist to draw your Aquaman parody than classic Aquaman artist Ramona Fradon, I can’t imagine who it would be), and the aforementioned James Kochalka script (featuring the elderly, retired versions of the two heros) and the Chuck Dixon-scripted “The Coming of The Golden Kelp,” in which he and artist Hilary Barta tell a two-page tale of Plankton learning martial arts from kelp creatures.
Finally, Dyrmon and artist Jacob Chabot reveal “The Secrets of the Merma-Lair!” via a guided tour conducted by Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (the plesiosaur where Batman’s T-Rex woulda been is an especially nice touch).
As with every regular issue of the comic, one need not be a fan of—or even all that familiar with—the cartoon to enjoy this paper spin-off all on its own merits. With such a star-studded creative roster, it certainly has enough merits of its own. While the longer page-count and higher price tag might make this a less-than-ideal jumping-on or trying-out point, the superhero parody content ironically makes it an even easier comic for comics readers with no experience with the cartoon to enjoy.