Published: June & School Friend 23 May 1970 to 19 September 1970. Reprinted Jinty 23 August 1975 to 22 November 1975
Artist: Santiago Hernandez
Writer: (possibly) Len Wenn
Translations/reprints: Barracudabaai (in Tina 1971)
Susan Stevens leads an “extraordinary double life” that alternates between an assistant to a British secret agent, Martin Risen, and odd jobs when not assisting him. The current one is working for a solicitor, which Susan finds dead boring.
Then Risen sends Susan a newspaper ad for an adventurous girl as an assistant (mostly secretarial work with some possible scuba diving) in an expedition for historical treasures in a sunken Spanish galleon at Barracuda Bay in the Bahamas. Susan jumps at the chance to escape her boring job.
Risen added a warning of possible danger to the ad, and later he informs Susan that the department organised it all because they want someone there to help find three missing scientists, Wellington, Menworth and Slade. All three were working on a new process for refining oil, and they mysteriously disappeared off vessels that were sailing in Barracuda Bay. Kidnapping is suspected, and the department’s job is to find them.
In Barracuda Bay, Susan meets her new employers, Mr and Mrs Prinze. The Prinzes want Susan to type up the book on the expedition. Prinze also teaches her to scuba dive, and soon Susan is diving down to the galleon. She finds Risen there too, who instructs her to meet him in Sam’s Shanty restaurant, where he works undercover as a kitchen hand (under a chef who hates him). At the restaurant Risen tells her about a multimillionaire named Cornelius Kane (who looks like Kingpin from Spiderman, and he wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960s James Bond film either). Kane is their suspect, and Susan is to get into his home, the Villa Lotus Flower, and see what clues she can find. Risen warns her not to arouse suspicion or Kane will become dangerous.
Susan manages to wangle her way into Kane’s house, and deliberately leaves her handbag behind so she will have a pretext to return. Meanwhile, Kane and Susan see a fire at Prinze’s store shed. The fire is put under control, but Susan sees suspicious tyre tracks of a truck that backed into the shed. Kane also warns Prinze to lay off his diving expedition, in a most threatening manner.
Suspecting the tyre tracks lead to Kane’s villa, Susan heads back to investigate. Meanwhile, Kane has found Susan’s purse, but it arouses his suspicions – which means he’s now dangerous. Sure enough, he orders his henchman Parker to deal with the suspected snooper if she returns.
However, Susan is one step ahead with binoculars and detects Parker. So she sneaks in the back way. In Kane’s study she finds all the drawers locked, but then sees a glasses case – and Kane does not wear glasses. The case has the initials PJW, which are the same initials as one of the missing scientists. Susan also finds the suspect truck and an empty petrol tin beside it.
Susan has to rendezvous in Barracuda Bay to report to Risen. They then spot an underwater light and dive down to investigate. But as they approach the reef they run into a strange black cloud that blinds them. They are forced to turn back.
That night Parker turns up at the Prinzes’ house to return Susan’s purse and delivers a veiled warning not to go back to Kane’s house. He is also carrying a gun, and his explanation that it is meant for protection does not ring true. Susan realises Kane suspects her.
Then when Prinze takes Susan out on his launch, it floods and sinks. Susan discovers too late that Parker sabotaged it. The sabotage maroons them on a deserted island in dreadful weather. They are surprised to stumble across a shed that is locked, and the padlock is new. They also find a patch outside that looks like oil. Prinze assumes it is somebody storing fuel, which has Susan realise someone could use the island for anchoring big ships. Just then Risen arrives and rescues them after seeing the wreckage of their launch. Susan reports what she has discovered, and Risen decides the shed needs further investigation.
They spot a mysterious yacht approach the island and don scuba gear to investigate. Susan sees Kane, Parker and a man who looks like Wellington on board, but does not realise Kane saw her. He hatches a plot for her to have a fatal ‘accident’ next time she dives down to the wrecked galleon, which he puts in motion the following day.
Down in the galleon, the black cloud returns and knocks Susan out. When she recovers she finds herself trapped in the galleon and her oxygen is nearly gone. Fortunately Risen and the Prinzes sense something is wrong. They see debris floating up from the galleon and realise it is a call for help. Risen dives down to the galleon in the nick of time and realises someone shut Susan in deliberately. He now wants to send Susan home because it is getting too dangerous. Susan insists on carrying on, but Risen puts her in a hotel for her own safety.
Risen investigates the shed and discovers it belongs to Kane. He also finds a newspaper that has marked the arrival of SS Pacific Star, which has another oil research scientist on board, a Charles Scott. Realising Kane is plotting another kidnapping, Susan and Risen head out to the Pacific Star to keep an eye on Scott. The ship is holding a fancy dress party, but Scott is suddenly called away to the boat deck because a man wants to speak to him. But of course it is a trap where Kane’s goons are lying in wait to grab Scott. They are all in scuba gear, which means they must have swum underwater and sneaked aboard. Susan has followed Scott, and as the goons are pressed for time they decide to grab them both. They are taken out by dinghy to a rendezvous with a submarine. The submarine takes them to an underwater cave at Barracuda Bay that has been converted into a secret hideout. This explains why Kane was trying to get rid of the Prinzes and their underwater expedition. Susan guesses the cave is not far from Kane’s house.
Scott chooses this moment to put up a fight, which enables Susan to make a break for it. She finds a scuba suit and tries to dive to safety, but is recaptured with more black cloud, which she learns is black dye they squirt to blind inquisitive divers. Susan is taken to Kane, and yes, the cavern is connected to his villa. But that’s not the only secret in his villa – it also has a cell where he is keeping the kidnapped scientists in chains. Susan is chained up with them.
Kane, being an oil tycoon, wants the scientists and their expertise in oil refinement for developing a secret formula that will make him the richest and most powerful man in the world. To ensure their cooperation Kane is making threats to harm their families. Their work is nearly finished, and Kane plans to move them to Texas for the final tests.
Susan tries to phone Risen for help, but Kane catches her. Because of her stunt, he orders the scientists to be moved to Texas that night. Susan still thinks her message got through, and the scientists decide to make a break for it. They succeed and Risen tries to get them to safety – but then Kane captures the lot of them. He prepares to take the scientists to Texas in his yacht while he follows in the submarine, and he locks Susan and Risen in a cell in the underwater hideout. Charges are rigged to blow up the hideout – and the two prisoners with it.
But a miracle occurs in the form of an earthquake, which damages the hideout enough for Susan and Risen to escape. They don scuba gear and hope Kane left the doorway to the base open so they can swim through. It turns out he has, but not in the way they expected: the quake has caused the doorway to jam right on Kane’s submarine and trap it. Outside help is needed to free Kane and his goons. But then the charges detonate, which blow up Kane and his trapped submarine. The explosion also triggers a tidal wave. Susan and Risen barely manage to survive it.
The Navy soon picks up Susan and Risen, and intercepts the yacht to free the scientists. Susan decides she needs a holiday after all this, but it is to be a relaxing one with deck chairs and ice cream. No more deep-sea diving adventures, thank you very much.
This serial was an odd one to appear in Jinty, because it was not an original Jinty serial; it was reprinted from June. Yes, it had been five years since the original run, which seemed to be the minimum time span before an IPC story could be reprinted. So “Barracuda Bay” was free for a reprint by that stage. However, it is puzzling as to why the young Jinty should suddenly reprint a story from an older comic when she was not even old enough to start her own reprints. And she was more than capable of coming up with her own serial for the slot.
It is difficult to put the reason for the reprint down to economics. Unlike Princess II, Jinty had not become an ailing comic that was being forced to fall back on reprints from older titles to cut costs. Could the serial have been reprinted as a filler, maybe? Most of the episodes are two-pagers rather than the usual three-page spreads Jinty used for her serials, which would make it a neater fit as a filler story.
Barracuda Bay originally appeared at a time when James Bond-inspired serials about spies and secret agents became popular in the late 1960s. It is hard to say if this was still so topical in 1975, but the serial still works because it is full of suspense, mystery, kidnappings, action, dangers, spying, scuba diving, sunken treasure (even if they are historical treasures rather than valuables), and a balmy tropical setting. And it’s all rendered through the artwork of the popular Santiago Hernandez. What’s not to love about these things? Any reader would be hooked with the story because it is so strong, racy, tightly constructed, full of mounting excitement and thrills, and has a very proactive action heroine who’s also a secret agent. Even the title adds to the drama with the word “Barracuda” in it, because the word conjures up images of ocean menace.
Kane and his secret underwater base look like they drew some inspiration from the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and its villain, Blofeld. Like Blofeld Kane is bald, though he is a much heavier and stockier build and does not wear a Blofeld outfit. He does not stroke a lap cat (or any other sort of pet) and is not a camp villain like Blofeld. Still, his decision to blow up his secret underwater base is not unlike Blofeld activating the self-destruct to destroy his own secret volcano base. However, while Blofeld escapes the self-destruct, Kane does not. He gets caught in his own explosion when the earthquake causes his submarine to get jammed in the doorway. A pretty strong way for June to end a villain, but the way things went there was no way around it. Unless, of course, he jumped into an escape pod, fled the submarine before it was blown up, and returned to haunt Susan in her subsequent June stories.