From time to time, someone in comicdom pulls out a 1970s photo of several DC superheroes skiing in a human pyramid. Frequently, this one...biography of Bill Finger was just released, has been tracking down lots of information on the skiers and the show over at his blog.
I was a young kid when the show came about and got to see it when I was around six or seven years old. I don't know if I had pestered my folks about it, having seen the ads in some of the comic book from that time, if they found out about the show independently and took me, or if we just happened to go to Sea World when the show was running. The Ohio location was relatively close, and I recall going fairly regularly until my brother and I started getting into our teens. Somehow, we always wound up going on days with lousy weather, and it became a family joke that if we needed rain, we just take a trip to Sea World.
Strangely, despite going to the park, I think, every year for several years, I have very few concrete memories of it. I mostly retain general impressions of the park, and the look of specific tanks and exhibits, but without any particular notes about actual events. I do recall a few hurried dashes to some of the covered pavilions when the clouds suddenly dumped buckets on us, and my cousin one year having a fawn start eating his poncho in the petting zoo portion.
Regarding the superhero show, I mostly have vague notions of seeing the heroes ski around, and the kind-of-standard let-go-of-the-rope-and-use-your-momentum-to-get-to-the-shore thing. Most of the show itself, to my recollection, didn't stick because they were so far out as you could barely tell who anyone was. Or at least, I couldn't. I got glasses not long after that, so maybe my vision was bad enough at that point that I wasn't seeing clearly. I only really saw these skiers' costumes once they came on shore, and I vaguely recall thinking that the capes didn't work right. (They were, of course, soaking wet and didn't exactly billow out behind everyone.)
And then I remember this...
Amid the whole ski extravaganza thing, there was, in the middle of everything, a magic show. The plot, such as it was, such that I remember it, was a pretty simple riff from the old Adam West show: Robin was captured by the Joker and placed in a death trap. A curtain is drawn up, the hanging knives crash loudly and, once the curtain is removed, Robin is nowhere to be found! Pretty standard stage illusion, really.
But it scared the living daylights out of me!
I don't think I was scared at the Joker's super-creepy mask. (Seriously, take a look at that photo! Nightmare fuel is what that is!) I don't think we were sitting that close to the front, and I would think I would've had a lingering issue with clowns, which I never did. (Well, I have had issues with clowns, but none based on fear.) No, I seem to recall being really afraid that Robin was going to die. He was handcuffed under a bed of steel spikes! The Joker was going to slaughter him! I'm pretty sure I was in tears as those spikes fell.
I think it was my grandmother who did most of the immediate soothing there. I think she had been sitting on my immediate left, and I had to look past her to see the stage. She pointed out that, look, Robin was fine and now the other heroes are beating up the bad guys. I don't believe that led to a conversation about the difference between characters and actors portraying the characters. At least not immediately. Although I suspect it happened not long after because I was very clear on the point when I saw Star Wars for the first time. (There's some internal family debate on when we actually did see Star Wars. It certainly would not have been the opening weekend or anything, and my father seems to think that it may have even been a full year after it first opened because I would've been too young before then. And, thinking back on this incident, I can easily see that my issues at Sea World may well have precipitated my folks' idea to postpone taking me to Star Wars until I was older.) I vaguely recall leaving the pavilion mostly placated and studying a program or map or some printed material that had drawings of some of the superheroes on it.
I can't say how much I was into comics and superheroes before then. I suspect a bit, and the anticipation of going to see them in person amplified my enjoyment in the days and/or weeks prior to going to Sea World that year. Despite not really remembering much of the show, it obviously had an impact. It was around that time that I became deeply interested in superheroes -- mostly seen in comics at that point -- which eventually led to an interest in comics as a medium. And it's kind of hard to believe that seeing those heroes live and in person didn't resonate at some level.
Hmm. This is really the first time I've given that Sea World experience much serious consideration. I'm honestly a bit taken aback at the possibility that my earliest interests in superheroes comes from a water ski show that scared the crap out of me. Makes me wonder what other earlier experiences that I've never given much thought to had an impact on me like that.