Silent And Deadly

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By the mid-1950s, the comic-book industry was in a serious slump and the Comics Code had effectively eliminated whatever edge had previously attracted a wide-ranging audience to the medium.

Combined with competition from the burgeoning television industry and genre paperback novels that contained more than enough adult thrills for audiences, it was a difficult time to find quality work in U.S. comics on par with the best Pre-Code horror, crime, romance and super-hero tales.

That doesn’t mean the industry was completely barren, however. Although the remaining comic-book publishers were clearly running scared, the field still contained enough major talent  to avoid complete irrelevance.

Bill Everett was one such talent, and his artwork in today’s talent definitely elevates the cliched – if still entertaining – horse opera of the uncredited script. From Western Outlaws #9 (Atlas, June 1955), here’s “The Quiet Man.”

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The Amazing Everett

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Today marks the 30th anniversary of Bill Everett’s death.

Although the legacy of Everett’s formidable talents are far from forgotten – thanks to the efforts of such chroniclers as Blake Bell – I believe the broader scope of the writer-artist’s work is often neglected in favor of his apparent preoccupation with water-based heroes and themes.

(Not that I blame people for focusing on that particular fact. Everett, after all, created the Sub-Mariner, The Fin, Hydroman, etc. etc.)

Still, it’s worth noting that many of Everett’s characters dealt with darker themes than your standard, square-jawed Golden Age heroes. Namor, of course, was comic’s first true anti-hero: a super-man just as likely to destroy a city as defend its populace.

Everett’s “Aman, The Amazing-Man” – the Golden Age inspiration for Marvel’s Iron Fist – was more outwardly heroic but also fought  – at times, unsuccessfully – the corrupting influence of his greatest enemy. A subsequent adventure found the hero impulsively battling Hitler a year before the U.S. entered the conflagration and achieving little more than causing random chaos before finding himself captured.

By the 11th issue of Amazing-Man’s comic, the character’s Tibetan masters called Aman to task for his mistakes and sent a re-dedicated hero back into the world. This tale marked the end of Amazing-Man’s struggles against corrupting influences and – perhaps not coincidentally  -  the end of Everett’s affiliation with the character.

Taken together, the early issues of Amazing-Man comics offers an intriguing character arc for a super-man who was far less than a man of steel before discovering his true strength. The fact that such a story emerged from the earliest days of the super-hero genre is a true testament to Bill Everett’s talent and vision.

From Amazing-Man Comics #11 (Centaur, April 1940), here’s “Purification!” The story was scripted by Allen L. Kirby and drawn by Everett.

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Two-Fisted Tales

One of the more gratifying aspects of the 21st century comic-book reprint renaissance is the long-overdue attention paid to the man Jack Kirby once called the real “King of Comics,” Bill Everett.

Comics historian Blake Bell has written an excellent biography of Everett and compiled a nifty collection of the creator’s pre-Timely/Atlas/Marvel work. A host of scan blogs, including the excellent Comic Book Attic, have also posted vintage Everett classics accompanied by insightful analysis.

Although this blog has displayed its share of Everett super-hero epics, I haven’t really delved into his work in such genres as horror, romance and war. Today’s post begins to address this imbalance, as we pick a ’50s classic from Atlas’ Men’s Adventures that criticizes media war propaganda.

(Which, ironically, included most of Atlas’ war comics of the period.)

Doubling as a humble tribute to Veterans Day, here’s “The Education Of Thomas Dillon” from Men’s Adventures #10 (Atlas Comics, Oct. 1951). The art is by Everett.

Wet Works

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After creating the iconic Sub-Mariner, the great Bill Everett devised yet another water-based hero for Eastern Color Printing, the company responsible for the first “modern” comic-book.

Unlike Prince Namor, however, Hydroman didn’t merely swim through water; he literally transformed into the stuff!  (OK …. before I start hearing cracks about the Wonder Twins let me assure one and all that Everett possessed more than enough creative mojo to make such a power appear formidable.)

Although Everett didn’t stay with the character for all that long, Hydroman proved popular enough to last until 1945. The hero languished in limbo for quite some time thereafter, unless you count the fairly lame Spider-Man villain that goes by the same name.

Everett’s Hydroman was finally revived in Dynamite’s Project Superpowers series, but to be quite honest Time Bulleteers I’m not overly fond of Alex Ross’ grim ’n’ gritty revamp.

From the first three issues of Eastern’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics (1940), here’s the complete origin of one of comics’ more obscure – but no less enjoyable – Golden Age greats. The story and art are by Everett.

And, as always, be wary of the embarrassingly outdated racial stereotypes that lie ahead!

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William The Conquerer

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Although The Conquerer may not have been one of Bill Everett’s more famous creations, this rip-roaring adventure from Victory Comics’ inaugural issue aptly demonstrated that the character had what it took to be a major player.

(Except maybe sales figures, but that’s the comics biz for you.)

I’m especially struck by The Conquerer’s costume design – which seemed a bit more realistic than your usual super-hero union suit – and the mysterious femme fatale Varna Bari, who added the requisite touch of moral ambiguity present in many of Everett’s tales.

From Victory Comics #1 (Hillman Periodicals, 1941), here’s “The Coming Of The Conquerer” by Bill Everett.

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If you enjoyed this story, be sure to check out Blake Bell’s forthcoming compilation of pre-WWII Everett stories, Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives Vol. 1. Looks like the book design even features Everett’s ace cover art for Victory Comics #1!

Hero Takes A Fall

Although Bill Everett had a well-known affinity for water-based crime-fighters (Sub-Mariner, Hydroman, The Fin), his ability to create compelling characters that eschewed traditional notions of heroism separated the writer-artist’s work from his contemporaries and established Everett as one of the great pioneers of the comics field.

Prince Namor, of course, is widely recognized as comic’s first true anti-hero. However, that same streak of rebelliousness can be found in much of Everett’s other work. From his hard-boiled interpretation of  Atlas Comics’ Venus to the innumerable pre-Code horror classics created in conjunction with Stan Lee, Everett’s style never quite veered toward the center of the road.

A good example of this tendency can be found in one of Everett’s earliest creations, Amazing-Man.

As related in the character’s origin, John Aman was sent to Earth by the fabled “Council Of Seven” to use his skills and abilities for good. Unfortunately, a disgruntled member of the council –  a cloaked mystery  man known only as “The Great Question” – sought to control Aman and fulfill darker ambitions.

The surprise twist to the following story is that the villain actually succeeds in corrupting Aman. Even at this stage in the game – mere months after the debut of Superman – Everett demonstrated an interest in depicting heroes with discernible weaknesses. Later, of course, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would utilize similar techniques to bring about the Marvel Age Of Comics.

Though his name isn’t often credited for such accomplishments, I believe Everett’s work helped pave the way for the Marvel revolution.

The following story, written and drawn by Everett, originally appeared in Amazing-Man Comics #6 (Centaur Publications, 1939).