The 1939 creation of the Sub-Mariner for the first issue of Marvel Comics assures Bill Everett a place in history. Co-creating Daredevil, the Man Without Fear, for Marvel Comics in 1964 gave Everett a link to one of the most popular superheroes of the past 50 years. And producing over 400 additional pages of superhero-related work in the very early days of the Golden Age of Comics (1938-42) makes Bill Everett a legend.
Heroic Comics: The Bill Everett Archives Vol. 2 collects over 200 pages of never-before-reprinted work from such titles as Amazing Mystery Funnies (1938), Amazing-Man Comics (1939), Target Comics (1940), Heroic Comics (1940), and Blue Bolt Comics (1940). These titles feature an endless array of vintage Everett characters such Amazing-Man, Hydroman, Skyrocket Steele, The Chameleon and many more, all produced by Everett’s shop Funnies, Inc. for such clients as Centaur, Novelty Press, and Eastern Color. This book also features, reprinted for the first time, the rarest of Everett material, his romance work from the early 1950s for Eastern Color on titles such as New Heroic Comics (1950/51) and Personal Love (1953). All of the stories within display Everett’s brilliant cartooning and energetic storytelling growing by leaps and bounds.
Edited by best-selling author and comic-book historian Blake Bell (Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko), The Bill Everett Archives is a stunning companion to Bell’s 2010 critically acclaimed Everett biography and art book, Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics. This volume follows the format of Bell’s Steve Ditko Archives series; never-before-reprinted, beautifully restored, full-color stories from one of comic books’ greatest visionaries and most accomplished artists. This book also includes an introduction about the man, his art, the history of the era, and his relationship with Marvel Comics.
But you’re here for Blake’s Top 10 list right? Let’s get to it…
Blake Bell’s Top 10 Bill Everett Covers
The conundrum, when faced with the task of compiling a “Top Ten” anything, is whether to land on A) your ten favourite (“the heart loves what it loves”); B) the ten “best” (some reaching attempt at objectivity, generally fueled by some fear that others will render judgment upon you for not being erudite enough in your choosings and musings); C) ten that represent the arc of an artist’s career…and then D) just landing on only ten…the worst task of all.
“C” is generally tied up in “B”. You get into internal debates about historical or career “significance” and “importance” versus what is “objectively” your evaluation of the ten best. Invariably, if you pick a cover from “every” era/genre, readers will scream that you ignored Cover X that (rightly so) is better than a number of your picks.
I found this to be true with Bill Everett, mainly because of my affection for his early 1950s horror material. I’ve said it numerous times: if Everett hadn’t been so much of a “Marvel Comics Man” – i.e., reliant on editor-in-chief Stan Lee’s tolerance of Everett’s laissez-faire attitudes towards deadlines – a stint at EC Comics may have afforded him ever greater consideration as the preeminent horror genre artist of the decade.
This all meant that I had to monitor my objectivity to ensure that I didn’t lose site on the value of his non-horror work. Thankfully, Everett was very much the multi-dimensional genre artist, and there was a lot from which to choose. What speaks to Everett’s greatness is that the list covers, literally, the entire arc of his artistic life – from 1939 to his passing in 1973.
Sadly, it also speaks to the fact that an early death at the early age of 55 cost us many years of further greatness and enjoyment of one of the founding fathers in the comic-book business. His remarkable rebirth, after sobering up for good by the early 1970s, was hinted at in his last run on his signature creation, The Sub-Mariner (issues #50 to 57), and some of the Skywald material. Onwards…
[be sure to click on the images to see them in all their glory! -Craig]
#10 – Sub-Mariner #57 (Marvel, Jan ’73)
This was, sadly, Everett’s swansong. He made some minor contributions to the 1970s Sub-Mariner title in the remaining issues before his passing seven or so months later, but he was too ill to continue on his own. The rendering is tight on all three figures, and the scene contains signature 1940s motifs – mad action between the hero and antagonist, whilst the female figure awaits the outcome in bondage. The blacks in the background help accentuate the two main figures but don’t intrude on the overall chaos. You also have to love that Everett has the Sub-Mariner holding off, with his right hand, the sword of the War-God, but also the “snout” of the swordfish with his left. Covers in the 1940s always packed in numerous flourishes for the eye to remain entrenched in the image.
#9 – Blast #1 (G&D Publications, Feb ’71)
Sometimes the sequential art medium doesn’t allow for a great detail of time expended on a single image. Really, a 20-page comic is the (micro) equivalent of 180 “paintings”. Everett began his comic-book career in 1938 and it took two years before he committed to that lush, refined quality for which we associate with his interior work. Covers like Blast #1, however, remind us of two things concerning Everett: 1) he mastered every genre; and 2) he was a prodigy from an early age and was capable of stunningly-detailed imagery. The lack of a background may have been done for expediency’s sake, but it was the perfect complement to the frenzy of linework that symbolizes the mental state of the character. Again, this image was done two years before his passing, showing that he went out perhaps stronger than he came in.
#8 – Menace #5 (Marvel, Jul ’53)
At some point in 1952, either Martin Goodman or Stan Lee decided to rise to the EC Comics challenge and the product of this was the comic book, Menace. It was Marvel’s signature book, pulling in all the best Marvel artists to produce a horror book worthy of competing with Bill Gaines and his crew. I had a difficult time choosing between the first issue’s cover and this one. Ultimately, the zombie skeleton erupting through the ground, and the framing of the onlookers in front and back won out. I especially like the notion of the entrance to the subway taking on a life of its own. As noted on the cover, the Everett story in this issue features the Zombie character that has gone on to have a life of its own in the 1970s in a Marvel magazine and still is remembered fondly by monster enthusiasts.
#7 – Men’s Adventures #22 (Marvel, Jun ’53)
So many to choose from Everett’s horror work, and in this title, but this one’s subject matter, and how Everett handled it, is especially chilling. At first, your eyes is draw to the monster in the mid-ground, through the eyes of the onlooker coming through the door, until you realize that the real horror is laying, skinless, on the ground. Everett is one of the few artists who can make the amount of detail he packs into a single image matter. I.e., there are many lines here, but none are wasted, and the mass in the back wall is juxtaposed nicely against the barren floor, so as not to distract from what was once the inhabitant of that opened coffin. The early 1950s were dominated by this type of cover arrangement: the image framed by not only the masthead, but by that left vertical “Table of Contents” bar. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard an artist from that time comment on how they approached containing the image to this smaller field and how it came together from a production standpoint.
#6 – Journey Into Mystery #9 (Marvel, May ’52)
Everett’s most successful covers from this pre-Code horror era are the “3-D” ones. By that, I mean the covers where he has important imagery in three planes – fore/middle/background. I have a particular fondness for this cover because of how Everett captures that sense of mortification on the face of the surgeon. Everett’s handling of shadows, especially on fabric, is almost of Ditko’s calibre. It works particularly well here to capture the remainder of the surgeon’s face under his surgical mask. Without that detail, the overall effect is lost, and the cover would have failed in its key component.
#5 – Sub-Mariner Special #2 (Marvel, Jan ’72)
It’s nice to have this cover positioned against the Journey Into Mystery cover from 20 years earlier. His use of blacks here to “sculpt” all the figures is so perfect in its estimation of what is the mid-point between too little and too much. To think that this was a man who, in late 1965, came back to Marvel and had seemingly lost his confidence in his rendering abilities. Amazing what stone-cold sobriety will do for an artist’s capacity to deliver on a polished product. When I think of “perfectly rendered Everett”, my mind drifts to this cover; one of his last for his signature character.
#4 – Venus #17 (Marvel, Dec ’51)
You wouldn’t know it by this cover, but the comic book, Venus, started out as a light-hearted, teen super-heroine book at the turn of the 1950s. Once the horror genre became a money-making trend, however, Marvel Comics owner Martin Goodman handed the reins over to Everett and the title is now fondly remembered as one of the era’s best. The blacks literally drip down the walls of this “Tower of Death”. Everett is a master at using shadows to create these “ridges” of topography. You see it on this cover, but you also see it in the undersea elements of his later Sub-Mariner work. Everett also does the “gaping maw” motif very well to capture the horror implicit in what’s next to come.
#3 – Spellbound #2 (Marvel, Apr ’52)
I used this image on the cover of my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy! (TwoMorrows, 2002), and not just because of the connotations to the theme of the book. It’s one of the few from the horror era that goes for the “wink” over the shock value. The self-referential imagery – the comic-book writer of horror stories, the plethora of fake comic-book titles in the background and hanging on the wall – lend the cover an air of joyous celebration in the era in question. Plus, I’m not sure what’s more scary: the monster figure coming through the door, or Everett’s rendition of the artist’s face, which is almost Auton-like in its plasticity.
#2 – Venus #19 (Marvel, Apr ’52)
Beyond the fact that every element of this cover screams Everett at his most perfectly precise, it is how it captures the true horrifying element inherent within that has always tipped me over the edge when I think of his top horror cover work. Horror is not overt gore, or (a vain attempt in a motionless art form at) some surprise moment designed to make you jump; it’s that moment, or that image, where the realization of all hope being lost/no going back is upon you. What makes this cover so poignant is that this element is not captured in the woman’s face, but in that truly chilling imagery of the man’s facial expression. He looks like the “perfect man”, yet his physical beauty has been rendered forever inert, captured by those gorgeous, but now dead, blue eyes, and that frozen, gaping maw, as if caught in that moment of realization of the horror of his circumstance.
#1 – Amazing Mystery Funnies v2 #5 (Centaur, May ’39)
“The heart loves what it loves,” wrote Tom Spurgeon in his recent review of my latest book on Everett, Heroic Tales: The Bill Everett Archives vol. 2. This cover was published about six months before the Sub-Mariner’s debut in Marvel Comics #1 and it was a revelation the first time I saw it. After writing nine of these snippets about my favorite Everett covers, you tend to repeat some themes and motifs that have drawn you to the man’s work, so I’ll first reiterate that this cover was produced at a time when Everett’s interior comic book work looked very “raw” in comparison to the slick look that he’d achieve by late 1940. You get snippets of that look on covers like this, or in the first Sub-Mariner story; where he looked like he really took the time to dazzle the intended audience. I love the staging of this cover; the plane of the yellow stairs, that wonderful choice of purple bisecting the red masthead. There’s the frenzy on the stairs juxtaposed (whew, only used that word twice in this whole piece) against the solemnity of the Queen figure in the back and that gorgeously-rendered head piece behind her. It’s the tightness of the rendering overall that wins out for me, as does the craft in the shadows that fall in and around the muscular figures, giving the entire cover its unique sheen that caught my eye the first time I saw it.
Blue Bolt v1 #4 (Novelty Press, Sep ’40)
Heroic Comics #6 (Eastern Color, May ’41)
I didn’t want to ignore these two covers. They are nice examples of early, refined Everett and of how he handled water imagery. Many people assume that Everett worked for Marvel Comics during the 1939-42 years, just because of his run on the Sub-Mariner, but, in fact, he worked for a studio called “Funnies, Inc.”. They had a contract with Martin Goodman, owner and founder of what we now know as Marvel Comics, to package his comics. Both of these examples are products of this type of arrangements with competitors of Marvel. Sub-Zero Man was the Ice-Man of his day, and Hydroman was a request from Eastern’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Douglas, to replicate Everett’s success with the Sub-Mariner.
There’s two thousand words invested in a mad-dash exercise to rank my favorite Bill Everett covers. As my pastor-from-another-zip-code, Dr. James MacDonald once said, “I’ve narrowed down my favorite scriptures to ten…thousand.” If you want a good look at 344 Everett covers, click on this link at www.comics.org.
And, “MSC”, you win.
God bless you all.