I picked this book up at the library after it caught my eye. This is a collection of some of the earliest works by Bill Everett, the comic book writer/artist best known for creating the Sub-Mariner and Daredevil. I didn’t know much about the man, except that he helped create the first issue of Marvel Comics and the first mutant superhero. Being that most of this stuff was printed in the 1940s, when the comic book was practically in its infancy, one can forgive the rough art that is presented. I actually had a hard time reading the whole thing due to the tough presentation of these stories.
Regarding the life of the artist, the biography in this collection is as thorough as an introduction can be, especially since there are no books written about Bill Everett. It’s a very interesting piece as Bill Everett was descended from some very famous people, including the English poet William Blake (his namesake), and his great-grandfather, Edward Everett, who was an important figure in the history of Massachusetts. Despite this proud lineage, one might think it is odd that he would turn to a life of comic book making rather than something like poetry or painting, like his mother did professionally. But Everett had an impulsive manner, leading him to never complete his schooling, and being fired from many positions for which he was unqualified or he just didn’t like the work environment. Eventually he made his way to the offices of Centaur Publications in 1938, after leaving the New York Herald-Tribune. That was the beginning of his long career in the world of comic books.
This is the first volume in a series about Everett’s non-mainstream works (ie no Marvel Comics!), and features eight super heroes that he created outside of the Sub-Mariner, as well as a smattering of other genres including crime and public service announcements. There are even some prose stories, but the editor decided to show only a few pages, usually one, with an illustration by Everett. There will be a second volume coming out in November, titled Heroic Tales.
Skyrocket Steele is the first hero presented in the book, and although he was featured on the cover of “Amazing Mystery Funnies” (one of many short lived titles), he starts appearing in the second issue. The story takes place sometime in the 26th century, and is about the adventures of a man fighting to save his kingdom from the nefarious forces threatening to destroy it. He and his colleagues wear helmets with a feather on top, although dashing in action, does kind of remind me a bit of those really old-fashioned uniforms in their gaudiness.
The issues here show the usual plot of kidnapping the king and holding him for ransom. Unlike those regular stories, this features a double agent well versed in the sciences. He manages to make the hero invisible and even knows to “freeze” people in place. Just what actual plans are are yet to be seen, considering the volume had only a few issues.
The first story here had a change of convention regarding the usual lettering of comic books, as Everett had it done in a stylized script that had both capitalized and small cases. The later stories however, are a bit hard to read to due the italicized capitals, probably used to invoke excitement.
The next hero is Dirk the Demon who lasted only two issues in Amazing Mystery Funnies. It stars a young boy, who looks very androgynous, that lives in the 24th Century. The first story features he and his friends finding a secret cavern of gold guarded by a crazed old man. His second story is him saving the life of a princess from her captors. Basic stories really and not much to write about.
The third one featured is the Amazing Man, and I can say he is possibly the most interesting super hero in this volume. Taken and raised by a secret Tibetian Order of Monks, John Aman becomes skilled in the art of martial arts and crimefighting. His caretakers send him into America to find his way in the world, but he is hounded by a rogue leader who wishes to use his abilities for evil. The main bad guy has a secret method of controlling Aman, and turns the hero into a devil rather than a savior of mankind. If there ever was a need to bring him back into the modern era, or at least make a tv show, this is the character.
As the book goes along, there is a cowboy western story, one about a man who can turn himself into water (Hydroman), and even one who can turn into ice. Interestingly enough, “Sub-Zero’s” arch nemesis is a man named “Professor X!” Unlike Bobby Drake, the hero of that story was an alien from the planet Venus who had an unfortunate accident by crashing his ship through an asteroid of frozen gas. He was cursed with the ability of becoming nothing but ice and froze anything he touched until he landed on Earth and some scientist basically zaps him with a ray to keep his humanoid form. Of course, the scientist dies, and so begins Sub Zero’s quest for vengeance and justice.
One of the last heroes featured is a man called the “Music Maestro,” who I think I read about in an old issue of Wizard or some other magazine. Rather than controlling people through hypnotic tunes like the modern day Music Miester, he was a rough and tumble sort of gentleman who’s secret ability was to travel through sound waves. Be it from his trusty dachshund or the Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 through the radio, he always had a medium to dodge his opponents and save the day.
Other works in the volume even include a public service announcement about the activities of the Red Cross. From Jean-Henri Dunant being inspired by Florence Nightingale to the World War II efforts of the organization, it’s a rather interesting story.
The book costs $40, though Amazon sells it for $30. It’s a nice book all in all, and my main complaint is the quality of the printing. Fantagraphics has decided to hop on the bandwagon of manufacturing the book cheaply in China, and it shows. I’m personally not a fan of this, even though the paper quality is the same as you would get here in the states, but the smell just knocks it down a lot of notches. The point of reading a book for prolonged periods of time is to get comfortable with all the elements of it, from the excellent work down to the pulp and ink. I’ve had experience with a few other “printed in China” books and they all smelled rather terrible and even gave me a headache, especially the company’s other offering Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley.
The second volume of Bill Everett’s early work outside of Marvel appears to be out in November. I’m anticipating it then.