Monday, June 23, 2014

The Amazing Bill Everett

Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives Volume 1: written and illustrated by Bill Everett; edited by Blake Bell (1939-1941; this edition 2013): Artist and occasional writer Bill Everett's two best-known comic-book creations or co-creations are probably the Golden Age's Sub-mariner and the early Marvel era's Daredevil. This Fantagraphics series, edited as is the similar Ditko archive project by Toronto's own Blake Bell, offers a selection of Everett's early comic-book work for companies other than Timely (which would eventually become Marvel).

The Sub-mariner was one of two of Timely's first ultra-successful comic-book heroes. But that first explosion of super-heroes in America from 1938 to about 1944 would offer Everett a lot of chances to work on other heroes as well. None of them would become all that famous in the long term (though several had decent runs in those early years), but many of them offer stories well worth reading thanks to Everett's fast ramp-up to comic-book greatness.

While we get a smattering of science-fantasy, Western, and crime heroes in this first volume, Everett's finest work comes on the superheroes included here. Best of all is Amazing-Man, trained by Tibetan monks to fight crime with a host of amazing powers, including the somewhat bizarre ability to turn into a green mist. The other stand-out is Hydro-man who, thanks to a secret formula, can turn himself into water!

Everett was much-praised by other comic-book artists that include Gil Kane for his keen sense of in-panel lay-out and overall pacing and dynamism. Most of the stories here are action-packed, and they flow beautifully. Everett's character work is traditionally heroic, but with a pleasing grunginess and seediness to his criminals and their environment. All in all, a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone interested in the development of the American comic book, and a fitting tribute to an often-overlooked, seminal artist in the field. Recommended.

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