AMAZING MYSTERIES: THE BILL EVERETT ARCHIVES VOL. 1 (Fantagraphics, 2011; Hardcover)
Note: This book was actually released in March, 2012.
Collects the Bill Everett material from Amazing Man Comics Nos. 5-8, Amazing Mystery Funnies (Vol. 1) Nos. 1-3b; (Vol. 2) Nos. 1-3, 7, Blue Bolt Comics (Vol. 1) Nos. 2, 4, 5; (Vol. 2) No. 3, Challenge Comics No. 1, Dickie Dare No. 1, Funny Pages (Vol. 2) No. 11, Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics Nos. 1-5, 12, 13, Target Comics (Vol. 1) Nos. 1, 2, 6, True Comics No. 2, Uncle Joe's Funnies No. 1, Victory Comics Nos. 1, 2, and Whirlwind Comics No. 1 (cover dates June, 1938- July, 1942)
Writer: Bill Everett, Allen L. “Red” Kirby, and...?
Artist: Bill Everett
Praise be to Blake Bell, who is among a few that are rescuing and preserving the history of the medium. Better still, they are making these books available in relatively affordable deluxe hardcover editions. These were once only in the hands of the most affluent collectors. Now, these obscure old comics are available everywhere for the first time in decades. This is a fan collaborative effort, as many collectors are destroying their brittle, mouldering pulp treasures in order to be scanned for these books. Their sacrifice has not been in vain. I thank them all from the bottom of my jaded, cynical heart.
Bill Everett is most famous for his creation, the Sub-Mariner, over at Timely (later known as Marvel) Comics. These comics predate and were released simultaneously with Everett's Timely output. As was industry standard back in the '30s and '40s, a creator would start off a strip and often hand it off to others. The completist in me would love to see collections of the further adventures of these also-rans. Sadly, this will likely never happen, or at least not in color. There are a few companies who are doing black and white reprints of some of this stuff, but those don't interest me.
Bell has organized the book by character as opposed to the chronological-by-job order that he did for his Steve Ditko Archives (also available from Fantagraphics Books). Like his peers, Everett threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. As explained in Bell's beefy introduction, some of these characters had pieces of Everett as part of the character, i.e. locale, so on and so forth.
Skyrocket Steele was a Flash Gordon ripoff, which means that it was a ripoff of a Buck Rogers ripoff. I am dumber for having read Dirk The Demon, a strip about an archaeologist from the 24th century. It is interesting only for historical significance and not much else. Everett was still finding his style, so that strip didn't even have his trademark artwork going for it.
The Amazing-Man served as the inspiration to Roy Thomas for the origin of Iron Fist some 35 years later. Not in the martial arts aspect, but in the mystical city, hooded judge, etc. Bull's-Eye Bill was your standard cowboy fare that could be found in all comic books of the day. Superheroes weren't the dominant force in this still emerging medium, so Golden Age comics like this often feature a variety of genres. Hydro-Man is a case of if it worked once, it will work twice. Everett basically ripped off himself, creating another water based character like the Sub-Mariner. It has nice artwork and Everett's unique, pleasing to the eye hand lettering.
Sub-Zero Man was an Ice Man precursor, while The Conqueror was your run of the mill patriotic garbed hero who fought the Axis. The Music Master is my favorite character in this book. John Wallace is gunned down and saved by his friend, who resurrects him by playing the ancient Egyptian instrument the Pipes Of Death. In a way unknown to medical science it makes him able to travel on sound tracks. He wears the pipes around his kneck and fights crime. These stories are all silly but are a ton of fun. I have always been a sucker for old timey things and Americana in general.
A few miscellaneous pieces close out the book. My favorite of these is The Story Of The Red Cross from True Comics #2, which is exactly what is sounds like. The history of the Red Cross in comic book form, lovingly rendered by Everett.
This book belongs in every comic fan's library. I have Volume 2 but have no idea when I'll get around to reading it. Seeing how much that I enjoyed this one, I can imagine it being sooner than later.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Fantagraphics always makes nice books. They never arrive on time but they never disappoint, either.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Introduction By Blake Bell, peppered with original artwork and other rare images and photos. (20 pages)
Linework and Color restoration rating: 4.5 out of 5. High resolution, digitally cleaned up scans. Some folks prefer this method to full blown restoration, others do not. Your mileage may vary.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Thick uncoated stock with zero sheen.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Smyth sewn binding, seven stitches per signature. The book lays completely flat.
Hardback cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. The image is printed on the casewrap, which has a dull matte finish coating.