Review: 'Heroic Tales' presents comics that are deliciously lurid, psychedelic and full of energyA comic review article by: Jason Sacks
William Blake Everett was one of the great artists in comics between the 1940s and 1970s. A brilliant stylist whose work appeared to be infused with pure, kinetic energy, Everett's comics almost seemed to pulse and vibrate on the page while you read them, as if the artist couldn't contain his enthusiasm for the material he presented. He introduced the first continuing stories to comics when a Human Torch/Sub-Mariner battle in Marvel Mystery Comics overflowed into a subsequent issue, and was one of the very first cartoonists to present continuing stories on an ongoing basis.
As he got older, Everett never lost his manic fervor for the material he presented. But with a maturing spirit also came a maturing approach to comics art. Everett's brushwork and rendering got more refined and polished, and he produced a wonderful collection of horror, crime, romance and humor books through the 1950s. He was one of the finest cartoonists of Atlas Comics's horror line, was hand-selected by Stan Lee to be the artist of the first issue of Daredevil, and later produced stunning work for Marvel and other publishers before his death in 1973
Heroic Tales is a wonderful anthology of material from several different eras of Everett's career. After an insightful introduction, editor Blake Bell presents 150 or so pages of comics that mostly look like this:
Notice how exciting these pages are, how they're full of vigor and youthful joy. But also notice how nice the rendering is on these figures. The people in Everett's adventures are drawn with verve and panache. Hydroman's costume, which couldn't have been easy to draw, really comes to life under Everett's smart inking. It's a suit that few artists probably could handle well, at least in 1941, but look how wonderfully it's drawn here.
In addition to the early work, Bell presents about two dozen pieces by Everett from the 1950s, including the very quiet biography of pop singer Bing Crosby that's presented above and the intense horror yarn presented below.
As Bell points out, Everett's art was the equal of his counterparts who worked for E.C. Comics during that era. In these stories we see Everett's style in its full glory: still intense and dynamic, but with a tremendous focus on detail, with a sensuous line that bespeaks terror in every panel. His horror work is glorious, and I hope that Fantagraphics or another publisher will be able to put out an omnibus of Everett's frightening comics. I'd be a delighted buyer of that book.
Everett's alcoholism tragically cost him much of the 1960s, but by 1971 he was creating some of the most striking work of his career on material for the magazine-sized black-and-white Skywald line.
Look at the gorgeous psychedelic page above or the sumptuous luridness of the pin-up below and you can see how tragic it was that Everett died before he had a chance to deliver us hundreds of pages of great art.
Bill Everett was a tremendous and thoroughly unique talent in comics art. Heroic Tales reminds us that Everett's career was long, but his talent was obvious. I hope Fantagraphics is able to continue their heroic efforts with the Everett Archive series, because this is a delightful book.