In May of last year, I blogged about Sub-Mariner #40, an issue that completed a crossover storyline that had begun in Daredevil #77 and which also guest-starred Spider-Man. That comic also happened to be the first installment of a ten-issue run written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gene Colan and others; my younger self, having enjoyed the crossover storyline that kicked off Conway’s tenure, ended up sticking around for his whole run. But with issue #50, both Conway and Colan were gone, replaced in their respective roles by a single creator, Bill Everett — the writer-artist who had in fact created the Sub-Mariner, way back in 1939, and was thus one of the primary progenitors of what we would come to know as Marvel — both as a company, and as a Universe.
That’s an accomplishment that your humble blogger could appreciate, even at age fourteen. I had also enjoyed Everett’s vintage Timely/Atlas artwork when I’d seen it reprinted, not to mention his much more recent cover for Sub-Mariner Annual #2 (a giant-sized issue which reprinted old Subby stories from his mid-1960s run in Tales to Astonish, drawn by Colan and written by Stan Lee). But evidently, the young fan that I was in March, 1972 (the month that Sub-Mariner #50 came out), couldn’t get his head around Everett’s art when I saw it in a contemporary comic-book story. The look of his work — which combined what might be called a “cartoony” approach to character design with a lushly detailed inking style — just looked too old-fashioned to me. Why was Marvel putting out a modern comic that looked so much like something from the 1950s? I didn’t get it. And so, while I have no clear memory of picking S-M #50 up off the racks, flipping through its pages, and then saying “nah” and putting it back, that’s apparently just what I did.
Luckily, I wised up within the next seven months, or you wouldn’t be reading this post about Sub-Mariner #57. But, one lives, and, on occasion, even learns.
Of course, even then I didn’t know — and probably wouldn’t have fully appreciated, if I had — how remarkable it was in some ways that Bill Everett had even been given the opportunity to write and draw the Sub-Mariner again, for the first time since 1955. Because while the creator had still been at the top of his game in the late ’50s, when downsizing at Marvel/Atlas (and contraction of the comic-book industry more generally) had impelled him to temporarily leave the field, his subsequent return to Marvel in the 1960s had been accompanied by difficulties.
Indeed, that return itself actually happened in fits and starts. 1963 found Everett back at Marvel long enough to co-create Daredevil with editor-writer Stan Lee — but only just. Due to the artist severely blowing his deadlines (probably due primarily to his trying to get the job done while also working full-time at a Massachusetts paper company, though a longstanding drinking problem may also have come into play), the debut issue of Marvel’s newest superhero ran very late, to the point that other hands were brought in to finish the artwork; and Everett was not asked to continue on the feature.
The creator’s next return to the company in 1965, after he’d lost his other job, went somewhat more smoothly — perhaps because Lee didn’t assign him to do full pencils right away this time, having him first do finishes over Jack Kirby’s layouts for several installments of the Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish. Soon thereafter, Everett moved over to the Sub-Mariner strip in the same title — first inking the pencils of Gene Colan, then doing the complete art. Around that time, he also became the first artist to follow Steve Ditko on the Doctor Strange feature in Strange Tales. None of those gigs lasted very long, however; according to Blake Bell’s Fire & Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics (Fantagraphics, 2010), neither Lee nor Marvel’s associate editor Roy Thomas (with whom Everett briefly shared lodgings for a period in the mid-’60s) thought that the artist’s pencilling was as strong as it had once been, faulting it for stiffness and a lack of imagination. His inking still had much of its old flair, however; and it was mostly in this capacity that Marvel would keep him busy for the next several years, as well as by having him do some coloring and production work.
Even in these roles, however, Everett’s work habits continued to be an issue; as Roy Thomas would put it in his 2015 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — The Sub-Mariner, Vol. 7, he was “the poster boy for blown deadlines and outlandish excuses for blowing them”. Nevertheless, both Lee and Marvel’s founder and then-publisher, Martin Goodman, continued to support Everett in his relationship with the company; after all, he’d helped put Goodman’s fledgling comic-book operation on the map, three decades earlier.
In March, 1969, however, something happened to Everett which would lead him to turn his life around. Following a three-day bender, he took a hard fall while exiting a bar and badly banged up his head and face. That experience led him to attend his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; soon afterwards, Everett became devoted to the AA program, ultimately becoming a sponsor himself. The subsequent improvement in his personal life began to show in his work life, as well — enough so that by 1972, Lee was willing to turn virtually the entire creative responsibility for the Sub-Mariner title — the pencilling, the inking, and the writing — back over to the man who’d created Prince Namor thirty-three years before. In some ways, perhaps, it wasn’t that risky a move — Sub-Mariner’s sales had been slumping for some time, so what was there to lose? — but it was still highly unusual at this time for Marvel to assign both the artistic and writing responsibilities for a continuing feature to a single creator. Outside of a couple of “Inhumans” stories scripted as well as drawn by Jack Kirby just prior to his leaving for DC in 1970, no one had done such double-duty on a Marvel series since Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1967-68.
Unfortunately, despite Everett’s having come to grips with his alcoholism in the here and now, many years of heavy drinking (and smoking) had taken a toll on his health; and it became clear almost immediately that the creator wouldn’t be able to shoulder the load of producing twenty or so pages of new material on a monthly schedule — at least, not without assistance, and other accommodations as well. Mike Friedrich (another young professional who, like Roy Thomas before him, would have the distinction of being Everett’s roommate for a brief period) came on board with #51 to assist with the writing, scripting from the older creator’s plots; that arrangement continued into issue #52, though the following month found Everett back on full duties again (albeit only for twelve pages, with the remainder of #53 going to a Subby reprint — also all-Everett — from 1955).
And so it went. Though my by then fifteen-year-old self didn’t realize it at the time, the issue of Everett’s run that I finally deigned to sample — Sub-Mariner #57 — had been immediately preceded by one on which he hadn’t worked at all (#56’s “Atlantis, Mon Amour!” having been produced by the team of Mike Friedrich and Dan Adkins). And it was only the second issue of the run so far to feature a cover by Everett, as well as fully new interior art and story all credited to Everett on his own (the first had been #55, published two months earlier). In other words, #57 was, if not quite unique, still a standout issue of Sub-Mariner, on several levels.
At this point, of course, you may well be wondering — just what was it about Sub-Mariner #57 that persuaded me to buy it, after giving the cold shoulder to Everett and co.’s efforts on the title for the previous seven months? I can’t claim to recall the specifics, but in recollecting the kind of fellow I was at the time, I suspect that it was mostly a combination of two factors, both of which may be located on the comic’s cover: first, the mythological theme indicated by the cover’s blurbed version of the story’s title (“In the Wake of the War-God!”); second, Everett’s fetching delineation of the distressed but beautiful young woman I’d soon discover was actually Venus, the Goddess of Love. Which of those factors weighed most heavily in my decision-making? Well, I don’t really remember, as I’ve already said. But considering that I was a fifteen-year-old cis het male, I wouldn’t bet against it being the second one.
Anyway, however it happened that I ultimately came to find myself reading the opening splash page(s) of “In the Lap of the Gods!”, the important thing is that I did get there in the end, right?
A number of critics have lauded Everett for his convincing and expressive rendering of water; this opening sequence provides a great example of his particular skills in this specialized area, with the setting of a storm at sea giving the artist the opportunity to portray the substance in a variety of forms and behaviors — driving rain, choppy waves, a geyser, and so on. And as you’d expect, later scenes set below the ocean’s surface will give Everett the opportunity to distinctively depict Namor’s natural element in yet another of its many aspects.
“Nereid’s nemesis!” It should be noted that in returning to write his creation in the “modern” Marvel continuity of 1972, Bill Everett was required to make some adjustments to his own original conception, both visually and in terms of characterization. For example, in contrast to the lithe swimmer’s body he’d had in the Golden Age, the Sub-Mariner of the Silver and early Bronze Ages was a more musclebound fellow. Similarly, beginning with Namor’s return in Fantastic Four #4 (May, 1962), Stan Lee had given Atlantis’ Avenging Son a regal manner and speech pattern that differed considerably from that of Everett’s scrappy, slangy young merman — a difference exemplified by the tendency of the present-day Prince to exclaim “Imperius Rex!” rather than “Sufferin’ shad!”
Everett mostly managed to work within the character parameters that had been established by other creators at Marvel in the interval between his ’50s and ’70s stints writing Sub-Mariner; the Subby we meet in these pages is appropriately beefy, and his speech pattern is recognizably that of the same guy whose dialogue Steve Englehart was concurrently writing in Defenders. Even so, there’s the sense of at least a slightly less formal approach evident in the exclamatory phrases Everett has Namor utter in this story, as well as in the rest of his run. No, he doesn’t try to slip in anything as old-school as, say, “Galloping guppies!”; but “Nereid’s nemesis!” is just far enough over the top to suggest a more playful attitude towards the Sub-Mariner’s adventures than readers had seen in a long time.
This is the first time we’ve seen Ares since Avengers #100 (Jun., 1972), in which the largest-ever assemblage of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes foiled the God of War’s nefarious plans to conquer Olympus, Asgard, Earth, etc., etc.. If you’d been wondering just what sort of punishment Big Daddy Zeus must have dished out to his errant son following that episode, the answer would appear to be… well, nothing too severe, really. Or very lengthy, either.
“Woman, if I knew the answers to all that, I wouldn’t be asking questions myself!” retorts Namor, just before he picks up the mysteriously transformed young woman and flies her to safety on shore…
We’ll pause here a moment for proper introductions to these two members of our supporting cast, neither of whom had been part of the picture when my younger self had bailed on Sub-Mariner with issue #49 — starting with “Nita“, which is actually short for Namorita. Namorita was a new creation of Everett’s, introduced by him within the first three pages of his first issue (in the “tried to save from drowning” incident Namor alludes to above) as the Sub-Mariner’s long-lost and much younger kinswoman; she also happened to be the daughter of the long-gone Namora, another Everett creation who’d been Subby’s close companion in the late ’40s and ’50s (and had even held down her own title for three issues in 1948). Like Namor himself, Namora and Namorita were hybrids, having both human and Atlantean heritage, which accounted both for their coloration and their ability to breathe out of water.
Initially depicted as having developed a romantic crush on her first cousin once removed (and sure, I realize they probably have different customs in Atlantis, but still, eww), Nita had since gotten over that teenage infatuation. Even so, Namor eventually decided that the girl needed more of a guardian than he could serve as himself, which in turn led to the introduction — or, rather, the reintroduction — of “Namor’s old friend, Mrs. Prentiss” — or, as Timely and Atlas comics readers of the ’40s and ’50s had known her, Betty Dean.
Betty had been around almost as long as Namor himself, having been introduced in the Sub-Mariner’s third adventure in Marvel Mystery Comics #3 (Jan., 1940). An officer in the New York City police department, she was sent by her superiors to entrap the Sub-Mariner (her qualifications for this assignment, according to one of her superiors, were that she was “an expert swimmer, easy on the eyes, and a darn good cop!” But Betty had managed to go her official orders one better, befriending Namor and enlisting his aid against the Axis menace — and in the process becoming, in the words of Blake Bell, “the woman the Sub-Mariner cannot have, but cannot resist.” Betty Dean would serve as a regular fixture in the Sub-Mariner strip through the 1940s and beyond, even as the post-war years found her leaving the police force to become a reporter. Her last appearance came in Sub-Mariner Comics #41 (Aug., 1955) — last, that is, until Roy Thomas unexpectedly brought her back in the eight issue of the revived Sub-Mariner title, published in September, 1968.
Thomas’ story in that issue had included a scene where a middle-aged woman calling herself “Mrs. Prentiss” interceded in a fight between Namor and the Thing in the middle of New York City; only in the story’s last panel did readers learn that Mrs. Prentiss was none other than Betty Dean, who’d not only gotten married since Subby had last seen her, but had been widowed as well. Thomas played this Peter-Pan-and-Wendy, “I’m ever so much more than twenty” situation purely for pathos; as he admitted decades later in his Marvel Masterworks intro, he never entertained any thoughts of having Betty Prentiss show up again. But, needless to say, Bill Everett had other ideas; and so, in issue #52, he and co-author Mike Friedrich had sent Namor to track Betty down and ask her for her aid in taking care of his headstrong young cousin. Of course, she’d agreed, and so Betty Dean Prentiss had once more become a part of Namor’s life… as well as of Namorita’s…
This scene is noteworthy for a number of reasons, I think. For one, though it clearly belongs to its era — the Vietnam War was still very much an issue in 1972, especially in the run-up to the Presidential election (Richard Nixon would be re-elected to a second term in office one month after this comic hit the stands) — in its highlighting of sharply differing attitudes towards the value, and even the legitimacy, of public protest in America, it still feels all too timely in 2022. For another, it’s interesting that while the then 55-year-old Everett frames his characters’ difference of opinion on this subject as falling along a generational divide, his own sympathies are clearly more aligned with Nita’s argument than with Betty’s.
Finally, the scene might be considered something of a rebuttal to anyone who might claim that the “relevancy” movement in American comics was over and done with by the fall of ’72, the cancellation of DC Comics’ Green Lantern earlier in the year having sounded the trend’s death-knell. Of course, Marvel had never foregrounded relevance in quite the same way that DC had, their creators’ commentary on contemporary issues generally being tucked away in the middle of a story (as it is here) rather than being its primary focus. Naturally, even after relevancy stopped being the Hot New Thing, that sort of commentary would continue to be part of Marvel’s comics (as indeed it would of DC’s, though perhaps to a lesser degree).
An earring, huh? That’s even cooler than a signal-watch, if you ask me.
Once Namor has arrived at Betty’s place, she and Nita take him to the site of Professor Starr’s car accident, explaining the situation along the way. Namor doesn’t have much hope of finding the young woman alive, but he assures Nita he’ll do his best, and then dives through the broken guardrail into the sea…
But the dolphin won’t go away — at least, not until Namor decides to follow where it leads. That turns out to be a large island, rising up out of the Atlantic in a spot where our hero knows no island should exist, onto which the seagoing mammal carelessly flings itself…
Okay, so she’s not standing on a mountaintop, and the flame she’s burning with isn’t silver, exactly. But has she got it? Yeah, baby, she’s got it.
Your humble blogger was obviously way too young to have bought any issues of Venus during its original 19-issue run, which had been published by Marvel/Atlas from 1948 to 1952. But I had been around for the recent Marvel Spotlight #2 reprint mentioned in Roy Thomas’ editorial footnote — an eight-page short, written and drawn by Bill Everett, that had first appeared in Venus #16 (Oct., 1951) — and for which Everett had even drawn a new frontispiece (see right). Based on that reprint and its Everett-centric presentation, not to mention the writer-artist’s use of the character here in Sub-Mariner #57, I’d spend the next several decades assuming that Everett had indeed created this version of the Greco-Roman Goddess of Love.
Such was not actually the case, however. Although it’s Everett’s work on Venus that has understandably received the greatest amount of attention given the title over the years, his earliest contribution didn’t come appear until its 13th issue. Earlier issues featured art by George Klein, Werner Roth, ans others, as well as scripts by… well, that’s a good question actually. Stan Lee was the book’s editor, and it seems reasonable to believe that he wrote at least some of the stories, especially in the early issues.
Originally conceived as a “girl’s comic” that blended humor and romance with whimsical fantasy, Venus evolved over time, eventually eschewing the humor angle in favor of a more straightforward approach to both fantasy and romance, and ultimately ending its run having moved into full-on pre-Comics Code horror…
… though the same basic character concept stayed in place throughout: Venus was the literal goddess of love, who, having decided that she wanted to experience life as a normal woman, came to Earth, took a job as the editor of Beauty Magazine, and then proceeded to have adventures.
The mythological aspect of the series was, not all that surprisingly, handled in a haphazard fashion — both in regards to the classical tradition and within the feature itself. Venus was initially depicted as being the queen of the planet Venus; and even in later issues that featured a more familiar Olympus as the goddess’ home, the writers would show Jupiter and company bedeviled not by the likes of Pluto or Mars, but by a horned god of evil calling himself, um, Loki. Still, even “modern” Marvel hadn’t always been consistent in how it handled mythological material, right? So why not bring the Venus of the company’s ’40s and ’50s comics into current continuity, to take her place among such other Marvel characters as Hercules, Zeus, Pluto, and (naturally) Ares?*
Namor agrees to help Venus save the world from violent holocaust, although he’s still not sure what he can do against a god. Venus explains that the key will be to lure Ares beneath the waves, where he’ll be in the Sub-Mariner’s element — and so, when Ares suddenly announces his advent with a bellow of “Desist, woman! You have betrayed me once too often!“, she tells Namor to seek cover for the moment, while she takes action…
As I’m sure most of those reading this already know, the relationship depicted here between Ares (Mars) and Venus (Aphrodite) is traditional; though generally portrayed as being married to Hephaestus (Vulcan) in classical mythology, the goddess of love also had a number of lovers, Ares being the most prominent. As regards the Venus comics series, however, while the god of war did turn up there a couple of times (under the name of Mars, naturally), it doesn’t seem that there was anything romantic about the two divinities’ relationship as depicted in those stories. (Though I should stipulate, I haven’t read the Venus series all the way through, and shouldn’t be counted an expert on the topic.)
Ares responds to Namor’s mastery of his tiger shark form by transforming himself first into an ink-producing squid, then into a sharp-nosed swordfish. (This sort of thing — gods transforming themselves into creatures of the land, sea, or air — is of course quite common in mythology. But it’s a relatively rare sight in American superhero comics.)
Not so fast, Venus tells Ares. First, he’s got to call off the war on the new continent. Only by doing so can he prove his love. Ares protests, saying that’s asking too much, but then Namor lays down the law: “Do as the goddess says, warlord — or you shall be a god no more!”
“The mind boggles at these supernatural events!” I feel ya, Subby. I mean, seriously — what just happened? Was the “new continent” and its war real at all, or was the whole thing just an illusion?
Maybe we should just call the entire episode mythic, and leave it at that…
By the time my fifteen-year-old self finished reading “…In the Lap of the Gods!” back in October, 1972, I was well and truly hooked. I thought that Everett’s story was a blast; and while the art was still sort of old-fashioned looking to my eyes, I now saw that as attractive. I finally “got it”, you might say.
In any event, I was back on board with Sub-Mariner, and would remain so for the rest of the title’s run — which, alas, wouldn’t be all that long, only another fifteen issues. Even more sadly, Bill Everett’s tenure would be considerably shorter than that.
Not realizing at the time that Everett had been receiving help in producing the several issues of Sub-Mariner that preceded the one-man-job of #57, I took relatively little notice of the added hands that were involved in turning out its follow-up. Sure, Sub-Mariner #58 had a scripting credit for Steve Gerber, as well as layouts attributed to Sam Kweskin; but the leading credit was still “story and art by Bill Everett”, and Everett even inked Gil Kane’s pencils for the cover. I didn’t have any reason to believe that something might be wrong.
But by the next issue, Everett’s credited contribution was limited to “plot” (though he also inked the book’s swell Namor vs. Thor cover, which appears to have been pencilled by either Jim Starlin [per the Grand Comics Database] or Marie Severin [per Mike’s Amazing World]); a situation that continued on into issue #60, even as the letters column for #59 noted that Everett had “moved on” from the series, due to deadline issues. And then, in issue #61 (published on Feb. 13, 1973), he was suddenly back — at least on artistic duties…
…though, as it turned out, only for the first four pages of the story, and for the cover. An editorial response to a query about Everett in the same issue’s letters page explained that after completing those pages, the artist had fallen ill with “the kind of illness that’s going to keep him off SUB-MARINER (or any other mag) for a month or two to come”.
As related in Blake Bell’s Fire & Water:
…the damage that Everett had done to his body with his smoking and alcohol addictions had finally caught up with him. In November of 1972, he had just finished running an AA meeting at Roosevelt Hospital and was walking through the emergency room when he had a massive heart attack. Had he not being in the ER at the time, he might not have survived at all. After a battery of tests, it was determined that he had severe coronary artery disease. The doctors scheduled bypass surgery—far less common then than nowadays—for February of 1973.
…The gang at Marvel was pulling for him: [Mike] Friedrich convinced [Stan] Lee to have [Martin] Goodman cover the hospital bills—a rare act of generosity from a publisher to an artist in those days, and a sign of the affection both men had for their partner of almost 34 years.
Unfortunately, Bill Everett died on the operating table during surgery, on February 27, 1973 — exactly two weeks after his final new Sub-Mariner art was published in issue #61. He was fifty-five years old. At his memorial service, which was held two weeks later at Roosevelt Hospital, the comics people in attendance were reportedly outnumbered by over a hundred individuals who knew the deceased through his AA work.
Bill Everett had one last credit in Sub-Mariner, for the “story” (i.e., plot) of issue #63, which arrived on stands on April 10th. Two months later, the Bullpen Bulletins page carried the announcement of Everett’s death; it referred readers to the pages of Sub-Mariner #65 for the fuller tribute reproduced below:
Almost a half-century later, Bill Evrett’s legacy is alive and well — not only in the form of his best-known creation, who at this writing is a little more than a month away from making his long-awaited big screen debut, but also in his actual art and stories, which are now more widely available than ever thanks to Marvel’s reprint and digitization programs. It’s a wide, deep body of work, of which Everett’s Sub-Mariner tales, excellent as they are, represent only the surface; anyone out there reading this who hasn’t yet experienced that work, or has only waded in its shallows, is encouraged to dive on in.
UPDATE, March 24, 2023: Since originally posting this piece last November, your humble blogger has come to believe that, contrary to what I’ve written above, the first issue of Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner that I purchased may well have been #55, rather than #57. As it turns out, my collection includes a copy of #55, and I’m having a hard time imagining the circumstances under which I’d have picked it up as a back issue (though I certainly could have done so). While it’s undeniably true that Sub-Mariner #57 stands out vividly in my mind after fifty years, and #55 not so much, in the end all that really proves is that my younger self found #57 a lot more, well, memorable than its predecessor. (Yes, I realize that this detail probably matters very little to anyone other than myself, but what can I say? I’m a stickler for accuracy.)
*Prior to my actually staring to work on this post, I was fully expecting to spend a few paragraphs grousing about how someone at Marvel decided around 2006 that the Venus of the ’40s and ’50s (and thus of Sub-Mariner #57) wasn’t really the Greco-Roman goddess of love, but rather a siren posing as the actual Venus/Aphrodite. Boooo! But then, once I’d started my research, I discovered that that particular retcon has itself since been retconned — and that as of this writing, the Venus who starred in Venus is once again considered to have been the real deal, while the siren-Venus has been relegated to having never appeared prior to Agents of Atlas, the miniseries that introduced the previous retcon. So, it’s all good, as far as this particular fan is concerned — for the moment, at least. Comics, y’all!
Wow, a touching and informative overview of Bill Everett’s last few months, working on his most famous creation. I’d mostly missed those issues, my collecting still being sporadic up until 1973. HIs artwork was unique, with a few cartoony aspects mainly in how he drew the faces of a few characters, mainly young women such as Nita, but IMO it didn’t look all that old-fashioned, at least no more than the art of Tuska or Trimpe (who I know was much younger, but his art had some cartoonish, old-looking aspects too). But overall, Everett made some beautiful, almost otherworldly art.
As to his struggles with alcoholism and the ravages of that and smoking to his body, I’m compelled to relate that my mother also was an alcoholic and smoked most of her life, from age 16 to 60. She did quit drinking after spending a month in the hospital for treatment when she was 41. She died in 2014 at age 70, after a month in the hospital for a variety of ailments, dying of massive organ failure. My stepfather and I were with her when she died. Myself, maybe in part due to what I saw of my mother’s behavior when she was drunk, I only very rarely drink alcoholic beverages and have never developed a strong tolerance for them, and also never took up smoking. Yeah, Adam Ant might sing that I’m a “goody two-shoes” (“don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?”) but I have my own quirks, aside from being a comic-book junkie!
Glad Everett had at least a few good years after quitting the alcohol and was able to do full work on a least a few more issues of Sub-Mariner before his health took a turn for the worse. Along with Kirby, Everett was among the best of the Timely era artists and while he didn’t make quite as big an impact during the Marvel age, he still made a few significant contributions, including that first issue of Daredevil, and his brief runs on Dr. Strange, Hulk & Subby. Alas that he felt compelled to purposely do a bad job of inking that trio on the first Defenders tale, but generally his inking was very good. One of the creative giants who helped shape Marvel history.
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I caught up on this run in back issue bins of the 90s. For me, this was some of the best art of Bill Everett’s career. We also sometimes forget what a great antihero Subby was right of the gate in ’39. Everett probably doesn’t get enough credit for the really incredible work he did; he was a very special talent and a very important player in the foundation of the industry. Fifty years later, rest in peace, Bill.
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Like you I initially had trouble getting to grips with Bill’s art but I did, and his Dr Strange run (along with Marie’s) are two of my favourites. And that anecdote is the first good thing I’ve ever heard about M Goodman …
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This issue is a long-time favorite of mine. It works for me as an adventure story, and I appreciate its hopeful ending more the older I get. I had a similar reaction to the art: it seemed out of place, but very compelling to young me. Now I just unabashedly love it. This is a book that I always stop to admire when either going through my own Sub-Mariner collection, or when going through back-issue bins.
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Oh, almost forgot: I think it was Gary Friedrich who roomed with Everett, although it was Mike Friedrich who worked with him on Sub-Mariner.
According to “Fire and Water”, both Friedriches roomed with Everett, though at different times.
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Aha, I did not remember that!
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Addendum: On further review, it appears that Mike F. didn’t room with Bill Everett until 1971, so my statement that both he and Roy Thomas had had that experience “in the ’60s” was inaccurate. I’ve amended the blog post accordingly.
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As I’ve shared before, I was never a fan of Namor. Even though he came first, it was always easy to stuff him in the “angry Aquaman” box and leave him there, one of several times I felt like the House of Ideas simply took a DC character and made him “angsty,” thinking that somehow made him “better” at the same time. This is an attitude I held for a long time and in regard to Namor, is one I still seem to be hanging onto a bit. There as been an attempt at DC to make Aquaman an angrier version of his original self as well and I’ve never been completely happy with that, either. I’m not saying that either Sea King doesn’t have a right to be a little pissed given how many toxins and other pollutants we throw into the waters, but Aquaman is a hero and therefore, by my childish and child-like thinking back in the day, should be a bit more positive. Namor, the anti-hero that he is, can be a bit more cranky, I suppose.
As to the artwork, I have no problems with Mr. Everett’s work here. I can see the “Betty and Veronica” of it all in regards to some of the faces, particularly that of the young Namorita, but I doubt I’d have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out. As an artist who was also told more than once that he was “too cartoony” for mainstream comics, I sympathize with Bill’s situation and think the art here is excellent.
In regards to the story, however, I’ll admit I was a bit thrown by how Venus kept trying to gaslight Namor by the constant transformations from Vicki to Venus to a dolphin or whatever, when what she really wanted was his help in defeating Ares, but it created some interesting artistic opportunities so I’ll allow it. I was also curious as to why Ares would refer to the “Thunder of Thor,” when a similar reference to Zeus seemed more appropriate, but given your discussion of the generally hapzard way mythology in general was handled in the Venus comic (and really, all of Marvel at large), I suppose it makes sense. The dialogue that really threw me out of the story, however, were both on the same page: “Zeus’ Zither” and “Piscatroid Pate” were certainly new ones on me and seem to be extremely forced efforts to re-create Stan Lee’s original purple prose.
Finally, Namor’s yellow t-shirt on the last page seemed a strange fashion choice for the Sea King, especially since he was still wearing his speedo, but comics, amirite? Similarly, I’m certainly willing to forgive the obvious trick in using Vicki Starr’s name to spell out “Venus,” but “Nutley?” Really? That was what you came up with, guys? Jesus…
I missed this one back in ’72, Alan. Thanks for introducing it to me now.
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I have actually known someone whose last name was Nutley. But then, at my job in the Probate Department at the local county courthouse, I’ve come across plenty of names that might seem mighty peculiar, including Ima Pigg.
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Hey Fred, I don’t doubt for a minute that Nutley is a real name. I’ve known a couple myself. I just thought that it was an extremely odd choice for a Goddess of Love.
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Yep, rather goofy, even a bit, ahem, nuts! Or evidence she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
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Namor is the original one, Aquaman only the copy-
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Although Namor as Atlantean monarch came several years after Aquaman was established as such.
Namor was always royalty though. Becoming mnarch was the natural evolution. Aquaman had it ludicrously shoehorned in but decades of it has made that unimportant now.
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No, it’s the Atlantean part that came after Aquaman. Namor was originally from some unnamed undersea civilization near the North Pole — it wasn’t until several appearances into the Silver Age that his homeland became Atlantis.
In my defense, I did acknowledge that fact in the second sentence of my comment.
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Alan, thank you for a very informative & insightful blog post about Bill Everett.
I have to admit, this one hit close to home for me. I am a recovering alcoholic. I first began attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous when I was 33 years old, and I’ve been continuously sober since I’ve been 35, which is ten and a half years now. I’m glad to learn that Everett was able to get sober towards of the end of his life, but his death at the much too young age of 55 is a reminder to me that alcoholism is a progressive disease, and that someone stands a much better chance of making a physical recovery if they get sober at a younger age, before the damage increases and eventually becomes irreversible. I’m also grateful I never picked up smoking, because I know if I had smoked like I had drank then I would have been in even more serious trouble.
Looking at this issue, it really drives home just what a loss Everett’s death was. He was still capable of producing stunningly beautiful, dynamic artwork right up until the end of his life. If he had lived a few decades more who knows what he might have accomplished?
The pages with Namorita and Betty Dean Prentiss arguing about the Vietnam War were definitely interesting. As you say, it’s noteworthy that Everett, who was in his mid-50s, seems much more sympathetic to Nita’s position than that of the middle-aged Betty Dean. Everett’s apparent sympathies for were the anti-war movement are a good reminder that the so-called “generation gap” can sometimes be oversold, and that it’s a mistake to stereotype an entire generation as holding a monolithic view on a particular social or political issue.
This was also a good reminder that politics have always been present in comic books, even if for a long time they were buried withing the subplots, serving as a subtext to the main story, rather than being the primary focus of the story.
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I loved this issue and every other I found that Everett was involved with. I think he was the first creator to die mid-run in my time in comics and I was devastated by the loss of talent (though reading about him subsequent I mourn the man as well). We;d lose Dick Dillin and Bob Brown in much the same way and it was never easy.
My problem though with Namor’s series through the year was how kill happy creative teams were with the supporting cast. Betty and Dorma being killed off were especially egregious. I sincerely hope that Dorma gets revived and written s she was in that wonderful Namor mini set in the past a few years back. Betty’s also been getting her backstory adjust more interestingly as her being tied to WW2 has necessiated rejiggering of her life story.
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I’m rereading the early Silver Age Marvels and lord, Dorma’s awful. In her second appearance she gets upset Namor isn’t nice enough to her so she betrays Atlantis to Attuma, then is shocked — shocked! — that he lied about being merciful to Namor. Then she betrays Namor to Krang, then tries to save him … she may be my least favorite love interest of that era.
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Great write-up. Every time I revisit Bill Everett’s work for Marvel, something new is revealed.
A few comments regarding Bill Everett on some things that you wrote:
“The creator’s next return to the company in 1965…went somewhat more smoothly — perhaps because Lee didn’t assign him to do full pencils right away this time, having him first do finishes over Jack Kirby’s layouts for several installments of the Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish. Soon thereafter, however, Everett was drawing the Hulk all on his own, and eventually moved from there to the Sub-Mariner strip in the same title — first inking the pencils of Gene Colan, then doing the complete art.”
Not that I want to nitpick, but Bill Everett never drew the Hulk “on his own” in Tales to Astonish. His work was strictly over Jack Kirby’s Layouts in Tales to Astonish #78 to #83. The Incredible Hulk story in Tales to Astonish #84 was drawn by “nearly the whole blamed bullpen” according to the credits. After that, others did the artwork.
Another nitpick: It was Sub-Mariner #53 that featured a new 12 page story with a 1950’s reprint not Sub-Mariner #52. Sub-Mariner #52 had a completely new 20 page story.
In another passage (not a nitpick, this time):
“…neither Lee nor Marvel’s associate editor Roy Thomas…thought that the artist’s penciling [during the 1960’s] was as strong as it had once been, faulting it for stiffness and a lack of imagination.”
I would agree that much of Everett’s pencilwork in Marvel Comics during the 1960’s was stiff and lacked imagination. In defense of Bill Everett, I would attribute Everett’s weak pencilwork and lack of imagination in his work in the 1960’s to Stan Lee’s push for all of Marvel’s pencil artists at the time to imitate Jack Kirby. He might have been a great Kirby Inker (Everett was a great inker *period*), but imitating Kirby’s style, as he was clearly trying to do at the time, was a different matter. Everett had his own very unique pencil style developed during the 1940’s and 1950’s that he had to abandon in order to be a Kirby imitator. Bill Everett was a poor Kirby imitator during the 1960’s.
He wasn’t the only one having a difficult time trying to be another Jack Kirby. There was Don Heck, who is quoted as saying “If you want Kirby, get Kirby” to Stan Lee when Lee told him to do his art more like Kirby. And there was John Buscema, who refused to follow Kirby’s layout art in Strange Tales #150 for the Agent of Shield story and lost the assignment as a result. With Buscema, there was also the matter of Silver Surfer #4 where Stan Lee criticized Buscema for straying too far from the Marvel house style (Jack Kirby).
To be fair, artists did come on board who were able to be like Jack Kirby, and even exceed Kirby in certain respects. IMO, Jim Steranko and Dan Adkins, for two, during the 1960’s. Eventually, there would be others.
I did not like Everett’s artwork when I first encountered it in 1966 for the same reasons as Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. In retrospect, I think it was because he was imitating another artist and not doing a very good job at it. He did not seem to be particularly inspired about his work.
Bill Everett’s artwork in Sub-Mariner #50 was a revelation to me. A world of difference from the Bill Everett that did the Sub-Mariner series in Tales to Astonish in 1966 and 1967. No lack of imagination here. And the revelations just kept on coming in the subsequent issues of Sub-Mariner that Everett did. I’m glad you decided to blog on Sub-Mariner #57 because IMO it was the best of the extraordinary run by Everett, a run that was quite a swan song for the man.
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Thanks for the detailed and insightful comments, JR — both those above and those below.! Thanks also for the corrections; I’ve updated the blog post accordingly.
Some comments regarding the Sub-Mariner of the Silver and early Bronze Age:
The Sub-Mariner was one of my favorite Marvel Comics super-heroes from the first time I saw him in the reprint of Fantastic Four #4 in Collector’s Item Classics #3 in March, 1966 when I was all of twelve years old. I still have the issue.
You wrote: “…in contrast to the lithe swimmer’s body he’d had in the Golden Age, the Sub-Mariner of the Silver and early Bronze Ages was a more musclebound fellow.”
The Sub-Mariner still had “the lithe swimmer’s body” in his appearances in the early Fantastic Four issues and other Marvel Comics’ of the period during the Silver Age. That changed when Gene Colan drew the Sub-Mariner in his Tales to Astonish run. Colan turned him a bodybuilder, not superbulky muscular like the Incredible Hulk, but possessing a beautiful muscular male physique. Prime examples are the splash pages of the Sub-Mariner stories to Tales to Astonish #82, #85, and #101. Colan began drawing the “new” Sub-Mariner from the very first Sub-Mariner story in Tales to Astonish #70. Unfortunately, the inker was Vince Colletta who did not do a good job inking the ”new” Sub-Mariner. In the book “The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics’ Most Controversial Inker”, Gene Colan is quoted making some bitter remarks about Colletta’s inking. Unfortunately, I can’t find Colan’s remarks from the book to quote, but I remember reading them years ago.
Other ink artists did a much better finish to Gene Colan’s beautiful muscleman; Bill Everett in TTA #79 and 85, Dick Ayers in TTA #80, 81, 82, and 84, “Gary Michaels” (Jack Abel) in Tales of Suspense #80, and Dan Atkins in TTA #101.
Bill Everett continued the rendering of the Sub-Mariner as a beef-cake pinup in TTA, during his tenure doing both the pencil and ink art. It should be noted that while the Sub-Mariner was going around showing off his body wearing nothing but his swimming trunks, his love interest, the Lady Dorma, was clad from the neck down in a modest outfit that covered her entire body. Only later did she wear an outfit with an exposed midriff. A near-naked man was ok with the Comics Code during the 1960’s but a similarly exposed female was verboten. Go figure.
All this changed with Everett’s return in Sub-Mariner #50. Everett took shameless advantage of the 1971 revisions to the Comics Code. He saw a tiny opening and drove a truck through it. In Sub-Mariner #50-51 we have a blond girl, Namorita, wearing what had to be the tiniest bikini ever seen in a Comics Code comic book up to that time. Now, the CC was as ok with near-naked women as near-naked men.
This wasn’t the end of it. In Sub-Mariner #55, young Namorita gives the Sub-Mariner an earring that she wants him to wear. In SM #57, he is wearing the earring Namorita gave him, on his left ear. During the 1970’s, there was a certain significance to a man wearing an earring on the left ear in many places in the United States. Now, the Sub-Mariner, as a character, would not have been aware of the significance of a man wearing an earring on the left ear since he is an underseas dweller, but I am sure that Bill Everett, a sophisticated resident of New York City, and a lot of readers would have picked up on it.
A note on Betty Dean:
Betty Dean is the only comic book character I can think of that ever actually aged as a comic book character. I read Sub-Mariner #8 back when it first hit the newsstands. Roy Thomas treated her as this tragic figure, like the worst thing that can happen to a woman is to get old. Bill Everett did not share his view when he reintroduced her in SM #52 and made her a more upbeat person. In SM #53, in an Everett Sub-Mariner story reprinted from 1955, Betty Dean still looks young and attractive. Those thirteen years between 1955 and 1968 must have been pretty rough on Ms. Dean if she aged so much. Must have been one rough marriage.
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I’d guess Roy’s perspective may have changed quite a bit now that he’s in his 80s. Bill Everett seemed very young at heart in the last years before he died, not all that old in his 50s. At least “not all that old” from my current perspective having turned 60 this year. Hard to tell from just a few issues, but seems Everett was more naturally attuned to the youth movement of the early 1970s than most other 50-something comics writers of the period. Based on the works of Kirby & Simon from the period, The Forever People and Prez, they were sympathetic to the aspirations but didn’t fully understand them. Then again, I wouldn’t even claim to fully comprehend my own generation, never mind those older or younger than mine!
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Bob Haney. His Teen Titans writing comes across as genuinely fond of Kids These Days even if his grasp of their slang was non-existence.
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Alan, I found it amusing that you bought this comic because of Venus on the cover. Back in 1972-73, I developed a huge crush on Namorita, although I missed reading her original appearances in Sub Mariner in the summer of 1972 (hey, don’t look at me like that, I was only 11 years old at the time). I also remember a few years ago you writing that (when you were probably about the same age I was in 1972), you had a crush on Aquagirl. Of course re-reading the Sub Mariner story now, I appreciate Venus’s, uh, physical charms. (I think that I first read this issue several years ago on Marvel Unlimited for the first time when I, naturally, went back to read all of the early Namorita stories I missed–OK, maybe now you can look at me that way).
At the time I read Bill Everett’s final run on Sub Mariner, I was not aware that he created the character, let alone that he wrote and did the artwork on it 34 years earlier. I did note the “old feel” to the artwork back then (from golden age reprints). I find it a little unfortunate that Everett repeated the finding a beautiful girl in a skimpy bathing suit struggling in the middle of the ocean tactic twice in a short span of time (although, again, young boys like us probably did not care).
If memory serves (and I really don’t feel like looking it up at the moment) Nita as originally portrayed was a couple of years younger than the Nita that is firmly ensconced in a college in this issue, so she grew up quick. She also developed a social conscience quickly. Not that I’m complaining about the latter. Even when I was 8 to 11 years old, I was very interested in “socially relevant” comic stories even when, in retrospect, some come off as too preachy. When DC in particular abandoned doing socially relevant stories, my interest in D.C. comics diminished dramatically. Even when I was 11 (and unusually interested in history and current events), I found the discussion between Nita and Betty Prentiss about antiwar demonstrations welcome and interesting. On the other hand, Nita’s comment about there being nothing democratic about Namor (i.e., he uses force to solve his problems) comes across rather chilling today.
I was underwhelmed with the underlying Venus/Aries story here as the way Venus kept switching off on the Sub Mariner made no sense to me.
Sadly, one of Bill Everett’s last projects, if not his very last project (and one which you quite possibly deliberately omitted) was Iron Man #54, which also came out in October 1972. Mike Friedrich wrote that story, but Everett was credited for “story idea and helping hand” in a tale that had Iron Man’s armor being controlled (with Tony Stark in it) by a villain named Madame MacEvil (first name Lucretia?) and forced to battle the Sub Mariner. Almost the whole issue has a helpless Iron Man, unable to even communicate verbally with Subby about what is really going on, forced to attack a puzzled Namor again and again and again. Awful idea and awful story although Steve Englehart must have liked the way Madame MacEvil looked because, God help me, she looks just like Moondragon (costume included), who would be created a couple of years later.
I fully found out about Bill Everett’s career when the obituary notices were printed in the Marvel Comics in June 1973. At the time, I thought that the splash page tribute was beautiful. This time, seeing it again, I actually cried.
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Madame McEvil was Moondragon, so no surprise they look alike.
I generally hated socially relevant stories back then. Few of them hold up well now.
I started buying Defenders because I had a crush on Valkyrie so buying Subby purely for Namorita seems perfectly reasonable to me.
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