WILD BILL: THAT MAN FROM ATLANTIS By Jim Korkis, Feb '84 The Golden Age Of Comics #8.
It is so common that most people seldom think how necessary it is for man. Towns were
built near water sources; bitter battles were fought for the possession of some muddy water
hole. Next to the air we breathe water is probably the most important thing in our lives.
Without it, all life would perish.
Water can be made to work for man and enrich his life or it can be misused and allowed
to get out of control so that it destroys everything. No one captured the beauty and power
of water better than Bill Everett. In his long comic book career he illustrated many
characters but it is his water heroes that are most fondly remembered by his readers.
"I suppose I've always liked water," stated Everett at the 1970 Comic Art Convention,
"If anything started it, I suppose it was when I got interested in Admiral Byrd's expedition
to the South Pole I read a lot about that the more I read, the more intrigued I became, so
when the opportunity came to create a character I naturally thought of water. Jack London's
adventures at sea were influential, too. I used to read a lot of sea stories."
William Blake Everett was born on May 18, 1917 in Newton, Massachusetts. His family soon
moved to Arizona where, under the guidance of his father, Everett developed an interest
"I was sort of led into cartooning by my father's wish. He always wanted me to be a
cartoonist and he died, unfortunately, before he saw that come true But that was probably
in back of the whole thing." In later years, Everett admitted that as a child he especially
admired the work of Milton Caniff and this also influenced him to explore the possibility of
working on comics. When he was fifteen, Everett spent two years in the merchant marine
and supposedly even his earliest cartoons began to reflect a fascination with water.
Everett's artwork was distinct; it was unlike anything being done in comics at the time.
Perhaps the reason for this was the fact that he had little formal training. In fact, he
only spent a term at the Vesper George School of Art.
"My formal art training was never complete. I have to say I was born with the talent.
I can take no credit for it. If I take any credit at all, it's just having been able to do
so much with it. I've had a pencil in my hand almost all my life. I actually have only two
years of art training. I didn't really have that. I was credited with three years of training
because I went through three years in about a year and a half. This was only due to the
inborn talent and drive that I had to get somewhere fast. That's about the size of my formal
art training. I think that anything else was talent, and the desire to put something on paper.
That ambition "to put something on paper" led Everett into many art jobs before he settled
down creating comics. His first job was with the Boston Herald Traveler's retail advertising
art staff. Later, he worked for some civil engineers, became art editor for Radio News
Magazine and worked for Teck Publications which became Ziff-Davis. Everett didn't get along
with his final boss, Herm Bollin, and was fired. Fortunately, Everett ran into a former
co-worker from Teck Publications, Walter Holze, who talked Everett into taking his first
comic book-related job at John Harley Publications. Harley Publications produced the Centaur
line of comics. Centaur was a fairly minor company, producing such forgettable heroes as
The Sentinel, The Ferret, "TNT" Todd, Vapo-Man, Minimidget and Ritty and several others.
However, the company did provide Everett with the opportunity to work on an adventure
character that many people feel features his best comic book work, even superior to his
later work on the famous Sub-Mariner.
Amazing Man was not Everett's first assignment at the new company. At first he worked
on an outer space character known as Skyrocket Steele. However, shortly afterwards, he did
the first issue of Amazing Man comics. Amazing Man was John Aman. The Elders of Tibet
"selected an orphan of superb physical structure, and each did his part to develop in the
child all the qualities of one who would dominate the world of men." Aman stayed with this
mysterious Council of Seven until he was twenty-five years old. At that time, he had to
pass a series of tests to earn his freedom. He was given the ability to produce a green
mist which would completely envelop him and enable him to fly. In the early adventures
drawn by Everett, the Amazing Man was not a traditional costumed hero. After Everett left
the strip, the character not only became a typical costumed hero, he also obtained a
sidekick named Tommy. At the 1970 Comic Art Convention, Gil Kane remarked about Everett's
work on A-Man that "you could follow the action from panel to panel and because of the
dynamics, the tension built up, and the continuity of motion, you didn't realize you were
looking at single frame panels."
Everett himself remembered the character fondly: "I would love to see something like
Amazing Man again," he explained, "I would like to see it done in a simple style, instead
of going into all kinds of semantics. I would reinstate some of the original ideas and try
to create the writing so that anyone at any level of intelligence could enjoy it. People
are entertained whether or not they get the message, and I think the best way to entertain
someone is to put it in a way that he can readily and easily understand without becoming too
complicated. A creative person should be allowed to express himself but in a way that
everyone can understand."
Unfortunately, Everett never had the chance to revive the character and the simple,
straight-forward storytelling that made the character so memorable. Like too many other
great Golden Age heroes, the Amazing Man is merely a vague name from the past. Fortunately,
Everett's reputation didn't rest with this minor character because within a year he would
create a character who has become one of the best known comic book heroes of all times.
"I had been with Centaur Publications and Lloyd Jacquet was their editor. He felt the need
to break loose and form his own company of some sort so a few of us banded together with him.
Carl Burgos, Paul Gustafson, P7en Thompson and a few others were in on forming our own
informal art service, to supply a package deal to the publisher. In other words, we would
write the story, do the complete artwork as part of a complete 32 page or 48 page book.
We started very, very small but rapidly built."
Christened Funnies Inc., the artists started to work. Their first project was a giveaway
that introduced Everett's most famous character. Motion Picture Funnies Weekly was a comic
that was supposed to be distributed weekly through movie theatres as a gimmick to attract
customers. Only one issue of the comic was published, although five other issues were
planned, and whether that issue was actually distributed produced heated controversy in the
comic book marketplace several years ago. That first issue featured an eight page
origin-adventure of the one and only Sub-Mariner, written and illustrated by Bill Everett.
If the comic was actually given away, then it is the first appearance of the Sub-Mariner and
since under a half dozen copies exist, its value is great. Whatever the case, the magazine
didn't survive beyond the first issue and neither might have Prince Namor if it wasn't for
Frank Torpey, the sales manager for Funnies Inc., was able to convince pulp publisher
Martin Goodman to go into publishing comics. Goodman called the new company Timely
Publications and the first comic he published was Man7el Comics #1 done entirely by the
Funnies Inc. staff. That first issue contained the origin of the Human Torch by Carl Burgos,
the first Angel by Paul Gustafson, the first Ka-Zar comic strip and the first Masked Raider
story. Of course that famous first issue also included Everett's Sub-Mariner strip from
Motion Picture Funnies Weekly. This time the strip was printed in color and an additional
four pages had been added. The cover of that first issue featured the Human Torch and Everett
did a rough cover for issue #2 that was to spotlight the Sub-Mariner. Goodman, however,
rejected that cover concept and instead decided to spotlight the Angel.
The origin of the Sub-Mariner has been recounted many times. It is a powerful but simple
story. Over the years, like the origins of Batman and Superman, the story has been embellished
with new characters and further refinement of some of the situations. However, it is the
basic original story that seems to be the most unforgettable. In 1920, Leonard McKenzie,
commander of the ship Oracle, was exploring the Antarctic. There he discovered the long lost
race of Atlantis that lived beneath the sea. Unknowingly, the ship had set off some
explosives that proved devastating to the undersea community. Emperor Tha-Korr needed
volunteers to scout the enemy before Atlantis launched their counter-attack. The emperor's
daughter, Princess Fen, convinced Tha-Korr to let just her find the needed information. Once
aboard the ship, she fell in love with McKenzie and shortly thereafter they were married in
a shipboard ceremony. The war between the two peoples finally separated the two lovers. Later,
Prince Namor was born to Princess Fen. A half-breed, he has characteristics of both races but
is never fully accepted by either race. He was taught to hate the surface dwellers and
eventually journeyed to New York to wreck vengeance. After many battles with New York's
Finest (as well as the Human Torch), he met Betty Dean who convinced him that the real threat
was Nazism. For the remainder of his Golden Age career, Namor tackled the Nazis and the
Communists with the same fervor he would demonstrate battling the Fantastic Four many, many
The creation of the Sub-Mariner, according to Everett, was inspired by the eleventh stanza
of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner :
The Sun Came up upon the left
Out of the Sea came he;
And he shone bright and on the right
Went down into the sea.
So the "mariner" part of the name was a tribute to the Coleridge poem. Many people have
supposed that the "sub" came from "submarine". Everett mentioned in an interview that he
remembered the "sub" part coming from his readings about the Antarctic where they talked
about the "sub polar zones". Everett often complained that people pronounced Namor's name as
if an "r" had been added to the word "submarine" rather than the proper pronunciation. In
fact, that's why "Sub-Mariner" has a hyphen; it's to encourage the proper pronunciation.
"I'm only recently beginning to learn that there was more to my writing the Sub-Mariner
than I actually thought of at the time. He was an angry character. He was probably expressing
some of my own personality. With the origin of the Sub-Mariner, I was allowed full expression.
There were no limitations set by the editors or publishers or anyone. This was a case where
the artist writing could freely express himself and if he had something to tell, this was an
outlet for it."
This freedom allowed Everett to create Timely's most enduring character. The Sub-Mariner
was given the first issue of his own comic in Spring 1941, just about the same time that the
first issue of Captain America was published. The Sub-Mariner was the Timely character who
appeared in the largest number of published stories and those stories appeared in a dozen
different Timely titles. In fact, the last issue of a Timely comic book was the forty-second
issue of Sub-Mariner Comics published in 1955. (Later the character would be rediscovered
in Fantastic Four #4, May 1962, for the newly named Marvel Comics.)
The familiar triangle face, arched eyebrows, elfin ears and ankle wings made the
Sub-Mariner stand out in an era known for its strange looking heroes and villains. But it
wasn't just the distinctive Everett artwork that made the character special. The plots and
the characters propelled the story along at breakneck speed. There was great power and
nobility in the charact2r who ruled the oceans, and Everett's early writing so firmly
established these traits that it would be difficult to imagine a different interpretation
of the Sub-Mariner. Namor fought everyone, including himself. Torn between two races, he
would never know peace. Everett's writing illuminated this aspect without sinking into
"As far as storytelling is concerned, I read a great deal when I was very young. I read
what was then considered the deeper novels, the high class literature. I didn't go much for
pulp material. I didn't even read the daily comics much. My background as far as education
was kind of poor. I dropped out of high school and art school. I had to make up for this
in reading. I wanted to be a writer and if I had any idol at all it would be Jack London. I
liked the way he told a story and I figured that rather than probably be the great novelist
of all time, I would attempt merely to tell the story in the simplest terms that I could
summon. I think that this shows up in my early writings."
With the success of the Sub-Mariner, it was natural that the company would try to cash
in on the situation as it did with other characters. Two Sub-Mariner inspired characters
deserve at least brief mention despite the fact that neither was created by Everett. Kid
Komics #1 and #2 featured Subbie, a kid with all the powers of Sub-Mariner, except the ability
to fly, who fought Nazis. His connection with the original Sub-Mariner was never made clear.
Marvel Mystery Comics #82 introduced Namora. Although not created by Everett, he made her an
important supporting character in several Sub-Mariner stories and it is Everett's version
of this character that is best remembered by fans of today. Namora was from the same race
of Sub-Mariners as Namor. Her home was destroyed by surface men in diving gear who looted
the city and killed all the inhabitants. Namora was the sole survivor and with the help
of Namor brought the criminals to justice. In every way, she was the counterpart of Namor
and became quite a popular character. Later, she would spawn a daughter, Namorita, who
accompanied Namor on some of his early 1970s adventures.
Lloyd Jacquet came up to Everett and told him they needed a filler, just a few pages of
story, for Daring Mystery #7 (April 1941) and told him to do whatever he wanted. What Everett
wanted was to still explore the possibilities of man and the sea but he needed a totally
different concept than just another clone of the Sub-Mariner. So Everett created The Fin.
Lt. Peter Noble was the only survivor of a submarine wreck. As he was escaping from the
doomed submarine, he discovered that he had been mysteriously endowed with the ability to
live under the sea as well as on the land. He soon came upon an undersea cavern filled with
green sea monsters and was forced into combat with the leader. After he defeated the leader,
he became the new leader and adopted a costume which included a shark's fin headpiece. Thus
he became The fin. In his last adventure, he stumbled upon a sword that only he could use,
that could cut through any metal and that gave him the strength of twenty men. No one else
could hold the sword or a wave of extreme disgust would over-power them. The Fin had a very
short career. He only appeared in Daring Mystery #7 and #8 as well as Comedy #9. At the time,
Everett was still too busy with his work on the Sub-Mariner to really concentrate on
developing the character any further.
Another Everett water based hero was more successful and totally different from the
humorless Namor. Hydroman was not truly created by Everett, although he did the refinements
and development before the character first appeared in print. Steve Douglas, editor at Eastern
Color's Famous Funnies asked Everett to create a water hero for him. A brother of a friend
Everett had grown up with was intensely interested in Everett's work and it was he who
originated the concept of Hydroman. (Hydroman's alter ego was Bob Blake. Bob was the name
of the young man who came up with the idea and Blake was Everett's middle name.) Everett
thought the concept too ridiculous but Douglas liked it and so the first issue of Reg'lar
Fellers Heroic Comics (1940) told the story of Harry Thurston who was a chemical engineer
who had developed a formula to convert human flesh and blood into water. A huge container of
this stuff spilled over Harry's best friend, Bob Blake, who promptly became a small puddle
of water on the floor. Thurston was able to develop an antidote and Bob was returned to
his natural form. Bob soon discovered that he could control this change merely by thinking
about it. In the second issue, Thurston created a uniform for Bob made out of the new wonder
fabric, Translite. It was transparent and not even bullets could penetrate it. Hydroman was
handled in a humorous manner, often appearing out of water taps, puddles of water or the
sewer. The hero was so popular that he still continued for several years although Everett
left the strip after about a year.
Everett was not limited to aquatic heroes. He also worked on The Patriot, Venus and
Marvel Boy for Timely. He developed The Chameleon, Sub-Zero, White Streak and Bull's-eye
Bill for Novelty. (Everett spent part of his early childhood in Arizona and Montana and
this probably gave him some background for the western character, Bull's-eye Bill, who
looks suspiciously like the Sub-Mariner in a cowboy hat.) He also worked on Music Master
for Eastern Color and The Conqueror for Hillman and Dirk the Demon for Centaur. And it has
been aimed by at least one source that he did some pre-war work for Quality.
At the height of his Golden Age comic book career in 1942, he joined the army. Four
years later he was discharged and once again took up pen and pencil during the final years
of the Golden Age. Although still working on the Sub-Mariner, he began to do more and more
horror stories as well as working for the various humor magazines such as Loco and Snafu
that popped up during this period of comic history. Later he became a staff artist at Cracked.
Everett left the field-of comics and worked as an art director for a greeting card firm,
among other art related activities. With the renewed interest in superheroes in the 1960s,
Everett once again rejoined the field he loved. One of his first jobs was drawing the first
issue of the new Marvel character Daredevil. Shortly afterwards, he returned to illustrating
the adventures of the Sub-Mariner.
After a series of heart attacks, Bill Everett passed away on February 27, 1973. Like too
many artists, Everett never recognized his own greatness nor the influence his work would
have on future readers. The work he produced, as far as he was concerned, was merely the
best work he could do in the amount of time he was given to produce it. The classic first
battle between Namor and the Human Torch in a 64 page book was churned out in its entirety
in just five days. Everett insisted that all he did with the stories was to try to come up
with workable plots and keep the cast in character during the situations. He never saw that
as any great achievement and in the last published interview with him, he even questioned
why the character of Sub-Mariner had lasted so long because he felt the character lacked
Everett was one-of-a-kind. No one has been truly able to duplicate his work, neither his
unique art style nor his innate understanding of man's relationship to the elements. He was
able to infuse his work with his love of adventure and his appreciation of good, strong
storytelling. Despite personal problems, he was able to produce interesting comic art right
up until his death. However, it will be his early work in the Golden Age of Comics that will
be best remembered and cherished by readers. It is that work that has earned him an honored
spot in the history of comics, and that achievement will survive as long as the oceans that