The Debut of Bill Everett's Zombie in Menace #5, Up for Auction

Comic book characters often get their starts in unusual places.  For example, the Sub-Mariner first appeared in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 before becoming one of the cornerstones of Golden Age Marvel.  Spider-Man debuted in the weird science/supernatural anthology Amazing Fantasy before getting his own series.  But Bill Everett's Zombie also had a highly unusual and obscure path into the Marvel Universe.  A nearly-forgotten character who debuted at the peak of Marvel's Pre-Code Horror era, there's a copy of the comic containing his first appearance in Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) CGC VG/FN 5.0 Off-white pages up for auction in Thursday's 2021 November 4 The Black Cat Collection and Pre-Code Horror Showcase Auction #40183 at Heritage Auctions.

Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) featuring Zombie.
Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) featuring Zombie.

Marvel was the comic book industry's most prolific horror publisher in 1953 when Menace #5 hit the newsstands.  Of course, this changed when the Comics Code was implemented the next year.  Notably, the Code explicitly prevented zombies from appearing in comic books at that time, along with other horror staples like vampires and werewolves.  However, when Code guidelines were relaxed on this point in 1971, Marvel looked to re-enter the horror field, and Marvel resurrected Everett's Zombie to star in its Tales of the Zombie magazine in 1973.  An editorial in the debut issue explained how this came about:

Editor Roy Thomas turned up several [Bill Everett Pre-Code Horror stories] while he was looking for vintage tales to reprint for the first issue of our sister-mag DRACULA LIVES!, back when that title and MONSTERS UNLEASHED. were the only two giant-sized comics on the Marvel schedule.

And the very best Everett tale— in fact, Roy's personal nomination for one of the best-drawn sagas of that much-maligned decade wherein he cut his proverbial eyeteeth — was a thing called simply "Zombie." He put it aside on top of a stack of reprint material by Russ Heath, Gene Colan. Tony diPreta. and other giants in the field, and went on to other concerns.

Then, suddenly, neo-publisher Stan Lee came up with a couple of new names he wanted to see done as magazine titles, so that Marvel would enter the black-and-white field with a whole line of 75-centers. One was VAMPIRE TALES. which debuts next month, same time, same newsstand— and the other was TALES OF THE ZOMBIE!

Roy was thunderstruck— an unusual occurrence for the Rascally One. TALES OF THE ZOMBIE. Great title, that. But— tales of what zombie? More than seven years of hectic experience in comics had convinced Roy that Marvel's magazines usually did best with strong title characters rather than with anthology-type books per se. But, how to come up with just the right zombie, drawn in just the right style by just the right artist? He racked his brains for, oh. five minutes or so. Then. something clicked— and be remembered. Bill Everett's Zombie! Why not take this beautifully-conceived, painstakingly-rendered Walking Deadman, and make him the unique hero of his own magazine, just like that?

An obscure beginning for a character who made his way into the Marvel Universe 20 years later, there's a Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) CGC VG/FN 5.0 Off-white pages up for auction in Thursday's 2021 November 4 The Black Cat Collection and Pre-Code Horror Showcase Auction #40183 at Heritage Auctions.

Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) featuring Zombie.
Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) featuring Zombie.

Menace #5 (Atlas, 1953) CGC VG/FN 5.0 Off-white pages. Origin and first appearance of the Zombie by Bill Everett, who also drew the cover. Story art by Everett, Russ Heath, Joe Maneely, and George Tuska. Overstreet 2021 VG 4.0 value = $362; FN 6.0 value = $543. CGC census 9/21: 5 in 5.0, 20 higher.

View the certification for CGC Certification ID 1199400001 and purchase grader's notes if available.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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