If you've been tracking my likes and dislikes over the years, you'll know that I'm of Lee Elias' "Clean as a Whistle" cover to Black Cat #49. It got me thinking about other covers that feature a group of ravenous rats swarming and unsuspecting victim. As a tip of the hat to the 1971 cult classic of the same name, I've decided to call these Willard Cover.
I must was surprised that Elias had already used this theme for a Harvey horror cover a year prior with Chamber of Chills #16 (May, 1953). This one doesn't work nearly as well, as the rats are a bit cartoonish and therefore don't see quite as menacing as the 'Clean as a Whistle' critters. I'm actually a bit more grossed out by the foot than the vermin. Still, it's one of those effect pre-Code horror covers that manages to disturb without resorting to gore, as it leaves most of the horror up to the readers' imagination. A solid, yet unspectacular effort by the master.
As it turns out, Elias may have been inspired by the cover from Youthful's Beware #11 from August, 1952. The GCD tells me that this cover was drawn by Ed Goldfarb, and I'm not really in a position to argue with them. It's quite a cool cover - with interesting lighting effects and a few rather large rats. For some reason, I really love the use of yellow in 50s horror covers. I'm almost inclined to use the word Ditkoesque. I'm quite inspired to track down a copy of this book, if only because on of the stories is entitled 'The Middle Toe'.
Jumping ahead nearly 30 years we find one of my favourite covers of the 80s. I bought Captain America #272 off the racks back in 1982. How could anyone resist this amazing Mike Zeck cover? It was often that we saw the horror and superhero genres mash up, and it was truly rare to see it done so effectively. You didn't see blood all that often on comic book covers back then - so it was quite a shock. It still creeps me out today. Inside, we've also got a truly great issue from by DeMatteis, Zeck and Beatty - with the Vermin making a very memorable first appearance. This is one of the all-time greats.
A few years later, we got a similar cover for Detective Comics #585 from Jerry Bingham. This book features the introduction of the Rat Catcher, a fairly interesting villain - but I really can't help but see a connection to the Vermin's first appearance in the Cap issue above, right down the cover. The Rat Catcher does actually share a lot in common with Willard Stiles, and he's been used quite effectively over the years. I like a villain who brings Batman into Gotham's sewer system. It's a decent, moody cover - but I would have loved to see what Norm Breyfogle would have done with it. It could have used a little blood.