Monday, June 27, 2011

R.I.P. Gene Colan

Late last week, the comic industry learned that legendary artist Gene Colan had passed away after a battle with liver cancer. It is sad to know that another icon of the field has left us.

There have been unbelievably touching eulogies throughout the internet about Colan and his storied career but I thought that one more couldn't hurt to honor this great man. Colan was best known for his work at Marvel. He was crucial to the early feel of Daredevil and Iron Man and had epic runs on Tomb of Dracula, Howard the Duck, and Captain America, as well as the character Blade.

As for me, as a DC reader, I had a more limited interaction with Colan's work but I can remember how much it struck me. When it seemed like every other artist was tied down to solid lines and standard action poses, as a young collector I was struck with Colan's more ethereal style. He seemed so comfortable with brush lines, blurred margins, and fantastic scenarios.

My first encounter with Colan's art was the Phantom Zone mini-series he did with Steve Gerber in 1982. It is a wonderfully trippy mini-series with the Phantom Zone villains freed from the zone and Superman trapped within it.

This blog being what it is I thought I would include some Supergirl scans from that series that really showcase Colan's skills nicely.

First, from Phantom Zone #2, Supergirl stopping some nuclear missiles. The Phantom Zone villains have quickly set the world powers against each other.

And here, from Phantom Zone #3, Supergirl recovering from being overwhelmed by all the escaped villains.

And lastly, teaming up with the freed Superman in Phantom Zone #4 to destroy a giant Phantom Zone projector cannon the villains were planning to use on Earth. Nice to see the cousins team up!

But it is in the other worldly storyline within the Zone that Colan really gets to shine. In the series, the story becomes more psychedelic as Superman travels the chaotic and hellish environment of the outer limits of the Zone. I mean this insane story really shines with Colan's flair for the bizarre and horrific. And the Zone changes over and over ... from this scene to a castle to a more Hell-like landscape to more.

Finally Superman and his comrade Quex-Ul discover that the Zone is a living entity called Aethyr. These fantastic and terrifying landscapes really blossom under Colan's pencil. I don't think Colan worked on the Super-family that much outside of this series.

But the Colan series that stays with me the most is his work with Marv Wolfman on the short-lived horror series Night Force from 1982. 1982 was a big year for me as a collector as I decided to start collecting series on a monthly basis rather than simply looking for the most interesting cover on the spinner rack. Night Force was one of those first titles (along with Swamp Thing, Fury of Firestorm, and the New Teen Titans).

The first arc of Night Force has a team of a hard drinking journalist named Jack Gold, a paranormal scientist named Donovan Caine, and an innocent but emotionally tortured medium named Vanessa Van Helsing all positioned by Baron Winters to try and stop the physical entity of evil from overwhelming the world. The series shows the miasma of evil erupting into our world, the perfect sort of chaotic environment for Colan's style.

At the end of the story, Caine has been maimed, losing a limbs. Van Helsing has been shown to be the conduit for evil into this world and as a result must be kept happy all the time or else wickedness will overhelm her and flood the planet. And Gold is stuck pretending he loves Van Helsing to placate her even though he hates her. It scared the socks off me, much of that because of Colan's eerie and horrifying pencils. Those images remain in my brain to this day, easily recalled. That is the sign of a true master.

I know this is an odd review of Colan's prolific career, two minor forays in the DCU amidst the classics he touched. But these are the works of his that effected me and it shows how much love he poured into all his works.

Rest in peace Gene Colan. The world has lost a master artist.


Anonymous said...

R.I.P. Gene.

God, his art was GORGEOUS! :'(


Dave Mullen said...

I never thought of The Mini as Psychadelic no, both story and Colans art is too gothic and dark for that. I always felt he was ahead of his time in many ways as his style was so unique back in the 70s and early 80s that like Bill Sienkiewicz it was at odds with everything around it. A style you either loved or loathed maybe but like many I loved it at first sight. That Phantom Zone mini is still hugely influential to my reading experience and really stands up to rereading like few others from that era.

His was A true talent.

Anonymous said...

Yeah the Phantom Mini was another remarkable supporting turn for Supergirl. You had to buy these things if only to see Kousin Kara drawn by competent artists. My fave memory of this mini was Supergirl's knock-down drag out fight with Faora, one Kara clearly won even if it all happened off-panel.
I do wish DC would reissue this as a TPB...I'd buy it fer sher.

John Feer