The first time I saw Gene Colan’s art, I didn’t care for it.
My introduction to Colan’s work wasn’t through his iconic run on Tomb of Dracula or Iron Man. I didn’t really get into Marvel’s comics until the mid 1980s, so it was his work on Batman that probably served as my initial Gene Colan experience.
It may have been Batman #340 — penned by Gerry Conway and introducing a villain named the Mole, a character that’s never resurfaced, as far as I know — that was my first Colan comic. The next was likely Batman #343, which introduced another footnote of a villain, Dagger.
Most memorable about Colan’s work with the Dark Knight was his run as the regular artist on Detective Comics. What really stands out for me was the storyline written by Doug Moench about the villain Nocturna trying to adopt Jason Todd, AKA the second Robin, and take him out of Bruce Wayne’s (and Batman’s) life. Colan also served as the regular series artist on Wonder Woman in the early 1980s, beginning with the insert comic in DC Comics Presents #41 that introduced Wonder Woman’s new double-W breastplate symbol.
As I noted above, though, my ‘tween self wasn’t all that taken with Colan’s work. It was dark and gloomy in appearance, unlike the other DC super-hero art to which I was accustomed at the time. I enjoyed the color and energy of a more traditional style, so Colan’s work didn’t click for this then-unrefined reader. However, when I saw his stuff on Night Force around the same time, even I could tell that his work was better suited to the supernatural subject matter. Little did I know then that I was getting a taste of the kind of brilliant art that Colan did to make Tomb of Dracula in the 1970s a landmark work.
It wasn’t until years later that I truly came to appreciate the late Gene Colan’s work. The flowing, misty, dark look of his comic art was truly unique then, remains so to this day and will no doubt always be as such. Perhaps the greatest testament to the strength of his craft and the passion he had for comics storytelling was that even in his waning years, afflicted with eyesight, health and even personal problems, he continued to create. His contribution of artwork for a full-length story in Captain America #601 two years ago. Here’s what I wrote about his work on that comic book in a short review:
“When I first realized that this issue of Cap would be yet another filler episode (the third in the row for the series), I was disappointed and wished for a fleeting moment that the title wasn’t on my pull list at my local comic shop. But then I remembered it was to feature art from Gene Colan, leading me to be curious about the result. Well, that the result is this: astounding. If at all possible, Colan’s skills in artistry have only improved even in his golden years. He brings a ghostly look to this World War II story, which is appropriate, given the nature of the enemies Cap and Bucky fight.”
Fortunately, it’s not hard to get one’s hands on Colan’s work. Marvel has published a number of Tomb of Dracula reprints in the last few years. Recently, a Gene Colan tribute book was published to benefit the artist, and DC Comics published an affordable collection of the first four issues of Colan and writer Marv Wolfman’s Night Force comics from 1982 a couple of months ago.
With Colan’s passing late Thursday, the entire industry is paying tribute to him and recalling his influence, both on the art form and on personal levels. My hope (and expectation) is that the fondness for the man and his craft will lead to more reprints, to more availability of his art, so that fans can revisit the images he created and so new comics readers can discover Colan’s distinct and memorable style.
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