The happiest of 84th birthdays to Gene Colan, a Marvel Comics mainstay whose highly atmospheric and distinctive artwork was omnipresent back in my day (which, as noted in previous posts, ran roughly from the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s). A pretty prolific cover artist, he amassed hundreds of credits in that capacity, including multiple issues apiece of Avengers, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Howard the Duck, Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and Tomb of Dracula. He also dabbled as an inker, but “Gentleman Gene” is by far best known for his work as a penciler on several of the aforementioned titles, most notably Daredevil, Howard the Duck, and Tomb of Dracula.
In the days before “Phase Two” birthed Sub-Mariner and Iron Man, Colan (who began his Marvel superhero work under the, shall we say, pencil name of Adam Austin) drew their adventures in Astonish and Suspense, succeeding co-creator Don Heck on the latter. He inaugurated Subby’s strip and stayed until Astonish #85, later drawing sporadic issues of Namor’s solo book, but after overseeing Shellhead’s transition from Suspense through the one-shot Iron Man and Sub-Mariner to Iron Man #1, he left immediately. When the split books made their brief comeback in the early ’70s, Colan contributed to the Black Widow and Dr. Doom strips in Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales, respectively.
Colan’s moody, shadowy images admittedly weren’t right for every superhero book, and I was not overly enamored of his brief stints on the Assemblers in 1969 (#63-5) and 1981 (#206-8, 210-1). He did, however, segue from the former into a quite creditable tenure of almost two years with Cap from 1969 to ’71, introducing longtime partner the Falcon in Colan’s second issue (#117), and later scored another famous first when he penciled the Guardians of the Galaxy’s debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. But Colan was eminently well suited to DD, the blind superhero who literally lived in darkness, and had an almost unbroken run on that book from 1966 to ’73, plus nine intermittent issues through 1979.
The invaluable Marvel Comics Database has links to only two writing credits for Colan, one of which (Strange Tales #172) appears to be a glitch, since he is only listed as the penciler in the accompanying credits. Yet the other would put him in the pantheon if he weren’t there already: in Marvel Super-Heroes #12, he co-wrote Captain Marvel’s origin with that Lee guy, and also penciled the story, inked by Frank Giacoia. Mar-Vell being one of my favorite characters, whose heyday under writer-artist Jim Starlin was arguably Marvel’s high-water mark, Colan could comfortably have rested on his laurels, but stayed on through one more Super-Heroes appearance and the first four issues of his own book.
Colan’s unique style best served more offbeat books featuring magic, horror, or just plain weirdness, so he was an inspired choice to take over Dr. Strange with #172, handling the remainder of the short-lived solo title’s run. He returned for #6-18 of Doc’s second book, aptly including a cross-over with Tomb of Dracula; in a monumental achievement, Colan penciled all 70 issues of the latter, creating the character of Blade with Marv Wolfman in #10. He came on board Steve Gerber’s cult favorite Howard the Duck with #4, missing only a handful of issues through the end of its regular run with #31, and then entered the ’80s as Doc’s regular artist yet again, penciling the lion’s share of issues from #36 to 47.