Gene Colan was undeniably one of the greatest artists of the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics. He had a hand in the creation and development of some of the most iconic of Marvel characters. He was beloved and widely praised.
And he scared the living shit out of me.
I wasn’t a child of the sixties. Nineteen seventy-eight was the year I first pulled a beat-up Avengers comic off a creaky spinner at the local drugstore. I didn’t know what the hell was going on or who all of those colorful characters were, but I knew Captain America well enough to know that he didn’t belong in outer space! The entire thing blew my mind wide open.
It featured a team of nine colorful heroes flying off in their very own spaceship because a mean guy with an eyepatch told them to. In space, they run into six shimmering heroes from the future with names like “Vance Astro” and “Charlie-27” and have a slugfest. And just when I thought I had it figured out, the story transports us back to earth where three more of the super-team are busy fighting off a villain named “The Porcupine” in order to save a fashion show!
The most frustrating part of this first four-color discovery wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t afford to buy the damn thing. It wasn’t even that I had to sneak back into the shop every couple of days and tempt the wrath of the shop owner so I could read a few pages at a time. It was that it turned out to be part one of a seven-part universe- shattering epic called “The Korvac Saga.”
Eight years old and stuck in the blinding heat of the San Fernando Valley. Eight years old and not even a bicycle to transport me down the street. Eight years old and desperately longing for a way to find chapter two and spend more time with this absolutely insane group of heroes. Ridiculous. I daydreamed of building a Quinjet of my own and flying it to the Marvel offices in New York so they could tell me “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!”
What on earth does this have to do with Gene Colan, you ask?
It was a few years before I was able to go back and find earlier Marvel comic books from the sixties and early seventies. By then, I’d discovered some used bookstores and small comic shops where random beat-up back issues could be found. Places to spend my hard-earned lawn mowing money. I wanted to explore the origins of the characters I had discovered, to dig deep into what made them heroic. But the deeper I dug, the more I found myself sucked into a dark, black tomb. A Tomb of Dracula.
As I write these words, bumps are spreading up my arms and the hair at the nape of my neck is tingling. The image I see is a sunny, quiet afternoon on my living room floor, surrounded by Colan’s Dracula comics. Home alone. No sound save the spotty piano theme music of that day’s Twilight Zone episode as it reached out to me from the television. Rod Serling talking directly to me and Colan’s fangs dripping with blood. Telly Savalas talking to a murderous doll and Colan’s bats flying through cities drenched in fog. Cameras zooming into beautiful fifties bombshells as they screamed in terror and Colan’s swooning damsels giving in to the Count’s unbreakable spell.
It was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A perfect marriage of television and comic-book genre. I would scare myself so badly that I’d run out into the afternoon light, desperate to see another human being so I could shake myself back into reality.
The stories were great. No question. But the art was what really “drove it home” for me. I had a stack in the closet that was reserved only for Twilight Zone viewing and I often thought of that closet at my school desk. It called to me, tugging at my imagination and breathing in the dark.
So you can imagine what it was like for me when I went digging through a ratty old box at the back of a bookstore and came up with one of Colan’s Daredevil comics. This man, whose images had caused so much terror and damage to my young psyche was drawing a Marvel superhero who…was…a…devil!
The cover of Issue #38 showed us the head of Doctor Doom fused with this scary Daredevil guy’s face. Definitely not a typical Marvel cover. Inside, Doctor Doom and Daredevil switch bodies and both do their fair share of battling with the Fantastic Four.
Looking back at it now, it was all very sitcom hijinks. But back then, I thought Daredevil was another Gene Colan horror comic! This guy was really weird and definitely a little off-kilter. And he was blind! Maybe it’s not politically correct to say, but at ten years old, a blind, Dracula/devil Colan superhero really freaked me out.
And the absolute worst part of this back-store find was this. It was only the second part of a three-episode story! It took me months to find the other issues (little did I know that one of them crossed over into Fantastic Four) and during that entire span of time, I thought of Daredevil as the first horror superhero I’d ever laid eyes on.
Between my DD discovery and my completion of the DD/Doom switcheroo storyline, I stumbled on random back issues of his Doctor Strange stories. At which point I was absolutely certain that Colan was the God of Superhero comic-book horror.
So Daredevil and Doctor Strange joined Tomb of Dracula during my afternoon Twilight Zone viewings. All of us spread out on the floor together, sweating bullets as mannequins came to life and families were sent off into the cornfields.
Could there really be a horror comic lurking in those early Daredevil issues? All of those wacky villains and soap opera love triangles. Could there really be some darkness amid all of those bright, bright colors?
I never admitted that Daredevil kind of spooked me. Not to my friends and not to anyone else for that matter. Until now, dear reader. On these screens, you’ll find history laid bare and old truths revealed. Prepare yourselves.
I spent years feeling like an idiot for including Matt Murdock in the same company as Dracula and Serling. Until Frank Miller joined the fray. Until issue #158.
If you’ve read my column on that landmark issue before, this one can act as a prequel of sorts. If you haven’t, we’ll run it again next week in honor of this special celebratory month.
This character has always been a conundrum for me. I’ve read him in every iteration from Stan to Ed to Mark and while I’ve enjoyed it all, I still haven’t figured this guy out. Maybe it’s because he represents two very seminal points in my personal comic-book discovery timeline. Maybe it’s because he’s a character that never seems to really know who to be or who to save or who to love. Or maybe it’s because Gene Colan crossed my wires and rattled my bones.
One thing I do know for certain. While not all of those early issues were literary classics and I stayed on the fence regarding just what kind of hero Daredevil was, I always kept him within arm’s reach on those lazy Twilight Zone afternoons.
Because those afternoons filled me to the brim with fear. And Matt Murdock wasn’t just another cosmic hero, conquering his own fear. He was a man without it.