Friday, June 24, 2011

"Night (Force) & Day" - Rob Kelly

I mentioned in one of my very first Hey Kids! posts that one of the more under-appreciated thrills of reading comics back when I was a kid was the uncertainty of what you'd find.

To people who have only ever bought their comics via comic shops, the whole idea of not knowing what books would be carried must seem annoying at best, most likely Completely Unacceptable. But that's what kids my age (and older) put up with--no matter how many different newsstands, candy stores, and supermarkets you got your comics at, no one place carried every title you wanted to read.

Even then, there was a more than decent chance that you'd miss an issue--and Lord help you if you turned to one of the clerks who worked there for help: there were much better ways for Pops or Gramps or whomever to earn fifty cents; no way was he going to go look in the back to see if he had any more of DC Two-In-One or whatever ("But that's not the name of...")

But, despite all that, there was the sheer fun, the joy of discovery, when you suddenly saw a book you had never come across before. Amid all your old friends (Superman, Spider-Man, Archie, Casper, etc.), here was something brand-new, unexplored...maybe even a little dangerous?

For me, one of those times was in 1982, when I was comics shopping at one of the many grubby newsstands that populated the area surrounding Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pennsylvania mountain area known as the Poconos. My parents and I vacationed there every year, the same time (two weeks in mid-August), and one of the great parts about the trip was how I would gorge myself on comics...bringing them back to the house, sitting on the porch that looked out over the lake, glass of (fill-in name of sugary beverage I was addicted to that week) at my side, became one of my all-time favorite vacation rituals.

Living via an allowance-based economy, I tended to stick to the books I knew I loved: Justice League of America, Brave and the Bold, Batman, Star Wars, The Incredible Hulk, All-Star Squadron. But in those days at the lake, I sometimes was handed a little more scratch to take care of my comics itch.

It was one of those days when, while scanning the racks of yet another gas station/newsstand rest stop, I saw this:
Night Force? What the heck is Night Force?!?

I had never seen this book before, but the cover leaped off the stands at me: the superb layout, the mysterious, shadowy figures, the eye-popping colors (magenta?!?). I simply had to buy it.

And buy it I did. I brought it home, and slotted it at the bottom of my pile, lest the book not live up to its captivating cover. As I worked my way through the books (the JLA, the JSA, and the All-Star Squadron vs. Per Degaton, Part 3!, Batman vs. The Joker again, hey, cool cover on this month's World's Finest) I started to grow almost...scared at what I was about to find inside the covers of this Night Force book. I mean, did you see that cover?

I made sure to read the book while it was still daylight out. Since our cabin was somewhat remote, and we had no real communication with the outside world other than a radio (not even a phone), the idea of reading this book while the nearby bats flew and crickets chirped was just a little too much for me to bear.

I would love to say that, after reading the story therein ("Eyes"), I became a rabid Night Force fan, quickly adding the book to my mental "must buy" list, but that's not what happened. No...actually, I found myself a little disappointed and confused: Marv Wolfman's story (of which this was but a chapter) was just a little too much for my then 11-year-old mind, weaned as I was on more traditional superhero fisticuffs. Night Force's moody character-driven story just didn't click with me.

But I never, never forgot the art, by Gene Colan. I was of course familiar with the man's work, having seen it in numerous other DC and Marvel books. But here, with its unfamiliar characters and setting, the art seemed to take on a whole other feeling, one of mystery and dread. This book didn't seem to exist in the traditional DC Universe, and that meant all bets were off: anything could happen, and the only thing I could be sure about was that the JLA was not going to show up to make everything okay.

And so while Night Force, as a comic, didn't quite live up to the hype I built up in my mind during the five or six-mile drive back to the cabin, the art, and especially the cover, lodged itself into my brain, and never left. And even though I eventually got rid of almost all my comics once I went to college, I held on to this one. I still have it to this day.

I thought of this book when I heard the sad news that Gene Colan had passed away today. I never met Mr. Colan, never had the chance to shove this book in his face at a con and babble about how much it meant to me. And while a billion other comic book images have come and gone, this one took up permanent residence in the part of my brain...the part that gets just a little bit scared when night falls. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thank you, Gene Colan.


images2icons said...

Nice memorial Rob! Thanks. When I saw your post I laughed Because I had Night Force #1 sitting right on my desk at the time.

Posted the pic to your FB to show you lol!

Again good memorial, I don't know if there can be enough good things said about him without sounding cliche' he was just a Super Guy, and I am glad he is no longer suffering. Heaven just got a little more artistic.

LOL! as I am typing this I just noticed the word verification, its "peess" lol!

McNabb said...

Back in 1982, I saw an advertisement for the Joe Kubert School in the back of a Night Force comic. Call it life changing would be a too simple of a statement. It redirected my career and relocated me to the east coast. Being a fan of Gene Colan art and storytelling has inspired me over half my life.

Mark McNabb

Rick said...

Sorry to hear of his passing. He was one of my favorite artist. I loved his Daredevil work. Nice memory. I too had some Night Force comics. I was a little older then you when I bought them but like you I still couldn't get into it. The art was great. If you love Gene's art in color then you would love it in black and white. He is one of the few artist who looks even better in black and white. You feel like you are reading a graphic novel of an old 1940's movie.

rob! said...

Thanks for the comments guys!

CC--Now that Colan is hanging with Kirby, Eisner, and Kane, they're working on the best jam comic EVER!

Boss--Me, too--I remember first hearing about the Kubert School in 82 as well. Little did I know, in seven short years...

Rick--I eventually loved Night Force; but as a kid I just didn't get it. Kinda ashamed...

TJ Ligammare said...

Night Force is one of my all time favorites. I was 12 in 1982 and actually had a subscription to this book. I was devastated when my issue #14 arrived. There on the cover in a big banner read "FINAL ISSUE" and a letter accompanied it apologizing for the abrupt cancellation and offering a list of books to choose from to finish out my subscription. I still read the full run occasionally, and I still chase that feeling of elation when my new issue arrived. Nothing ever compared. Thanks Gene.