Comic book artist Gil Kane died January 31 of complications from cancer. He was 74 years old.
Born in Latvia in 1926, Kane was best known for creating the space-age look of DC Comics' "Silver Age" superhero Green Lantern. His comic book career spanned six decades and at least as many publishers.
Writer Mark Waid once said that Kane's drawing style "has come to stand as the textbook definition of dynamic drawing."
Constructing a legend
The Silver Age of comics began in 1956 with the re-imagining of various superheroes from the Golden Age of the 1940s. In 1959, Kane teamed with writer John Broome to bring one of these "new" heroes -- "Green Lantern" -- to life.
During these recreations, only the characters' names stayed the same. Everything else -- costumes, locales, secret identities -- went out the window.
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Original Green Lantern Alan Scott was an engineer who battled evildoers with a ring powered by a mystical lantern. By contrast, Broome and Kane presented fearless test pilot Hal Jordan, whose ring drew energy from an extraterrestrial power source.
The inspiration for the new character came from DC editor Julius Schwartz, a lifelong science fiction fan.
Drawing from the pulps, Schwartz made the new Green Lantern a direct thematic descendant of E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen.
Hal Jordan was part of a corps of space cops -- bearers of the most powerful weapons in the universe -- who worked for the omnipotent, inscrutable Guardians of the Universe.
Superheroes in the age of Sputnik
Though rooted in space opera, this Green Lantern was a product of 1950s America. Hal Jordan went to the stars in October 1959, more than two years before John Glenn made history in Friendship 7.
Casting the new hero as a test pilot reflected America's growing obsession with space. Since the first U.S. astronauts came from the test pilot ranks, Jordan represented an idealized version of these real-world space pioneers.
His chief heroic attribute was absolute fearlessness, and Kane's depictions captured that spirit in all its red-blooded, square-jawed glory.
People are people, even when they're fish
Otherworldly situations are a superhero's stock in trade. In Hal Jordan, Kane depicted a hero who was at home no matter what the universe decided to throw his way.
His art provided the readers with dynamic images that did the work of their mind's eye for them. His figures were lithe, constantly in motion and active, rather than muscle-bound.
Though he worked on an interstellar canvas, Kane never lost sight of the essential humanity of the stories he illustrated. He created enough out-of-this-world creatures to fill a B-movie menagerie, but he could make goldfish-headed aliens seem as familiar as Hal's friends and co-workers back on Earth.
A craftsman to the end
Of his best known artistic achievement, Kane once wrote, "it was during the run of Green Lantern that I first began to apply myself to the idea of craft. The strips became a basis for self-development and the beginning of a mature professional identity."
That maturity brought Kane renown within the community of comics fans and creators. It also afforded him the opportunity to draw stories ranging from the crime-fighting and world-saving adventures of Superman and Captain Marvel (for Marvel Comics) to a comics-adaptation of The Ring of the Nibelung.
He continued working in comics until his death. Fittingly, one of his final works -- slated for publication in March -- is a Green Lantern story.
Kane is survived by his wife Elaine.
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