Comic book artist Mike Machlan passed away earlier this month. Machlan’s career in comic books lasted from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. He worked primarily as an inker, although he did do the occasional penciling job. His art had a fun quality to it.
Brian Cronin at CBR has already put together an in-depth obituary of Machlan. So here on my blog I’m going to present several examples of Machlan’s work that I feel demonstrate his skills as an artist.
Machlan was a longtime friend of fellow artist Jerry Ordway. They were both from Wisconsin, and the two had met in the mid 1970s when they were working on fanzines and self-published comic books. Ordway broke into professional comic books first, and one of his earliest regular assignments was doing inks / finishes on All-Star Squadron. Written by Roy Thomas, All-Star Squadron featured the Justice Society and their numerous costumed allies fighting against the Axis powers during World War II.
Ordway assumed the penciling chores on All-Star Squadron with issue #19, and two months later on issue #21 (cover-dated May 1983) Machlan had joined him as the series’ inker. The two worked very well together, as can be seen by this superb splash of Batman page from All-Star Squadron #24 which evokes the character’s Golden Age origins.
Roy Thomas and his wife Dann devised a spin-off for All-Star Squadron. Set in the then-present of the early 1980s, Infinity Inc. would feature the sons, daughters & other successors of the JSA on Earth-Two. Other than the already-existing Power Girl and Huntress, the members of Infinity Inc. were new characters devised by Roy & Dann Thomas, Mike Machlan & Jerry Ordway. Machlan and Ordway worked closely together to design the visuals of the team members.
As Ordway recounted in Modern Masters Volume 13: Jerry Ordway, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in 2007:
“I think Jade and Obsidian were the two characters that were closest to me and to Mike, because we really had the most input on them. And there was some stuff that Mike did on his own. I don’t think I went over every one of those things, and he turned out a lot of sketches. He turned out Mr. Bones, a new Hourman, and a male version of Harlequin.”
Above is the double page promo piece by Machlan & Ordway that ran in All-Star Squadron #28 to promote the upcoming series.
The initial plan was for Machlan to pencil Infinity Inc. with Ordway inking him. However, at the last minute the two artists switched roles, with Ordway penciling and Machlan inking.
Machlan did still get to pencil a few of the Infinity Inc. covers, which Ordway inked. Machlan also did the full artwork for a number of profile images of the various team members, which were published throughout the series’ run.
Continuing his account of Infinity Inc’s origins, Ordway explained:
“But then you had Fury, and then finally Silver Scarab. And I think Fury and Silver Scarab are pure Mike Machlan-channeling-Kirby kind of designs.”
Above is Machlan’s profile pic of Silver Scarab, one of the characters on which he was primary designer, which appeared in Infinity Inc. #9.
Ordway and Machlan both departed from Infinity Inc. after the series’ first year. Machlan went on to ink Chuck Patton and George Tuska on Justice League of America, and Rafael Kayanan on The Fury of Firestorm, as well as doing a few inking jobs for First Comics.
Machlan began working for Marvel Comics in 1987, providing finishes over Al Milgrom’s layouts on West Coast Avengers beginning with issue #24. I felt Milgrom & Machlan made a solid team. One of the best examples of their collaboration was West Coast Avengers #29. “Death Run” features Moon Knight on a single-minded pursuit of Taurus, head of the Zodiac crime cartel. Machlan’s finishes really helped to enhance the intense, moody tone of writer Steve Englehart’s story.
The anthology series Marvel Fanfare that Milgrom edited frequently featured pin-up galleries that spotlighted the work of different artists. Milgrom especially enjoyed giving artists who were best known as inkers the opportunity to contribute pin-ups, enabling them to demonstrate their penciling abilities.
Marvel Fanfare #41 had a gallery of Mike Machlan pin-ups which featured various characters & events from the Silver Age. A different artist inked each piece. In an interesting reversal of their roles on West Coast Avengers, Machlan was inked by Milgrom on the pin-up of Captain America and his rogues gallery.
In 1989 John Byrne became the writer / artist on West Coast Avengers, and the series was soon re-titled Avengers West Coast in a move to make sure the book would be stocked on the shelves right next to the main Avengers series, hopefully increasing sales.
Machlan remained on Avengers West Coast for several issues, inking Byrne’s pencils. Once again, I felt Machlan did a good job, complementing Byrne’s work. Above is a page from Avengers West Coast #50 featuring the continuity-shattering meeting of the Vision and the original android Human Torch.
Machlan hopped over to Amazing Spider-Man in 1990, where he was paired with penciler Erik Larsen. I’m a huge fan of Larsen’s work, and I like the quality that Machlan brought to the finished art in those days before Larsen did his own inking. Machlan remained on Amazing Spider-Man for about a year.
Following this, Machlan worked on another Spider-Man project. Once again paired with Al Milgrom, he inked the four issue Deadly Foes of Spider-Man series in 1991.
Machlan also began working for DC Comics again in the early 1990s. His main assignment saw him return to the heroes of the Golden Age with the all-too short-lived Justice Society of America series that ran for 10 issues between August 1992 and May 1993. I recently blogged about this great, underrated series. Machlan was a good match for series penciler Mike Parobeck.
The mid-1990s saw a major downturn when the inflated speculator bubble finally burst. Machlan, like a number of other comic book professionals, departed the industry to find work elsewhere.
While no longer working for any of the major publishers, in recent years Machlan did commission work for private collectors. He did several great pieces for fans Michael Dunne and “Marvel Two-in-One Guy” which can be seen on Comic Art Fans.
Although Machlan’s career in comic books only lasted about a decade and a half, he did really good, quality work during that time. Many fans, myself included, fondly recall his art, and were saddened by the news of his death.