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DC Comics luminary Carmine Infantino dead at 87

| April 4, 2013 | Reply
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Covers of Showcase

Two of artist Carmine Infantino’s most important comics: Showcase No. 4 (October 1956) introduced a reimagined version of the Flash and began the Silver Age of comics, while The Flash No. 123 (September 1961) featured both the Golden and Silver Age Flash characters in the same story — the first use of the “DC Multiverse” parallel universe concept which would become a major plot device for DC Comics in the coming decades. (Images © DC Comics via Grand Comics Database/CC BY 3.0)

Carmine Infantino poses for a photo at the Big Apple Comic Con on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 at Manhattan's Penn Plaza Pavilion in New York City. (Photo © 2010 Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0)

Carmine Infantino poses during the Big Apple Comic Con on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 at Manhattan’s Penn Plaza Pavilion in New York City. Infantino, 87, died April 4, 2013. (Photo © 2010 Luigi Novi/CC BY 3.0)

Legendary comic book artist and editor Carmine Infantino died April 4, 2013 at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.

Infantino’s passing probably won’t make many headlines outside the comics trade press, especially since he died the same day as Roger Ebert. I might not have heard about it for months or even years myself if not for a Facebook post today by artist George Pérez, but Infantino was a key figure in the 1960s revival of the superhero genre which came to be known as the Silver Age of comics.

“Carmine Infantino was one of the great influential artists in the history of the medium and I will always look upon his Adam Strange, Flash and Space Museum stories as wondrous examples of fantasy made even more magical at the hands of a master,” Pérez wrote.

As an artist, Infantino was best known for his pencils — a Comics Buyer’s Guide “millennium poll” named him among the best pencillers of all time — but the Brooklyn native’s first published work was inking Frank Giacoia’s pencils for a Jack Frost feature in USA Comics No. 3, published in January 1942 by Marvel predecessor Timely Comics. (In a special twist of irony, Giacoia went on to become primarily an inker.)

Captain America co-creator Joe Simon was Timely Comics’ editor and offered Infantino a staff position based on the strength of that one story, but the teenager’s father wouldn’t let him quit high school to take the job.  “I can’t love the man enough for that,” Infantino wrote in his 2000 memoir, The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino: An Autobiography.

Infantino’s greatest claim to comics fame came at DC Comics where he was instrumental in creating a new version of the Flash. Originally the alter ego of college student Jay Garrick, the Flash had been a popular Golden Age character from 1940 to 1949 — when Flash Comics was cancelled after 104 issues and superheroes began to fall by the wayside.

DC editor Julius “Julie” Schwartz decided to give superheroes another try by reviving dormant Golden Age characters and Infantino was the artist charged with reimagining the Flash in 1956. This new Flash became the alter ego of Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained super-speed powers when doused with chemicals struck by lightning in a laboratory accident.

Infantino is credited with co-creating the Barry Allen iteration of the Flash, including designing the character’s iconic scarlet-and-yellow uniform with trademark lightning bolt logo. This new Flash first appeared in Showcase No. 4 (October 1956), an issue which became a comics landmark by effectively reviving the popularity of the superhero genre and ushering in the Silver Age of comic books.

Infantino went on to become editorial director for the entire DC Comics line in 1967 and recruited Marvel heavyweight Jack Kirby to DC in 1971 — a major coup at the time. He became DC publisher and president the same year, holding the company’s top spot until 1976 when Warner Communications (DC’s parent company at the time) replaced him with the 28-year-old Jenette Kahn, a Harvard art history graduate with no comics industry experience but a successful background in children’s magazine publishing.

Infantino made some big changes during his time running DC, including promoting more artists to editor positions. “It is difficult to impress upon people how much DC changed in a short space of time,” said writer and comics historian Mark Evanier

Infantino left indelible marks on DC’s Batman and Superman franchises, among others. He consulted on the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies and personally approved Reeve’s casting in the title role of 1978’s landmark Superman motion picture.

Infantino’s overhaul of Batman led to the creation of the 1966 Batman television series starring Adam West. He also created the Batmobile design used in the TV series as well as the characters of Batgirl and Poison Ivy, according to a federal copyright infringement lawsuit he filed against DC Comics, Warner Bros. and Time Warner in 2004. The suit was settled a few months later; to my knowledge, terms of the settlement have never been disclosed.

It’s not uncommon for comic book creators to become embroiled in legal battles with publishers over copyright ownership of their work, especially Golden and Silver Age creators who worked during a less litigious time when verbal agreements were common (and before the Copyright Act of 1976 established modern work-for-hire standards).

“My take, for what it’s worth, is that as fine as Infantino was at designing covers and positioning creative folks to do good work, he lacked certain business skills that were essential to his job description,” Evanier said.

After his ouster from DC, Infantino eventually returned to being a freelance artist, finding work with Warren Publishing, Marvel and others. He resumed drawing for DC in 1981, including a return to The Flash with issue No. 296 (April 1981). He also taught college art courses at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts until retiring sometime in the 1990s.

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