One of the giants of the Silver Age of Comics passed away last week and I'm a little late in posting these comments on the life and work of Carmine Infantino.
He was without a doubt one of the greatest comic book artists of his generation and he was certainly one of my favorites. His work at DC in the late '50s and early '60s helped usher in the Silver Age, especially his Atomic Age re-imagining of The Flash in SHOWCASE #4. For kids of my generation, Infantino was the "good Flash artist", just as Carl Barks was the "good duck artist" and Joe Kubert the "good war artist".
If Infantino had only drawn the adventures of the Scarlet Speedster, his place in comic book history would be assured. But Infantino drew much more than the Flash. He drew the science fiction/sports mash-up series STRANGE SPORTS STORIES, he ushered in the famous "New Look" in BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS, he drew the Elongated Man back-up feature in the pages of FLASH, hell, he even drew the delightfully wacky DETECTIVE CHIMP series.
In the late '60s, Infantino became first the art/editorial director at DC before eventually assuming the role of publisher. He brought much fresh, new talent (writers and artists) to DC and started a number of new titles in an attempt to compete with the hugely popular and best-selling Marvel Comics. Many of these innovative new titles, characters and concepts were tragically short-lived as books were canceled left and right based on early (and incomplete) sales numbers. If some of these titles had been given a chance to find an audience, who knows what wonders we might have seen. Still, he was instrumental in bringing such legendary creators as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby from Marvel to DC and giving them much creative free reign. Thanks for that Carmine.
Infantino was eventually ousted as publisher at DC and he resumed drawing comics, finding work at both Warren and Marvel. He did some great black-and-white work for Warren and a superb run on the Marvel STAR WARS licensed comic. Over time, Infantino's style became looser and not as highly stylized as his earlier work but it was still fun to look at it and I always enjoyed reading anything drawn by him.
Of all of the many characters Infantino illustrated, my personal favorite was Adam Strange in the pages of MYSTERY IN SPACE. I was too young to know much about Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon (except for their names) so the adventures of earth archaeologist Adam Strange on the planet Rann seemed fresh and new to me. It was my first exposure to the concept of an earthling being semi-magically transported to an alien world (see Edgar Rice Burroughs's JOHN CARTER OF MARS) and I loved every page of Strange's adventures.
The Zeta beam would strike the earth every month at some remote location and Strange would arrange to be there. The beam would instantly whisk him to Rann where his true love, the gorgeous Alanna awaited him (along with her scientist father Sardath). Every time Strange arrived on Rann, there was some fearsome menace on the rampage that the Rannians, despite their super-science, were unable to overcome. It was up to Strange, using a blaster, a jet pack and his brain to defeat the threat and save the planet before the effects of the Zeta beam wore off and he was transported back to earth. Both he and Alanna would anxiously count the days until they could be re-united.
Looking back at the series, it's very formulaic but the stories are still fun to read and Infantino was at his absolute best illustrating the wonders of this far-off planet. Sleek, futuristic cityscapes, a jet-pack flying hero, a beautiful woman, a bizarre alien menace, these were all things that Carmine Infantino was born to draw and he did so in a way that thrilled me as a kid and still gives me a kick as an adult.
Rest in peace good man and thanks so very much for the memories.