Carmine Infantino, 1925-2013

Carmine Infantino

Like many comic-book fans of my generation, I was initially exposed to the late Carmine Infantino’s work through Batman, Flash and Adam Strange reprints DC published as back-up features in the early 1970s.

hateofthehoodedhangmanStories like “Hate Of The Hooded Hangman” introduced me to an artist whose work looked modern no matter how long ago it had been published.

At this point in my fanboy evolution, I had taken an interest in the creators behind my favorite heroes.  I looked through my DC collection for other pieces by Infantino and discovered the artist had become the company’s publisher.

I was 10 years old and didn’t really know any better, so I sent a letter to Infantino pitching my Batman knock-off, “Night Man,” as DC’s newest superstar. (Not the most original concept, I admit, but at least my character beat Steve Englehart to the name by 20 years!)

As you might expect, Night Man – and his teen sidekick, “Kid Comet” (!)  – weren’t destined for stardom. However, I did receive a kind letter from Infantino that let me down easily and encouraged I continued honing my craft.

(Sadly, I later learned there was little craft to hone. But that’s another story …)

27767Even though I stupidly lost Infantino’s letter, I always remembered his words fondly and followed the artist’s career after he moved to Marvel and drew such faves as Spider-Woman, Nova and Star Wars. He also returned to The Flash in time for Cary Bates and DC to wrap up the character that jump-started the Silver Age in the first place.

(Like many other seemingly unalterable deaths, Barry Allen eventually got better. Again, that’s a different story.)

The greatest compliment I can pay Infantino is that his best work – which spanned decades – still stands up today.

A good summation of Infantino’s legendary career can be found here. As for this very small corner of the comics-o-sphere, I’d like to pay tribute to his work by posting several stories from Infantino’s bibliography.

Like many of his contemporaries, Infantino was greatly influenced by the work of Milton Caniff. The following tale, which was originally published in 1947, shows that Infantino had already mastered Caniff’s trick of mixing aesthetically pleasing art with gritty, he-man action.

The story, entitled “Mr. Bedlam Hires A Killer,” first appeared in Airboy Comics Vol. 4 #3 (Hillman, April 1947). The hero of the tale, “Rackman,” can best be thought of as Marvel’s Stilt-Man re-imagined as a hard-boiled P.I.

The art is by Infantino and Bernard Sachs.

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Our second story demonstrates how far Infantino’s skill had progressed in the span of two years. His slicker style proved a good match for the romance genre, as shown in this tale from Hollywood Confessions #2 (St. John, 1949). “The Scandal I Had To Confess” was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Infantino.

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Carmine Infantino is best known, of course, for his long tenure at DC Comics. Here’s a story featuring the Golden Age Flash. Although Infantino’s art  – and John Broome’s story – are more sophisticated than most super-hero stories of the era, “The Rival Flash” marked the final issue of Flash Comics until the “Flash” concept was revamped and redesigned by Infantino, Broome and Robert Kanigher seven years later.

The resulting character, Barry Allen, proved popular enough to jump-start the Silver Age of super-hero comics. The boom in sales also led to the revival of the Jay Garrick Flash as well, bringing everything full circle.

From Flash Comics Vol. 1, #104 (DC Comics, February 1949), here’s “The Rival Flash” by Broome, Infantino and Sachs.

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When Infantino returned to active freelance work, his style had grown looser but remained vivid. Here’s a story from his tenure at Warren Publications that also demonstrates his long mastery of the sci-fi genre.

“Stand-In,” written by Bruce Jones and inked by Dick Giordano, is primarily about cheating death. Through his lifelong contributions to the comic book industry and its fans, Infantino has achieved an immortality of his own.

The story originally appeared in Vampirella #57 (Warren, January 1977).

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My deepest condolences to Mr. Infantino’s family, friends and fans.

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Love Stinks

The “happily ever after” moment in today’s story doesn’t feel particularly earned, especially when you consider the degree of deceit and narcissism the protagonist displays up until the final panel. Perhaps she’s supposed to be seen as an anti-hero, like Walter White in Breaking Bad or Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries.

At any rate, the excellently titled “Wild Desires Made Me Love Blind” owes most of it’s success to some typically gorgeous art by Matt Baker.

The story was written by Dana Dutch and originally appeared in Teen-Age Romances #12 (St. John Publications, October 1950).

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Don is either very kind or very stupid.

“Wild Desire” also inspired Matt Baker’s cover image for the issue …

I have to admit that Kevin guy certainly surrounded himself with a group of attractive research scientists!

Remembering Joe Kubert

Like many comic-book fans, I was greatly saddened to hear that Joe Kubert passed away today at the age of 85. He was truly one of the medium’s greatest talents, easily standing alongside the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Jack Cole and any other legend one would care to mention.

I first encountered his work through DC’s Bronze Age war titles like Sgt. Rock and Blitzkrieg, but soon discovered his equally revelatory stints on the Golden- and Silver-Age Hawkman via reprints. Every so often, I’d run across a Viking Prince back-up or a Ragman cover and further marvel at the man’s ability to draw a striking and exciting comic.

Those traits would even translate to his earliest, more primitive Golden-Age efforts.

I’ll leave the biographical details and emotional tributes to those who had the pleasure to know and work with Kubert. For now, let’s just remember the man through his astounding body of work.

From Cat-Man Comics #10 (Holyoke, May 1942), here’s an example of early Kubert art starring the electrical super-hero known as Volton!

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By the time a few years had passed, Kubert’s style progressed considerably. The difference can readily be seen in this Hawkman feature that was first printed in a “Wheaties Miniature Edition” of Flash Comics (DC Comics, April 1946). “The Scavenger Of The Skies” was written by Gardner Fox.

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In the 1950s, Joe Kubert became managing editor of the small St. John imprint, which had already published some of the better comics of the era despite its relative obscurity to such titans as DC.

Kubert created one of his most enduring characters at St. John: Tor. As it was obviously a labor of love, the artist would revive the character several times in subsequent years for a variety of publishers.

Here is Tor’s first appearance in One Million Years Ago #1 (St. John, September 1953). The story is written and drawn by Joe Kubert. Note how his art has essentially evolved to what we recognize today as the classic Kubert style.

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My sincerest condolences to Joe Kubert’s family, friends and fans. He will definitely be missed.

Fun House

Although the idea of three actors impersonating The Three Stooges in a big-screen, big-budget Farrelly Brothers comedy sounds less than promising, I’m sure the original trio (quartet if you count Shemp Howard as an official Stooge, which I do …OK Curly purists ?!?! ) wouldn’t disapprove of the effort to extend the “brand” into the new millennium.

After all, Moe Howard and Larry Fine kept the act going as long as they could by plugging in names like Joe Besser and Joe DeRita after the untimely deaths of the remaining Howard brothers. As true veterans of Vaudeville, they would probably be pleased to know  “the show goes on” even years after they passed beyond the mortal coil.

(Doesn’t mean the new movie will be any good, but still …)

During his lifetime, Moe Howard licensed the Stooges name for a wide variety of merchandise that provided income for the act even after the comedians themselves were no longer able to perform their famed brand of no-holds-barred slapstick. Such merchandise included comic books that were published by many companies over the years, like St. John Publications and Gold Key.

The comics were often written and drawn by Norman Mauer, brother of St. John editor Leonard Mauer and – more importantly – husband of Joan Howard, Moe’s daughter. Mauer’s association with the Stooges ensured the comics were of high quality and his artwork – which appeared to be influenced by Don DeCarlo and Will Elder – fit the tone of the humor quite nicely.

From Three Stooges #4 (St. John, March 1954), here’s Moe, Larry and Shemp in “Up An’ Atom.” It is written and drawn by Norman Mauer.

Obsession For Men

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Let’s wrap up Valentine’s Day with a classic romance comic that turns the formula on its head: This time, it’s the man who impulsively throws away a chance at true happiness while the spurned woman remains calm and resolute.

The story, entitled “Success Or Else,” is taken from Hollywood Confessions #2 (St. John, December 1949). It was drawn by a talented young buck named Joe Kubert. I wonder whatever happened to him?

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Soul Power

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One of my favorite Golden Age artists, Bob Powell, vividly brings the following Dickensian tale to life.

“The Soul Of Benjamin Sprague” originally appeared in Weird Thrillers #3 (Ziff-Davis, Spring 1952), but these particular scans are taken from a reprint published two years later in Nightmare #13 (St.John Publications, August 1954).

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Rocketman Vs. Zip-Jet

Rocketman and Rocketgirl debuted in Scoop Comics #1 (Harry A. Chesler Comics, November 1941) and enjoyed a fairly healthy career as B-List heroes for a B-List publisher.

However, as fans of The Rocketeer well know, super-heroes sporting jet packs never truly go out of fashion. In the early ‘50s, St. John Publications – a publishing house known for just about everything but super-hero comics – repackaged Chesler’s Rocketman stories as the adventures of “Zip-Jet,” supersonic enemy of evil.

The heroes’ costumes were recolored yellow and the stories were re-written to provide more clarity than the hastily produced originals.

Unfortunately, St. John’s stab at the super-hero market wasn’t successful. Zip-Jet only lasted two issues.

(However, Rocketman and Rocketgirl – this time re-named Jet Girl – did find new life decades later under the AC Comics umbrella. AC head honcho Bill Black has never met a public domain character he didn’t like.)

For the sake of comparison, here is one of Rocketman’s Chesler adventures followed by the St. John Zip-Jet version. Personally, I consider the original “Rocketman” and “Rocketgirl” monikers far superior to “Zip-Jet” and “Pat.”

The rewritten stories and recolored costumes published by St. John are admittedly much snappier, though.

Decide for yourself!

From Punch Comics #11 (Harry A. Chesler Comics, November 1944), here’s an untitled Rocketman adventure drawn by Ruben Moreira.

And now, from Zip-Jet #1 (St. John Publications, February 1953), here’s “Death Stalks The Show.”