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Carmine Infantino, who helped save superhero comics, dead at 87

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Apr 4, 2013, 8:58 PM EDT

The greatest penciller of all time is no longer with us. He was 87.

It's easy to forget that superheroes were not always the taste du jour.  Nowadays, capes and tights are synonymous with comic books, but it wasn't always that way. Who pulled the great titans of comics from the brink? There were a few folks responsible, but one of the first names that springs to mind is Carmine Infantino.

Infantino, a kid from Brooklyn, was destined for comics. In his teens he inked his first comic with Timely Comics, a story called Jack Frost that appeared in USA Comics #3. And while his father forced him to stay in school, funny books were already in Infantino's blood and there to stay.

He cut his teeth at Fawcett Comics and Holyoke Publishing before arriving at DC. Once there, he introduced Black Canary and deftly brought classics like the Flash, Green Lantern and the Justice Society of America to life.

But that was the 1940s -- comics' Golden Age. Hard times were ahead. Superheroes fell out of favor, and soon it was horror, war and crime stories on the stands instead. Notably during this time, Infantino freelanced for Joe Simon and, more importantly, Jack Kirby.

Then came the accusations that comics made their readers violent, that the medium had turned obscene. The Comics Code Authority nearly killed comics stone dead. But that was the moment that superheroes rose from the ashes like a phoenix. And it wouldn't have happened without the dynamic covers of Infantino.

In October of 1956, Showcase #4 hit the stands with a brand-new Flash. The cover? It was Carmine's. And what a beaut. The fastest man alive looked like he might fly right off the page. It was a defining moment that changed comics forever, and it heralded the beginning of the Silver Age.

Infantino drew covers that became synonymous with the characters they portrayed. Barbara Gordon's first appearance as Batgirl had art from Infantino grace its cover. Carmine famously turned down Stan Lee and, rather than jump to Marvel, stayed true blue with DC and became their editorial director for a time. Most notably, Carmine inked the deal that brought Jack Kirby to DC, where he crafted his legendary Fourth World titles, OMAC, Kamandi, The Demon and more.

So when you see people talking about Carmine Infantino on Facebook and Twitter today and how their hearts are broken, how his Flash is the their Flash, how he defined what heroes are for them, that is the reason why it's such a big deal. That is his legacy. Because, you see, he saved comic books, and, in that way, he saved so many of us, too. And for that we are all eternally grateful.