This week, I asked my local comic book shop owner if he knew that Carmine Infantino had died on Thursday, April 4th.
He didn't even know who Carmine Infantino was.
As I approach my 60th birthday in September, it amazes me sometimes how little comic book fans know about the industry's history.
Infantino could be said to have helped create comic books' Silver Age.
I found I had to explain that, too.
After World War II, super-heroes began to disappear from comic books. The greatest villain of all, Adolf Hitler, was dead, his armies defeated. It seemed as if the heroes weren't needed any more. In their place, publishers turned their attention to crime, horror, romance, funny animals, anything but super-heroes. By 1950, the only heroes still going were DC's Big Three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and the original Captain Marvel -- and DC would see to it that HE was gone by 1954.
The focus on crime and horror comics caused problems. Parents groups and child psychologists blamed comic books for the rise in juvenile delinquency. Most notably, Dr. Frederic Wertham's book "Seduction of the Innocent" went at comic books in a major way. (Wertham's reasoning worked as follows: All juvenile delinquents he interviewed read comic books, therefore comic books must cause juveline delinquency. He ignored that, at this time, 95% of kids in America read comic books. If all of them had become juveline delinquents, we probably would be a smoking ruin by now.) Eventually, the Comics Code Authority was created. With the exception of Dell Comics, which were deemed fairly innocuous by all but the most avid comic-book critics, no comic book without Code approval could find room on newsstands.
Not long after this, DC began bringing back their super-heroes -- sort of. These would be new heroes with old names. One of them, the Barry Allen Flash, appeared in "Showcase" No. 4. He was written by John Broome, with Infantino drawing the strip. Infantino also drew a number of science-fiction stories for DC under the aegis of editor Julius "Julie" Schwartz, who was edited the new Flash stories. It was during this time that Infantino drew the "heroic" science-fiction strip Adam Strange for "Mystery in Space."
But there's one major thing that most of the obituaries for Infantino (when they ran -- I wouldn't have known about it had NPR's "All Things Considered" not run a story about Infantino) ignored -- he saved Batman!
It will sound unbelievable today, but, in the early 1960s, Batman was nearly canceled! His editor at this time believed the way for Batman to succeed was for him to imitate Superman. Where Superman had Krypto the Super-Dog, Batman had Ace the Bat-Hound. Where Superman had Lois Lane, Batman had Vicki Vale. Where Superman had Mr. Mxyzptlk, Batman had Bat-Mite. And, frequently, Batman and Robin found themselves bizarrely transformed and fighting aliens! (One Batman story had him meeting a lawman from Mars. This may have led to the creation of Jonn Jonzz, the Martian Manhunter, who was the back-up feature to Batman in "Detective Comics.") The fans didn't like this version of Batman, and sales dropped.
In 1964, Julie Schwartz was made editor of the Batman titles and he brought Broome and Infantino to try to save Batman as they had revived Flash. Changes were made. It was at this time that the yellow oval behind the bat on Batman's costume appeared. Instead of the stairs behind the clock, Bruce and Dick took an elevator to the Bat-Cave. A telephone acting as a hotline with police headquarters was installed. (In the letters columns it was explained that Superman helped with this and many other parts of the Bat-Cave.) And, in "Detective Comics" No. 328, the second issue of that title done by the new team, Alfred was killed! In his place, Aunt Harriet, who didn't know Bruce and Dick's secret, was brought in. (This was probably done to combat allegations from critics that Batman and Robin were gay -- something unthinkable at the time.) The fans didn't like Alfred dying very much, and he was resurrected in "Detective" No. 36. Also, at this time, the Adam West "Batman" TV series was in the works, and the producers wanted Alfred back, too.
What I'm trying to say is, the comic book industry in general and Batman in particular might not be around had it not been for Infantino. His later work (after he was DC's Editorial Director and then Publisher) might not've lived up to the standards of his glory days. But he still had those glory days.
If you've got a library with a decent section on comics, check it out. You should be able to find some of Infantino's work. You owe it to him and yourself, if you like comic books, to know what he did for the medium.