Carmine Infantino; DC Comics artist saved superheroes

Carmine Infantino combined comic-book art with a touch of midcentury modernism.
1958 file/Marc Witz from The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino
Carmine Infantino combined comic-book art with a touch of midcentury modernism.

NEW YORK — Carmine Infantino — the man who SAVED BATMAN! — died April 4 at his home in New York. Mr. Infantino, a celebrated comic-book artist who also drew the Flash, was 87.

His agent, J. David Spurlock, confirmed the death.

Mr. Infantino’s dynamic, avant-garde aesthetic helped usher in the ‘‘silver age’’ of comic books, which held sway from the mid-1950s to about 1970. He was known in particular for his long association with DC Comics, where he began as an artist, became an editor, and was later the publisher.


Sleek and streamlined, Mr. Infantino’s work married comic-book art — formerly busier and baggier — to midcentury modernism. He was considered one of the industry’s finest pencilers, as the artist who first gives a story visual form is known. (An inker follows behind, filling in the penciler’s lines.)

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As a cover artist Mr. Infantino was a master of motion, and on each of the blizzard of covers he drew for DC, the title character seems to spring from the page, straight toward the viewer.

DC Comics
Carmine Infantino combined comic-book art with a touch of midcentury modernism.

He was also famed for his death-defying resuscitation of two of DC’s most terminal cases: the Flash, selling poorly at midcentury and threatened with cancellation, and Batman, similarly consigned.

Carmine Michael Infantino was born in Brooklyn. As a boy, he adored drawing and dreamed of becoming an architect, but family finances during the Depression put that calling out of reach.

In his youth, Mr. Infantino enrolled in the School of Industrial Art, a Manhattan public high school now known as the High School of Art and Design.


When he was still only a freshman there, he began working part-time for the noted comic-book packager Harry Chesler. In the coming years, Mr. Infantino did freelance illustrations for several comic-book publishers. His first comic for DC was ‘‘The Black Canary’’ (1947), which introduced the sultry superheroine of the title.

By the mid-1950s, when Mr. Infantino was contributing regularly to DC, comic books were under siege. The chief assailant was Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist whose inflammatory 1954 book, ‘‘Seduction of the Innocent,’’ argued that they were, for America’s youth, the first big step on the road to the depths of degradation.

Wertham’s primary targets were the crime and horror comics whose popularity had by then eclipsed the superheroes of an earlier, gentler age. As the comic-book industry scrambled to allay the public’s fears, those tired superheroes would be called upon to come to its rescue.

In 1956, DC’s editor, Julius Schwartz, asked Mr. Infantino and the writer Robert Kanigher to revamp the Flash, created in 1940 and by the mid-’50s in woeful decline. If sales did not improve in six months, the two men were told, the series would be dropped.

Mr. Infantino put his minimalist eye to work, streamlining the hero, creating his now-familiar red-and-yellow costume and capturing his preternatural speed in a dynamic blur of color. The new Flash was a hit, and Mr. Infantino became the artist most closely associated with the character.


In 1964, Mr. Infantino and the writer John Broome were asked to work similar magic on Batman. In Mr. Infantino’s hands, Batman took on an urbane, Bondian aspect. This ‘‘new look’’ Batman, as he was known to the trade, inspired the ABC television series starring Adam West and originally broadcast from 1966 to 1968.

In the late 1960s Mr. Infantino became DC’s art director and, soon afterward, its editorial director.

In 1970 he lured the artist Jack Kirby, one of the brightest stars in the comic-book firmament, away from Marvel, a coup akin to the New York Yankees’ acquisition of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox.