Legends of the DC Universe: Carmine Infantino

Legends of the DC Universe: Carmine Infantino
Legends of the DC Universe Carmine Infantino review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC – 978-1-7795-2166-8
  • Release date: 2023
  • UPC: 9781779521668
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

Legends of the DC Universe: Carmine Infantino gives an overview of the comics career of the man who kickstarted the superhero revival in 1956 with his super-sleek styling for The Flash looking like nothing else in the comics of the time. His modernist science-fiction Adam Strange and his redesigned, dynamically-angled Batman influenced the look of all DC’s output, leading to him becoming Art Director in 1967, then Editorial Director and finally President. This collection features stories from five decades, including notable ‘firsts’. That sounds like a safe way to structure an excellent collection in theory, but picking a sample from each type by year and historical significance has the unfortunate result of highlighting just how stiff and straight-laced DC’s scriptwriting typically was.

Infantino was at his inventive, flamboyantly distinctive peak during the 1950s and 1960s, a period generating enough material to easily fill this book but is represented by only eleven stories, beginning with a romance ‘Condemned Love!’ from 1952. There are four Flash stories including the historic issue ‘Flash of Two Worlds!, which invented the parallel-worlds concept of Earth-2. There is only one Batman strip: ‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask!’ introduces the redesigned Caped Crusader with new yellow oval around the bat-logo, an emphasis on mystery-solving and the infamous accidental slip where Batman holds a bunch of crooks at bay with one of their own guns. ‘Ten Miles to Nowhere!’ brings us one of two stories with self-inked Infantino art on an Elongated Man back-up (the other features western hero Pow-Wow Smith). 1967 saw the first appearance for Deadman in his origin story ‘Who Has Been Lying In My Grave?’.

The other 280 pages of this 400-page book are mostly uninspired, routine strips to have readers wondering who chose them and where the actual ‘legendary’ material might be. They open with selections from the 1940s and closes with stories from 1980s before all four chapters of a King Faraday story in Danger Trail. As for Infantino at his best, the obvious place to look is the cover gallery, because while there is only so much anyone can do with a generic script, Infantino was a brilliant cover designer who created hundreds of graphically inventive and memorably eye-catching images. His runs on Batman, Detective Comics and The Flash between 1963 and 1967 are celebrated for classics such as Flash 133 (“I have the strangest feeling I’m being turned into a puppet!”, Detective Comics 355 (“Holy Gallows! Batman’s life — Hanging by a thread!”) or Detective Comics 365 (‘The House the Joker Built’) among the 421 covers listed in the DC Fandom’s Carmine Infantino Database. Most stories have their covers alongside them, which is nice, but there are a mere four covers in the gallery, and two of them appear more than once.

Classily designed and well-presented though it is, Legends of the DC Universe: Carmine Infantino is a very flawed selection. Among the inexplicable omissions are no examples of Adam Strange from the 1960s but instead a weak 1980s origin story, hardly any of Infantino’s many idiosyncratic 1960s back-up strips, none of the best Batman stories. Also missing is any indication of Infantino’s art direction for such notable comics covers as the first DC/Marvel crossover book Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century. The stylish 1972 introduction of Christopher Chance, the Human Target is also missing. Anyone looking for a definitive collection of Infantino art won’t find it here.