Hot Streak: Carmine Infantino’s Detective Comics

« I was always concerned more with the visuals than with the copy — and the visuals had to be provocative! » — Infantino*, in a nutshell.

To recap, under the parameters I’ve set for this category a hot streak is a series of outstanding consecutive covers by a single artist (inkers may vary) on the same comic book title. Since it’s my party, I occasionally make allowances (e.g. allowing entry to a scruffier, but still presentable, specimen), but it’s more challenging and more fun to play it straight.

By my reckoning, there are very few truly great cover artists to begin with, and their output is often stifled by indifferent, incoherent or hostile art direction, poor lettering and colouring choices beyond the unfortunate artist’s control, lack of interest in the imposed subject matter… you get the picture. And there’s also the difficulty of getting a decent streak going when the editor keeps shuffling cover artists.

The artist in his suit and tie (and cigar!) days at DC.

I’ve gone on at length (I refer you in particular to Hot Streak: Nick Cardy’s Aquaman, Previously) about the gargantuan amount of work Carmine Infantino (1925-2013) knocked out conceiving comic book covers during his executive years at DC (1966-75), but most of his best designs were executed by others. I mean the man was already doing the work of five people, what more could he do?

As he told Gary Groth in a definitive interview (The Comics Journal no. 191, Nov. 1996, Fantagraphics):

« At DC Comics, I worked round the clock, including weekends, and never taking a vacation in the 10 years I served there. I not only was creating new titles, designing most of the covers, plotting stories and going on the road for the distribution of the magazines, plus doing radio shows and then running out to California to be totally included with Puzo and the producers creating the Superman movies I &II. Time got so tight that I would design covers on the way to the airport and have the driver deliver them to Sol Harrison, who in turn gave them to the waiting artists. I would be at my desk from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It began to be a destructive grind. »

While Carmine is most closely associated with Silver Age characters The Flash and Adam Strange, I couldn’t discern, in these titles, a run of sufficiently stellar *and* consecutive covers (Flash nos. 139-142 and Mystery in Space nos. 69 to 71 come closest… do bear in mind that I have no consideration for ‘key’ issues or ‘famous’ or ‘event’ covers). It’s no real surprise that Infantino’s design work rose to a crescendo of accomplishment and consistency when he was made the company’s de facto art director, late in 1966. And what was he working on at the time? Batman. So, since Detective no. 261 bears a ho-hum cover and no. 269 is pretty spiffy, but the work of Gil Kane, here’s Mr. Infantino’s hot streak:

This is Detective Comics no. 362 (Apr. 1967, DC), pencilled by Infantino and inked by Murphy Anderson. Carmine wasn’t a fan of the so-called ‘Go-Go Checks’, that checkerboard pattern that once famously adorned those distinctive yellow NYC cabs. He didn’t mince words, either: « What a ridiculous thing: it was the stupidest idea we ever heard because the books were bad in those days and that just showed people right off what not to buy. ». Certainly, in the case of Detective Comics, they left the top of the page far too cluttered.
This is Detective Comics no. 363 (May 1967, DC), featuring (this) Batgirl‘s second appearance. She’d been created by editor Julius Schwartz and Infantino at the request of the hit Batman TV show‘s producers, figuring that the series needed a heroine for a little extra spice. Art by Infantino and Anderson.
This is Detective Comics no. 364 (June 1967, DC). Roy Reynolds, alias The Getaway Genius, was a fun civilian villain whose finest hour, in my view, came at the tail end of 1973 with Batman no. 254‘s King of the Gotham Jungle! (written by Frank Robbins, pencilled by Irv Novick and inked by Dick Giordano), when he was unexpectedly caught between the Batman and the Man-Bat.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a Batmaniac or three had reconstructed this Joker edifice in their backyard or basement, out of Lego blocks or papier mâché… or actual bricks.

Carmine really went to town on this one, and it’s rightly earned its place in the hall of classics. This is Detective Comics no. 365 (July, 1967, DC). The cover story, The House the Joker Built! is scripted by John Broome, pencilled by Bob Kane ghost Sheldon “Shelly” Moldoff and inked by Joe Giella.
Speaking of design, here’s the masterful Ira Schnapp‘s house ad for Detective 365, as it appeared in Green Lantern no. 54 (July, 1967, DC), among other titles.
This is Detective Comics no. 366 (Aug. 1967, DC); I love those moody colours and light effects, that tell-tale Infantino candle and the mysteriously parsimonious inheritance bequeathed to Robin.
This is Detective Comics no. 367 (Sept. 1967, DC), an intriguing preview of Where There’s a Will — There’s a Slay!, written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Infantino, inked by Sid Greene. I wonder how many young readers enthusiastically destroyed the cover to assemble the puzzle…

Note also the improved logo placement (a return to issue no. 327 original ‘new look’ logo, actually), giving the layout a chance to… breathe a bit better. The Batman cameo at top left is still de trop.

This is Detective Comics no. 368 (Oct. 1967, DC). Infantino reportedly created the covers first, and editor Schwartz assigned his writers to work up a scenario to fit. This one could not have been a cakewalk. Gardner Fox was the unlucky recipient of that gargantuan task.
Since it’s not an issue of Detective, this cover’s not *technically* part of the streak… but as it features Batman, and it appeared between issues 365 and 366 of Detective, I’m throwing it in. Infantino and Anderson’s literal and figurative blockbuster of a cover for Batman no. 194 (Aug. 1967, DC). Its cover aside, a pretty ho-hum issue. The book and the character were in urgent need of another overhaul, and it was just around the corner. « When Donenfeld saw this cover, he had a fit! He said, ‘I don’t see the logo on top!’ I said ‘You don’t have to — you’ve got Batman up there!’ »
Aw, heck — here’s Ira Shnapp’s accompanying house ad, a work of art in itself, wouldn’t you agree?
Speaking of immortal Infantino Batman images: « Aurora wanted action shots of their models, so I did this rough layout, sent it to them, and they liked it! I had a moon behind him, but they dropped it. The tree created the design. I was very high into design at this point (1964) — the design was pouring out of me! ». Here’s a look at the finished model.
I couldn’t very well leave out what’s possibly the most famous of Carmine’s Bat-scenes: this is Batman From the 30s to the 70s (1971, Crown Publishers) a splendid hardcover anthology. Its cover adapts an Infantino-Anderson mini-poster that originally saw print in Detective Comics no. 352 (June 1966, DC) and bore instead the inscription « Best Bat-Wishes Batman and Robin ». Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, er… ‘Shazam’ also got their own historical anthology in this format.

-RG

*unless otherwise specified, most Infantino quotes are drawn from his excellent, profusely visual 2001 autobiography (with J. David Spurlock), The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino (Vanguard Publishing).

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 2

« Every scarecrow has a secret ambition to terrorize. » — Stanisław Jerzy Lec

I can’t help but feel that a villain who makes time in his nefarious schedule for taking his, er, pooch for regular walks can’t be *all* bad. Likewise for a rogue who appreciates the cleverness and joie de vivre of a raven.

This is The Joker no. 8 (July-August 1976), featuring The Scarecrow’s Fearsome Face-Off!, which was edited by Julius Schwartz (in case the alliterative title hadn’t tipped you off), scripted by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled by the always-solid Irv Novick and inked by Tex Blaisdell. Cover by Ernie Chan (as Ernie Chua).

In the mid-70s, The Clown Prince of Crime held his own book for ten issues (nine of which appeared at the time… the tenth only seeing print in… 2019!), and its stories chiefly (and rather winningly) focussed on his squabbles with other members of The Batman’s rogues’ gallery (certainly the finest in comics). I haven’t followed the dodgy shenanigans of the back issue marketplace in decades, but I was amused and bemused by the lofty prices that this otherwise-innocuous little series commands. Overflow from his cinematic popularity, perhaps?

I like the way Professor Crane works. Over these past couple of years, this last two panel sequence has probably come to pass in real life more often than one would care to count.
The Joker adopting a hyena as a companion was but a cruel cover dodge, but The Scarecrow‘s pet raven, Nightmare, is present and accounted for, superbly crafty and most efficient, just like the genuine article!
The same page, from the original printing. In closing, a slight editorial note: It’s easy to forget that, unless you kept close tabs on the printer’s work, most mainstream comics were quite badly printed… it’s especially easy to forget since much of the more popular work has since been reprinted from the original art or photostats, and digitally coloured-and-printed. Conversely, when it comes to the work of defunct publishers, and if the original artwork, or quality photostats of same, is no longer in existence or otherwise unavailable, reprinters have to make do with a flawed, not to mention secondary, sources — at best. For instance, the printing of my original edition of this Joker issue is dreadfully out of register. In the wings, things were quickly shifting at DC: as of late ’75, Carmine Infantino (publisher, etc.) and Nick Cardy (art director, etc.) were out, and an absolutely crucial production technician, Jack Adler, was being sidelined. He would retire a few years later. Long story short, Sturgeon’s Law in action, and why I went with the digital colour job. After toning down the contrast a bit. A guy’s got to have standards.

– RG