Please note that since the time of this article’s publication George Pérez sadly passed away.
Comic book artist extraordinaire George Pérez is a legend. With over four decades of work behind him, Pérez changed how comic book art was presented. Including just how elevated it could be. Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve seen his work. Certainly his characters. Thanks to over 40 years in the business, George Pérez has drawn nearly every single major Marvel and DC character created in the 20th century. On top of all that, he’s also the creator who really made me love comics.
On December 7, 2021, Pérez revealed to his legion of fans that he recently received a Stage III pancreatic cancer diagnosis. He has six months to a year left, and he wants to make the best use of his time, which is with his family. His positive outlook on the life he’s lived, and to the future ahead of him, should be an inspiration to everyone. And his revelation has allowed his fans to share just how much they love him and how his work changed their lives. And today, it’s my turn.
I loved superheroes since before I could even read. I grew up with two older brothers who were comic fans, nine and 10 years my senior. At first, I just looked at the pictures. But thanks to shows like Super Friends, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman: The Movie, I already loved comic book characters. In the summer of 1980, I turned six-years-old. I could finally read, and my big brother brought home a copy of New Teen Titans #1 home from 7-Eleven. It marked my first time seeing the stunning artwork of George Pérez.
It blew me away. I already loved Robin from TV. But I’d never seen him presented like this before. Under Pérez’s pencils, Dick Grayson wasn’t a kid, but a cool and capable hero. Characters like Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg, all designed and co-created by Pérez, instantly grabbed my attention. It was the first comic book I read on my own, and then the first comic I ever collected regularly. Marv Wolfman’s characterization was fantastic, but it was Pérez’s art that transfixed me. Suddenly, all the art in my brother’s old comics looked quaint at best, hokey and archaic at worst. No one else could touch Pérez. I quickly learned he was in a class all his own.
George’s detailed and realistic art was unlike anything I had seen in any comic. His panels made me feel like I was watching a live-action movie, but with superheroes. (A rarity back then). He brought an unmatched cinematic flavor to comics. He left no background detail underserved. And his artwork influenced his fellow comic book artists too. Folks like John Byrne, Walter Simonson, and others got better in the wake of George’s popularity. Everyone else stepped up their game with Pérez in the room.
I didn’t know it as a child, but Titans was the book that helped save DC Comics during perilous financial times. But he wasn’t only working on Titans during that era. In the early ‘80s, Pérez’s work graced the pages of books like Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Justice League of America. Often, he drew two monthly books at once, in his deliriously detailed style. In 1980 alone, he drew Avengers, Justice League, and New Teen Titans. In fact, he has the honor of illustrating both Justice League of America and Avengers 200th milestone issues.
After falling in love with the Titans, I devoured everything I could find from Pérez. But it did not prepare me for his next big opus. In 1985, DC Comics commissioned the Titans creative team with a company-wide crossover that would alter their continuity forever. Crisis on Infinite Earths was an epic the likes of which comics had never seen. The destruction of the Multiverse rocked the status quo, and every single DC hero and villain appeared in this series. From the opening panels of the first issue, where the “evil JLA,” the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3, sacrifice their lives to protect the world that hated them, I knew this was going to be one of the greatest comics stories I ever read.
Pérez handled the deaths of two iconic heroes, Supergirl and the Flash, in Crisis. The way he drew Kara Zor-El’s heroic sacrifice, and the anguish of her cousin Superman, made this the first-ever comic book that made me cry. And to follow it up the very next issue with the equally poignant death of the Flash? I can close my eyes and still conjure the image of Barry Allen running so fast that he literally melts away. It was terrifying imagery to me as a kid, but also heartbreaking. These images remain seared into my brain. Such is the power of Pérez’ art.
While Pérez drew every single DC character in Crisis, he somehow produced covers with dozens of characters interacting with each other. And at the same time as Crisis. This was for Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This “A-Z” guide was alphabetical, so the first issue was all the “A” characters, and so on. Somehow he could compose an image featuring Aquaman hanging out with obscure Air Wave, or Abra Kadabra, and make all these unrelated characters hanging in one big scene seem natural. He did 11 of these covers. Other artists mimicked his kitchen sink style for the rest of the series. But none matched Pérez’s ability to make scenes like this look effortless.
Following Crisis, Pérez drew The History of the DC Universe, a book chronicling the new chronology of the now singular Earth. This was an expensive “prestige” book, selling out before I could buy it. But they collected it as a hardcover edition, and I remember getting it for Christmas the year it came out. I practically ignored every other present. I just pored over each page looking at his representations of every iconic hero repeatedly. DC now collects it with Crisis in a hardcover edition. And sometimes I still pull it out and just lovingly look at every page. It still has that power. Even if they rebooted the history it chronicled several times since then.
But Pérez’s most impactful work at DC for me was yet to come. In late 1986, they gave George the reins of the Wonder Woman reboot. Thanks to the Lynda Carter TV series and Super Friends, I already loved the character of Diana Prince. But her own comics seemed hopelessly dated. Especially the artwork. When George Pérez helmed her story, I was blown away again. He rendered her mythological world in stunning detail and gave a depth to the character, along with her Amazon sisters, I had never seen before. His version of Mount Olympus in a sort of M.C. Escher style, defying the laws of physics, felt like art worthy of a museum. Not something for a $0.75 comic book.
Wonder Woman is also where Pérez proved he was as good a writer as an artist. He injected humanism and spirit of kindness into his Diana. It defined the character. His Wonder Woman was truly aspirational, as much someone who always exuded empathy and kindness as she was a fierce Amazon warrior. His time on the book lasted five years, and every other creator since has recognized the Pérez run as the definitive one of the character. Everyone who takes on Wonder Woman knows they are living in the shadow of Pérez’s work. And for me, it truly made Princess Diana my favorite comic book hero of all time.
As the ‘90s rolled in, and I became a teenager, I started to wonder if George Pérez was going to be a relic of my childhood. As edgier, more “extreme” artists took hold of fandom’s love in that era, was the realistically rendered art of George Pérez not hip enough anymore? I shouldn’t have worried. He returned to Marvel after a decade-long absence, illustrating their epic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. This event told the story of how the Mad Titan Thanos acquired all the Infinity Gems, and snapped his fingers, rendering half the universe dead. You might be familiar with this saga. Pérez illustrated four of the six issues, and reminded everyone, myself included, that no one in the comics industry does superhero epics like him. No one.
By the late ’90s, it had been a while since Pérez had done a regular ongoing series. It looked like he might never have one again. But again, I was thankfully wrong. Together with writer Kurt Busiek he did a three-year run on Avengers, which brought the team back to prominence after being overshadowed by the X-Men for the better part of a decade and a half. His opening story had every living Avenger back together in a saga only he could illustrate. To this day, in my humble opinion, Busiek and Pérez’s Avengers run remains the greatest. Pure, quintessential Marvel.
Perhaps the last epic superhero crossover for Pérez came in 2004. After a 20 year wait, Busiek and Pérez reunited to do the four-part JLA/Avengers crossover event for Marvel and DC. It’s the comic kids had dreamed up forever, drawn with meticulous detail by the only person on Earth who could do it justice. Every Justice Leaguer and every Avenger ever joined together in an epic fight for the ages. If George Pérez had never drawn another comic book panel again in his career, he’d still be iconic for the shot of Superman holding Thor’s hammer and Cap’s shield.
I should note here, that JLA/Avengers has not been in print since 2008. The corporate rivalry between Marvel and DC (and their parent companies) has kept it a sought-after collector’s item. It is, frankly, a crime. It’s Pérez’s ultimate superhero comic in many ways and doesn’t deserve to be virtually deleted as it has been. So hey, Warner Bros. and Disney, put this book back in print and keep it there forever. Worried about profit sharing? Make sure all proceeds go to cancer research. You know it’s the right thing to do.
George Pérez has, of course, created a ton of other comics I’ve loved over the years. The apocalyptic Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect, and the DC team-up book The Brave and the Bold. He returned to lend an artistic hand to the sequel to his own ’80s epic in 2005, with Infinite Crisis. He finally tackled DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes in his usual way, combining every version of the team from across the multiverse, in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. And there are so many others. But the ones I mentioned changed me. They made me realize that comics could do a kind of cosmic grand storytelling no other medium could mimic.
And for all of you non-comics readers who may read this—even if you don’t think you know his work, trust me, you do. When Nightwing and the Titans kick ass on HBO Max? That’s George. When the Amazons battle on Themyscira in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman? That’s George, too. When the CW Arrowverse combines all their DC heroes for Crisis on Infinite Earths? George again. When Thanos snaps his fingers? Yes, also George. His work permeates modern pop culture.
In 2016, I attended Dragon Con in Atlanta. As I rushed from my hotel to grab a cab to go to the airport, I saw a group of DC cosplayers gathered together outside. I instantly thought “this feels like a George Pérez scene.” And then, I saw the man himself standing with them. Despite knowing I might miss my flight if I didn’t get a move on, I ran across the street. I needed to meet the man who had given me such a huge chunk of the happy memories of my youth. I knew this was my chance to tell him how much his work meant to me, and how he is the reason I love comics. We only chatted for a minute, but he was as gracious and kind as I’d heard.
I told him then, and I’m telling him now: Mr. Pérez, when it comes to creating comic book art, you are the greatest of all time. You gave the world thousands of indelible and beautiful images. And you made kids and adults alike dream of epic battles and cosmic grandeur that would inspire us our whole lives. You are the reason I love comic books, the reason why enjoying comic books is a lifelong love that will never die. And I know I speak for comic book fans everywhere when I say, thank you, George.