Writer and artist Keith Giffen, prolific for decades of groundbreaking comic book work at both DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and other publishers, has passed away at the age of 70 from a stroke on October 10. He was perhaps most famous as the co-creator of Lobo and the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle for DC, Rocket Raccoon for Marvel, and his legendary runs on Justice League International and Legion of Super-Heroes for DC. Known especially for his comedic takes on superheroes, his final message to his fans on social media exhibited the legendary creator’s signature humor even up to the end.
Giffen got his start as a professional artist in comics at both Marvel and DC in 1976. At Marvel, he co-created the character Rocket Raccoon with writer Bill Mantlo. Of course, Rocket is character who decades later would gain pop culture icon status thanks to the MCU. At DC that same year, he started to do layout pages for artist Wally Wood in All-Star Comics. This title showcased the adventures of the Justice Society of America. He’d continue to lend his talents to a ton of other titles in the ‘70s, like Marvel Comics’ The Defenders.
However, it was in the ‘80s when Keith Giffen became a true force in the comics industry. He began to co-plot many of the comics he illustrated and transitioned into a full-on writer. With writer Paul Levitz, he illustrated DC’s teen heroes of the far future in Legion of Super-Heroes. Together, they worked on the book for four years, from 1982 to 1986. Under their tenure, Legion became DC’s second biggest title, far outselling books like Superman and even Batman. In 1982, he drew the Legion’s “Great Darkness Saga,” which elevated Darkseid into one of the DC Universe’s biggest villains.
After producing two characters for DC that showcased Giffen’s wry sense of humor — the parody hero Ambush Bug, and the Legion spin-off Legion of Substitute Heroes — DC hired him to co-plot their revival of Justice League with writer J. M. DeMatteis. Instead of using an all-star lineup of heroes, the Giffen/DeMatteis League largely consisted of DC’s second-stringers. Heroes like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. Instead of Hal Jordan, their League’s Green Lantern was the obnoxious Guy Gardner. He was a G.L. who Batman took out with one punch in a single panel in the hilarious Justice League issue #5.
Justice League was a runaway hit for DC and quickly rebranded as Justice League International. Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis turned JLI into a franchise that gave Avengers a run for its money, spinning off Justice League Europe, Justice League America, Justice League Quarterly, and Dr. Fate. Together, Giffen and DeMatteis worked on the franchise for five years, from 1987 to 1992, producing over 100 issues together. They somehow turned the formerly deadly serious League’s catchphrase into characters bursting out in “Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!” laughter.
In 1990, Giffen would revive a character he co-created for the series Omega Men in 1983, the cosmic bounty hunter Lobo. Only now, Lobo became a hilarious parody of tough biker characters, and “badass” heroes like Punisher and Wolverine. It was another instant hit for Giffen, and Lobo became a comics icon. That same year, he returned to the Legion as a plotter and artist. He showcased the former teen heroes as washed-up middle-aged characters, who have to get the band back together. Controversial in its day, his “5 Years Later” Legion of Super-Heroes is now beloved by fans.
Giffen took a break from comics in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. He became a storyboard artist for animated shows like Ed, Edd, ‘n Eddy and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi. In the ‘80s, he’d even written an episode of The Real Ghostbusters. But he returned to comics where he teamed up with his old Justice League partner J. M. DeMatteis once more, producing several comics featuring their comedic League again. Most importantly, during this time, Giffen co-created the Jaime Reyes version of Blue Beetle, and wrote the first ten issues of his series in 2006-2007. He also returned to Marvel as the writer of their cosmic Annihilation event series. This series eventually led to the modern version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He also co-created several independent comics such as 10, Tag and Hero Squared for Boom! Studios, Zapt! and I Luv Halloween for Tokyopop.
In an era when comics were desperate to show how grim and adult they were, Giffen created stories that showed that yes, grown adults in silly costumes beating up bad guys is actually pretty funny. But he never forgot to give the characters actual personalities and pathos, and infuse drama into the usually comedic stories when needed. In many ways, Giffen’s superhero comics were precursors to things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy. His contributions to the comics medium were vast, as there’s almost no major character he didn’t leave a mark on. Everyone who loves the medium of comic books shall miss him.