I hope the world gives me a break for a while on all these damned obits I’ve been writing as another great in comic books passed Friday. Sadly, George’s passing was a matter of when since he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a while ago. He chose to finish out with a good quality of life instead of gambling on more time via the crappy means our modern medicine.
George has a greater and more personal connection for me. Although I never got to meet him and very bummed about that, he was one of the most instrumental artist-writers behind me permanent return to comics when I was a teenager. We all read and “follow” comic books loosely when we’re little kids but the majority of us lack the attention, income and discipline to keep going with them as a permanent hobby. Numerous other things pull us away: video games, television, sports and/or hobbies requiring more focus (music, karate, art, etc.). Thanks to him, his writing-plotting partner Marv Wolfman and Marvel’s wunderkind Chris Claremont, I returned to the nerdy fold through my friends Jon and Mike via their nice collections of X-Men and Teen Titans.
Before I bore you a bit about my hagiography involving him, I’ll cut to the chase on why this wonderful man was important to American Pop Culture. Firstly, he and Marv created the Teen Titan characters Raven, Cyborg and Starfire in 1980. Today we all know them as the silly pizza-eating, bickering and somewhat self-absorbed stars of Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Network. I’m confident they also made a couple of the frequent enemies originally from the Fearsome Five: Mammoth, Shimmer (who is now Jinx), Psimon and Gizmo. Their bumbling leader Dr. Light already existed years ago as an enemy of the JLA. Secondly, when DC Comics undertook its initial and biggest (unfortunately, they never stopped) shakeup to their superhero universe, George revised Wonder Woman into the character many know today. He modernized Diana, ditched the secret identity as she became a public figure and updated the story after the publisher had stayed within the guidelines established by her original creator Dr. William Moulton-Marsh. The first movie has most of his elements. The second, weaker movie, scaled stuff back to play on the Eighties nostalgia.
Back to why he mattered to me personally.
You all know, I was more of a D&D gamer in the Eighties and to me, one shortcoming I believe many gamers have manifests in their mindset with superheroes/comics. Or at least with my follow Gen Xers. Most of us were fans of the X-Men as the Eighties were their pinnacle. Ergo, their powers’ origins or natures, their overall storyline, etc. tend to “make sense” and traditional characters are “stupid” or “lame.” The X-Men were practically a modern-day, super-powered Fellowship of the Ring as per a gaming group of heroes. This often made this crowd, Marvel fans. The one exception of DC I loved was the Wolfman-Perez run of The New Teen Titans, circa 1980-84. The first Teen Titans debuted in the Sixties to cash in on the JLA‘s success, marketed as a junior JLA starring all the JLA’s sidekicks: Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy (Green Arrow), Aqualad and Kid Flash. The title fumbled through Silver Age with uneven success and had a few others join/leave: Hawk, Dove, Golden Eagle (Hawkman), a Soviet Hero (the first Starfire but changed to Red Star later), Bumblebee, Harlequin (not Harley Quinn, and not really the Joker’s kid), Flamebird and the Herald. Its most embarrassing issue became one of the animated Teen Titans’ (Cartoon Network 2003-06) best episodes; when they fight the Mad Mod. To give you some context, the Teen Titans were fighting a UK villain who was a Mod some years after the fad ended. Today it would be equal to the Teen Titans fighting a bad guy who excels at planking or is based upon a jerk from Jersey Shore.
By the Seventies, Teen Titans continued to have issues pop up sporadically and this was before the big two learned to cash in on constantly starting over with “first issues.” Back then, unless they officially announced a title as cancelled, a book could disappear for a couple years and then return with the issue number picking up from where they left off. As was the case with Teen Titans #58 in 1978 declaring it the finale after roughly 18 years. Roughly two years later, Marv Wolfman paired up with George to create DC’s answer to the Uncanny X-Men in popularity, The New Teen Titans. Right from issue one, they did it! Alongside the three new characters they created, they brought back core members Robin, Wonder Girl (new outfit) and Kid Flash. The biggest surprise addition was Changeling (formerly Beast Boy) from The Doom Patrol. These Titans were based in the real city of New York, they initially tangled with the aliens who had enslaved Starfire, fought HIVE (a secret organization from Superman comics), employer of long-term enemy Deathstroke the Terminator (aka Slade), confronted Raven’s father, Demon Lord Trigon and eventually faced the cult led by Brother Blood. It concluded with one of the greatest, long-term story arcs in superhero history…”The Judas Contract.” DC has tried to retell it twice through animation but both failed due to the nature of their medium. It worked best as a comic because when Terra joined the Titans, she was a legit member for almost a year before the reveal showing her as a spy planted by Deathstroke to kill the Titans; George and Marv also pushed the envelope by illustrating how Terra was also his mistress, still gross to find out that a 40-year-old villain was OK having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Nobody ever saw the plot twist coming! Superhero teams always have a rotation of characters leaving and joining, everyone figured Terra was the inevitable replacement for Kid Flash (he was secretly “dying” whenever he used his superspeed abilities) and I think everyone wanted Changeling to have a girlfriend.
The book’s success, in my opinion, was instrumental to the rise of dedicated comic stores, better quality paper/printing and changing the ad-to-story ratio with real-world ads; no more sea monkeys, x-ray specs or 100 army men for 99 cents!
Other titles George was involved with before his DC heyday: The Avengers, The Fanstatic Four and various things. While working on The New Teen Titans he chipped in on JLA, Batman and the Outsiders, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Superman. He had a falling out with DC by 1991 over his War of the Gods arc for Wonder Woman and returned to Marvel to do The Infinity Gauntlet which we all know through the recent wave of Marvel movies. He had a reconciliation later with DC by 1996 to contribute on Wonder Woman again and did much more outside the big two, the Jurassic Park adaptation for Topps. Even for gamers, he illustrated the iconic cover to the RPG Champions’ Fourth Edition rulebook, the first hardback and probably their best version. I was at the GenCon debut in 1989 and owned a copy even though I still find the ED/PD rule dumb.
Thank you for everything George! Not only were you an incredible illustrator, writer and inker. Your storytelling helped me live the cliché, “You grow up Marvel but you graduate to DC as an adult.” You aided the medium gain greater acceptance with larger audiences. There were numerous stories about you being such a wonderful person too; kind, generous, encouraging to others, an all around great. May your name live on with the legends: Kirby, Eisner, Giordano, Infantino, Adams, Swan, Barks, Rogers and Wrightson.