Best known for his well-populated crossover books, George Pérez died Friday at the age of 67, from complications of pancreatic cancer. Pérez’s work defined superhero comics in the 1980s and 1990s, and his impact on the genre still echoes through superhero media today. Over the course of the artist’s prolific comic book career, he did his best to draw every iconic DC and Marvel superhero, preferably all at once in the span of an epic double-page spread.
Pérez is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Carol Flynn; his parents, Jorge and Luz; and his brother David. In December 2021, he announced that he’d been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and would not pursue treatment. Over the months since, colleagues and fans have paid tribute to his remarkable career and his enduring kindness, a fitting send-off for the beloved icon.
‘Introducing our newest avengin’ ace’
George Pérez was born in the South Bronx, New York, in 1954, the son of a Puerto Rican couple who had recently moved to the city. He discovered superheroes at a young age, and comic books helped him learn English. The colorful adventures also offered a respite from the violence of his rough neighborhood, and by the time he was 5, he knew he wanted to be an artist when he grew up.
He was 19 when he got his start in the comics business, landing a job as artist Rich Buckler’s assistant in 1973. His first published work appeared the following year, a two-page Deathlok story in Marvel’s Astonishing Tales #25. More Marvel gigs soon followed, and in 1975 he co-created White Tiger, the first Puerto Rican superhero, with writer Bill Mantlo.
That same year, Pérez began his much-lauded tenure drawing the Earth’s mightiest heroes starting with Avengers #141. Team books weren’t popular with artists at the time; compensation was minimal, and a large cast of characters meant a lot more work. But Pérez happily embraced the chance to draw so many of his childhood idols, and channeled his artistic heroes, like Sal Buscema and Curt Swan, to create a distinctive and realistic take on the Avengers.
In 1980, writer Marv Wolfman offered Pérez a job at DC Comics on The New Teen Titans, a contemporary update of the young team. Pérez wasn’t particularly interested in the project, but the offer came with the opportunity to draw Justice League of America as well, so he agreed. Then, a few months into working on The New Teen Titans, he fell in love with the gig. Wolfman was a generous collaborator, and Pérez felt a sense of ownership of the team as they worked together to revamp existing characters like Beast Boy and Robin, as well as introduce new ones like Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire.
The book focused as much on the characters’ civilian identities as their superhero antics, and this combination of drama and action proved to be a surprise success for DC, which was in need of a hit after a disastrous run of cancellations. Pérez and Wolfman won scores of industry and fan awards for classic storylines that still remain popular today, most notably The Judas Contract. In the sort of creative-team consistency that’s all but gone in modern superhero comics, Pérez stayed with the Teen Titans for the entire decade, and returned for another run in the mid-1990s.
Pérez developed a reputation as a master of team books, but one of his most beloved projects was a solo venture. When DC prepared to reboot Wonder Woman in the late 1980s, all of the pitches the publisher received were violent and hypersexualized, an approach that didn’t sit well with Pérez’s feminist sensibilities. He offered himself as an alternative, despite the series’ perennial poor sales: Wonder Woman had been a book DC had to assign, not one that creators clamored for. Pérez traded in all the cachet he’d built up at the publisher to do a different take on Wonder Woman, one rooted in mythology and female power.
The relaunch debuted in 1987, and was an instant hit. Pérez wrote and drew the book, bringing dignity and excitement to the long-floundering title. He rebuilt Wonder Woman’s mythos from the ground up, honoring her feminist origins while updating the character and her rogues’ gallery for the present day. His five-year run brought female creators into the fold as well, including co-writer Mindy Newell and artists Colleen Doran and Jill Thompson. (Doran and Thompson went on to Eisner Award-winning careers, with Doran winning for Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples and Thompson for her Scary Godmother.) Today, Pérez’s revitalization of Wonder Woman is widely regarded as the definitive take on the character, and his time on the book has remained an inspiration to everyone who has written or drawn her since.
Beyond his long-term character work, Pérez was also the master of epic event books. In 1985, he re-teamed with Wolfman for Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue maxi-series that allowed him to draw every character in the DC Comics universe against the backdrop of multiversal destruction. He returned to Marvel in 1991 for the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries with Jim Starlin and Ron Lim that saw Thanos destroy half of all life in the universe. Then he brought both universes together in 2003 with JLA/Avengers, a massive crossover written by Kurt Busiek.
Pérez threw himself wholeheartedly into these projects, and his boundless enthusiasm for the characters was evident on every page. Uniting all of DC and Marvel’s heroes was especially exciting for Pérez, who tackled JLA/Avengers with such passion that he developed tendonitis while drawing a cover featuring over 200 different superheroes.
The artist slowed down in his later years, trading long-term jobs for special appearances. After a series of medical issues over the course of the 2010s, he officially announced his retirement in 2019.
A lasting legacy
If you’re a comics fan, you’ve undoubtedly come across Pérez’s work — but even if you’re not, you’ve likely experienced his influence elsewhere. His Teen Titans have appeared in several television shows, both animated and live action, while Crisis on Infinite Earths ripped through the CW’s superhero programs in 2019. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins cited his run on the character as a major inspiration for the film, and Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet played a key role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After Pérez announced his cancer diagnosis, comics creators shared their thoughts on his legendary impact. Avengers scribe Jason Aaron wrote, “George Pérez made me a comic fan. His art seized hold of me as a child & forever imprinted in my mind as what a comic book should look like,” while writer Vita Ayala, who is, like Pérez, of Puerto Rican descent, said, “The impact of George Pérez, on our culture as well as on the individual level, cannot be quantified. Pérez is a legend. He helped shape the world as I know it.” His longtime collaborator Marv Wolfman wrote, “I can honestly say I have never known a better or more caring person,” and former Wonder Woman writer Steve Orlando echoed those sentiments, calling Pérez “a great person, and a role model for all creators.” Writer Gail Simone summed it up succinctly, simply calling him “the best ever, that’s all.”
In a message to fans, Pérez wrote, “It’s quite uplifting to be told that you’ve led a good life, that you’ve brought joy to so many lives and that you’ll be leaving this world a better place because you were part of it.” He leaves behind a library of iconic superhero stories for new generations of fans to discover, all of them infused with his enthusiasm and love for the genre. It’s certain that George Pérez will continue to bring joy to many for ages to come.