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'The Man Who Saved Batman' Just Got a Secret Shout-Out - But Who Is He?

In this year's Batman Annual #4, Carmine Infantino receives a shout-out in the "First Kiss" storyline. The reference is made in a panel showing Bruce Wayne attending his high school prom. The band performing in the background is named "The Infantinos," after the artist who is commonly referred to as "The Man Who Saved Batman." Younger comic readers may not be aware of the legacy of Infantino and his many years at DC, but his impact on Batman, The Flash and many other characters cannot be understated.

Infantino began working at DC during the Golden Age of comics in 1947. His first published story for the company came in Flash Comics #86, which introduced the character of Black Canary. Infantino was primarily known during the '40s and '50s for his regular work on The Flash, Green Lantern and Justice Society of America. However, it was his revival of The Flash and Batman in the late '50s and '60s for which he would be most well remembered.

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RELATED: Manapul & Buccellato Talk Reverse-Flash, Infantino's Legacy

In 1956, Infantino and writer Robert Kanigher were tasked with revamping the Flash, who had been out of print since 1949. It was this 11-year run that introduced the most iconic iteration of the character, Barry Allen. Infantino put his minimalist style to use by designing the sleek and simple red and yellow costume that would become one of the most well known in the DC pantheon. This design did away with much of the unnecessary flair that dominated the Golden Age, and would later go on inspire similar redesigns of other classic DC characters like the Hal Jordan Green Lantern. Infantino also popularized the red and yellow blur effect that defined how the Flash's super-speed powers were drawn and later portrayed in cartoons and live-action.

Infantino's take on the Flash is often credited for ushering in the Silver Age of comics. This was cemented in 1964 when Infantino would begin his run on Batman -- a run that revived the book from near cancellation and earned Infantino the title of "The Man Who Saved Batman."

Infantino's Batman was simple and grounded. He and writer John Broome removed outlandish and sillier elements like Ace the Bathound and Bat-Mite, returning the Caped Crusader to crime-fighting and mysteries. His more realistic run on Batman began what is known as the "new look" era which, while controversial to some fans at the time, led to increased sales. This "new look" Batman was also the inspiration for the Adam West television show, which premiered in 1966 and ballooned the character's popularity into a cultural juggernaut.

RELATED: DC Collectibles Pays Tribute to Infantino With New Batman Statues

During the '60s, Infantino was credited with drawing many notable new characters during his runs on The Flash and Batman titles, including the villains, Reverse-Flash, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd and Blockbuster. He also co-created the Elongated Man, Deadman, Wally West and Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, who is without a doubt one of his most enduring contributions to the Batman mythos.

In addition to new characters, Infantino was also responsible for introducing the idea of the multiverse to DC. In 1961 he drew "Flash of Two Worlds," a landmark story that paired his Barry Allen iteration of the Flash with Jay Garrick, the version of the character that began his career. This storyline was not only important for being the first to pair DC characters of different worlds, but it also featured one of Infantino's most iconic covers.

Infantino's covers would go on to become one of the most important parts of his legacy. By 1967, he was responsible for designing covers for the entire DC lineup. This led to a major promotion as Infantino was named the company's editorial director (after turning down a $22,000 from Marvel Comics' Stan Lee). During his tenure, he hired new talents like Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil, and also brought over artists like Dick Giordano from Charlton Comics, and most notably, Jack Kirby from Marvel Comics.

The hiring of Kirby at DC by Infantino is often considered one of the great coups in comics history. While at DC, Kirby created the "Fourth World" storyline, told through the New GodsMister Miracle and Forever People titles. Under Infantino's editorial direction, comics like the "Fourth World" saga and Green Arrow/Green Lantern began the Bronze Age of comics.

Infantino was named publisher of DC in 1971. While sales dwindled during this time, Infantino was still able to create some memorable comics, including the first major Marvel/DC crossover, Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, released in 1976.

After returning to freelancing in the late '70s, Infantino worked on a number of titles for Marvel, including Star WarsSpider-Woman and Nova. He would later return to DC in the '80s to work on The FlashThe Daring New Adventures of Supergirl and Red Tornado.

RELATED: The Flash Is Getting The Powers Of A God In DC Comics

Infantino left comics in the '90s to teach at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan before his retirement. He remained in the spotlight through numerous convention appearances and was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2000.

Infantino passed away in 2013, leaving behind a legacy rivaled by few in the comic book industry. He was a hero to the medium, and to Batman and the Flash in particular, but he was also a hero in the real world. Upon his death, he made a six-figure bequest to Calvary Hospital in New York, a non-profit dedicated to providing hospice and palliative care.

It's no surprise that writer Tom King and artists Mike Norton and Jorge Fornes would decide to honor Infantino in the latest Batman Annual.

You can read more about Carmine Infantino in his autobiography, The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, co-written with J. David Spurlock and published in 2001.

Batman Annual #4, by Tom King, Mike Norton, Jorge Fornes, Dave Stewart and Clayton Cowles is on sale now.

KEEP READING: PREVIEW: Batman Annual #3

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