At some point within the last couple of days, Keith Giffen passed away. He would have been seventy-one years old on November 30.
The artist’s career began in earnest in the mid-1970s when he got started at both Marvel and DC almost simultaneously—a rather unique circumstance. He began his stint on DC’s relaunched All-Star Comics with issue #60 (Jun. 1976). Paul Levitz came aboard the book as scripter with issue #62 (Oct. 1976), the first time the now-legendary team of Levitz and Giffen would work together.
Giffen’s earliest Marvel work was done with Bill Mantlo, first introducing Woodgod in Marvel Premiere #31 (Aug. 1976). The following pub month, he would collaborate with Mantlo again in the B&W magazine Marvel Preview #7 (Sept. 1976), in the tale, “The Sword in the Star,” which introduced Rocky Raccoon, who would later be rechristened Rocket Raccoon. Rocket would prove to have a bit more legs than Woodgod.
When Giffen took over pencils on Defenders with issue #42 (Dec. 1976), I really took notice. Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema had just left and the title could have really tanked, creatively, at this point, but David Anthony Kraft (after a couple of issues by Gerry Conway) joined with Giffen to give us the Scorpio storyline and it felt like the book barely missed a beat. These were some wonderful and (personally) much beloved comics.
Giffen would really shoot to stardom in the 80s at DC. The big one on his résumé from this period is his work with Paul Levitz on Legion of Super-Heroes. He also got heavy into humor during this period with his Ambush Bug character. Almost as big as his Legion work was the post-Crisis Justice League relaunch in 1987, Justice League America, which he wrote with J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire penciling. The title had a lot of humor and the creative team’s run would last several years, into the early 90s. Humor had become a signature trait of Giffen’s by this point.
Giffen also co-created Lobo in the early 80s in the pages of Omega Men #3 (Jun. 1983) with writer Roger Slifer. Lobo didn’t catch fire immediately, but he went on to become a pretty big deal in the 90s.
More recently, Keith Giffen’s work on Marvel’s Annihilation series circa 2006 would eventually lead to the modern version of the Guardians of the Galaxy as we know them today. So the man was still doing vital work into the twenty-first century.
Keith Giffen maintained his humor to the very end. In his last post on Facebook, he wrote:
(Posted posthumously by his family at his request, in case that wasn’t already obvious.)
Giffen feels very tied to my own personal comics fandom. As I wrote in April of last year, I loved his work on All-Star Comics in 1976, the year I first started regularly buying comics for myself off the spinner racks as a child. And then, as mentioned earlier, I loved his work on Defenders immediately afterward. A few years later, his work on Legion of Super-Heroes with Levitz utterly captivated me, particularly “The Great Darkness Saga,” one of my all-time favorite comic epics.
These losses all sting, but this one feels like I’ve lost a big part of my youth. Keith Giffen’s creative career started at almost exactly the same time my fandom started. I find myself reminded of the line that closed out Updike’s Rabbit Is Rich: “Another nail in his coffin. His.” And that’s precisely what this feels like to me right now: another nail in my coffin. Mine.
R.I.P., Keith Giffen.