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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

George Pérez, who gave new life to Wonder Woman, dies at 67

George Pérez at a comic book convention in 2019. His career as a writer and artist spanned four decades.

By George Gene Gustines

George Pérez, a celebrated comic book artist and writer who gave new life to Wonder Woman in the 1980s and helped create series for DC Comics and Marvel Comics that brought together some of the biggest heroes of the comics world, including The New Teen Titans, died Friday at his home in Sanford, Florida. He was 67.

The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, said Constance Katsafanas-Eza, a friend of the family.

Pérez, whose career spanned more than four decades, was known for his richly detailed drawings and his enthusiasm for stories filled with superheroes — the more capes and cowls, the better.

He drew the Avengers, a group that unites many of Marvel’s flagship characters, in the 1970s and again in the 1990s.

At DC, he and writer Marv Wolfman created The New Teen Titans in 1980, revitalizing a group of junior heroes, to critical acclaim. It became a bestseller.

Pérez was also at the helm of the 1986 reboot of Wonder Woman, which presented the character, who had originally appeared in 1941, as a new superheroine. His version was younger, and he leaned into the Greek mythology rooted in her origin story. “Wonder Woman had to rise or fall based on me,” Pérez said in a telephone interview in December. “It was a great success that gave me an incredible sense of fulfillment.”

His editor on the series, Karen Berger, said in an email interview, “What set George apart on Wonder Woman was that he really approached the character from a woman’s perspective — I found her relatable and authentic.” Patty Jenkins, director of the “Wonder Woman” films, cited this version of the character as an influence.

One of Pérez’s crowning achievements came in 2003 with the debut of a four-part story uniting the Justice League and the Avengers, the marquee heroes from DC and Marvel, traditionally fierce rivals in the comic book marketplace. It was the completion of a passion project for Pérez that had originally been planned for 1983 but had become mired in company politics and was canceled.

When Pérez announced in a Facebook post in December 2021 that he had a life expectancy of only six to 12 months after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the testimonials came quickly. They included articles like “How George Pérez Changed Comics Forever,” which noted his enjoyment of comics that teamed up superheroes, his depiction of female characters with a diversity of body types, his positive interactions with his fans and his charitable initiatives.

“We lost another of the absolute greats this weekend,” Jim Lee, chief creative officer and publisher of DC Comics, wrote in an Instagram post. “His career is truly a testament to what one can achieve in life when singularly focused on what one loves to do.” (Neal Adams, a comic book artist who helped revitalize Batman, died Thursday.)

George Pérez was born June 9, 1954, in the South Bronx of New York to Jorge Guzman Pérez, who worked in the meatpacking industry, and Luz Maria Izquierdo, a homemaker. Both were from Puerto Rico and had met in New Jersey. They survive him, along with his wife, Carol Flynn, and brother, David.

Pérez was a self-taught artist who got his start in 1973 as an assistant to comic book artist Rich Buckler. He received his first professional credit the next year for a two-page satirical story for Marvel about the character Deathlok.

In 1975, he and writer Bill Mantlo created the White Tiger, the first Puerto Rican superhero in the series Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu. The editor of the series was Wolfman, who was initially critical of Pérez’s grasp of anatomy and perspective.

“He asked me years later why, considering I had problems with his art in those early days, did I continue to use him,” Wolfman recalled in a telephone interview. “Perspective is something you can learn, but you can’t teach storytelling. George was a natural storyteller from Day 1.” One of Pérez’s attempts to prove his skills to his editor was a full-page aerial shot of the White Tiger, crouched above an urban skyline, with the buildings forming the letters of his name.

Pérez soon began drawing the Avengers and would later draw the Fantastic Four, including a story written by Wolfman, who asked the artist to work with him at DC. Pérez agreed, hoping he would get to draw the Justice League — and he did. He drew several issues of their series, including the cover of issue No. 200, which was sold at auction for $76,675 in 2016.

The two men collaborated on The New Teen Titans, a new series that paired sidekick heroes Kid Flash, Robin and Wonder Girl with new characters. Unlike the Justice League series, which typically had little space for personal developments, the Titans could evolve more freely.

This was most evident with Dick Grayson, who, as Robin, had been Batman’s junior partner since 1940. He became Nightwing, a hero stepping out of the shadow of his mentor, in 1984. “We finally got to make Dick Grayson become an adult in the way we wanted him to be,” Wolfman said.

The series became a critical hit for DC Comics and was the inspiration for the kid-friendly animated series “Teen Titans” (2003-2006) and “Teen Titans Go!” (2013-2021), as well as a more mature “Titans” series currently on HBO Max.

In 1985, Wolfman and Pérez began the 12-part series “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” a celebration of DC’s 50th anniversary and an attempt to streamline the sometimes convoluted history of its heroes.

The cover by Pérez, depicting a distraught Superman holding the dead body of Supergirl, his cousin, became a classic. It is one often referenced by other artists, not to mention Pérez, who drew a similar Mighty Mouse cover.

In 1991, Pérez drew several issues of Marvel’s “Infinity Gauntlet,” by writer Jim Starlin, which was a bestseller and helped influence the films “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”

Pérez returned to the Avengers in 1997 and ushered in a new era for that team with writer Kurt Busiek. “I asked which Avengers he’d like to use, and his response was ‘all of them,’ ” Busiek said in a telephone interview. Their collaboration was a creative and commercial success, and helped pave the way for the Justice League/Avengers series in 2003, which featured the biggest heroes from both DC and Marvel.

In the December interview, Pérez recalled one of the first images the team came up with: Superman holding Thor’s hammer and Captain America’s shield. “We didn’t know how we were going to get there, but we knew it was going to be there,” he said.

The series was wildly successful, and subsequent collected editions sold out, leaving fans with little hope of obtaining additional copies at affordable prices. But that changed after Pérez’s prognosis became known. In March, a reprint limited to 7,000 copies was produced by Hero Initiative, a charity that supports needy comic book artists and writers. Pérez was a founding board member.

“Whatever it was that allowed this reprint to be released, I am very grateful, and on behalf of the fans all I can say is well done DC and Marvel!” Pérez wrote on Facebook. “And of course, I am so elated that all profits from this reprint are going to one of my favorite personal charities!”

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