George Perez, Master of the Multiverse

George Perez is one of those rare comic book creators who seems to channel something otherworldly with their art. It’s not just raw draftsmanship or the skill of constructing anatomy and buildings, Perez brings stories to life.

A strange, alternate universe of energy and character bubbling about like a four-color hallucination on newsprint. Yes, he’s an amazing artist, but there’s much more to it. He’s a true creator in the fullest sense of the word. Worlds live! Worlds die! And it all feels so very real, yet in a completely fantastic way.

As a young comic reader, before I knew much about the creators behind the comics, George Perez issues immediately stood out. These were the characters I had in my head, not as stilted pop art or mannequins in Halloween costumes, but living, breathing beings of sorts.

It’s like George knew the adventures we were playing between the panels in our minds, harnessed those signals from some shared unconscious zeitgeist cloud, and birthed them into reality.

Avengers. Titans. Hulk. Casts of thousands or solo stories. I know many writers were paired with Perez on his legendary runs over the years, but as I remember those stories it seems almost impossible that anyone could truly “write” a George Perez page. The construction of panels, intricate layouts, and flow of characters and emotions are less drawn than they are architected.

Like a master builder, Perez puts everything where it needs to be, but in such elegant ways that what in a normal story would be necessary scaffolding becomes art unto itself. What’s even more remarkable is that these amazingly put together story flows aren’t stiff or overly engineered. They’re almost organic, like the unfolding of a flower or the vaulted ceilings of La Sagrada Familia.

Let me step back. It’s important to remember these are comic books. So yes, transcendent beauty aside, there’s still the insane costumes, absurd powers, and dayglo cosmic fisticuffs craved by the masses served up, and served up with gusto. That’s the magic pixie dust for me, the sense that George Perez doesn’t just love making comics, he loves these insane worlds of spandex, tragedy, and triumph as much as us throwing down the $1.25 at the 7-11 did.

My first primal George Perez experience happened when I found a stack of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS issues at a flea market in the early ’90s. I was pretty well steeped in the trends of the day- the Image revolution and white-hot Marvel mutants, foil covers, polybags, and all the rest. But even in this weird bubble, CRISIS was in the comic book ether as this seismic event spoken of in hallowed terms. I wasn’t a huge DC reader at the time and knew very little about its byzantine history, but I was thrilled to find this block of CRISIS. I scooped them all up, I think a shiny quarter a piece, and devoured them when I got home. Supermen and Flashes and Titans, Monitors and Anti-Monitors, a multiverse of comic book timelines cascading across my eyes like some potent nanobot lore injection. Every cape, every pile of rubble, every crumbling skyscraper on some strangely numbered Earth hit with a potency and vividness that I had never experienced before. This was comic books on an almost Biblical scale.

Then there’s his New Teen Titans, a book I also discovered through the flea market/yard sale grind. I quickly discovered an amazing cast of characters and a real comradery that jumped off the page. The X-MEN were everything in the ’80s, but here was something akin to them at DC, in a totally different way. I don’t think any of those characters have ever really recovered from the Titans era. They feel like pale echos compared to the living souls Wolfman and Perez so lovingly tended to and guided in that book.

TITANS is the blockbuster entry in Perez’s work, and CRISIS is the central masterpiece, his Sistine Chapel, and it ranks among the top 10 comic book moments of all time in my opinion, and probably most comic readers. My favorite Perez work came a bit later though, with HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT. I grabbed these deluxe issues off the shelf as they were released, with George Perez now firmly on my radar as a can’t miss creator. This comic shook me up in all kinds of ways. It felt a little bit more violent, a little bit more risqué, a little bit more shocking than standard Marvel fare. Here was a Hulk story that felt like a late-night movie on cable TV, with a strange and somewhat scary energy to it all. Perez and writer Peter David thrust us into a future that bares a lot of resemblance to the savage past, to the empires of yore where life was cheap, the powerful flexed without restraint, and hope seemed distant and laughable.

There’s a two-page spread in FUTURE IMPERFECT where Perez lays out a litany of disaster and tragedy- showcasing the downfall of our favorite Marvel heroes. The two pages simply show relics. Captain America’s shield. Iron Man’s shattered armor. The remnants of Spider-Man’s costume. And on and on and on. Behind each exhibit, the mind constructs the horrible end met by the Marvel cast of characters. Dozens and dozens of stories, not overtly told with words or endlessly referenced citations, but instead presented so elegantly still that it shocked and instilled a gut-punch of awe. A true memorial. My eyes scanned that page over and over again, dissecting the thought and ideas put into each item small and large.

There are hundreds of moments like that across George Perez’s body of work, pages seared into consciousness for entire generations. I was working in a comic book shop in the late ’90s when George returned to the Avengers. The joy among fans was palpable in the air. This was a Return of the King moment, and while the ’70s Avengers wasn’t my primary jam, I was pleased to see so many happy with the redux of sorts. A more striking work for me personally, and one that remains somewhat unappreciated, is 2008’s LEGION OF 3 WORLDS, a tie-in to FINAL CRISIS that in many ways upstages the main event. George’s work here is as expansive and epic as anything in his catalog, with every facial expression and intricately designed page gushing with that bizarre DC hyperlore that he excels at channeling.

There are so many George Perez moments. I can’t really imagine comic books without thinking of George Perez. As comic readers, we’re each little individual multiverses unto ourselves, projecting our own internal struggles onto these crazy pages. Perez is that ultra rare creator who seems to look back through the page to you, and wink. We’re in this together, partner. Buckle up.

Love to George Perez and his family.