Keith Giffen (1952 – 2023).

§ October 13th, 2023 § Filed under obituary § 14 Comments

So in 1986, after having read Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming’s various, and hilarious, Ambush Bug short stories and mini-series over the previous few years, I was excited to pick this up:

…a new comic book by the same creative team, featuring a fellow accompanied by magical, and invisible, rabbit. Y’know, like Harvey, only slightly more homicidal.

Drawn in a style that was (somewhat infamously) inspired by Argentinian cartoonist José Muñoz, it was an edgier, more darkly humored affair that had promised more issues, but sadly, the one issue was it. (Though there apparently is a short March Hare story in an anthology somewhere that I’ve never seen.)

That may be one of the more obscure Giffen works, a small-press book from the black-and-white boom era of the direct market, but it was one I happily bought off the shelf and have kept in my collection this whole time. (Above scans are from my personal copy.) Another maybe slightly more known job of his was from the late 1970s, when he was paired with writer Gerry Conway to produce some issues of Challengers of the Unknown. Of interest to me here was special guest star, a Mr. S. Thing:

Another fave of mine was Giffen and Fleming adapting Robert Block’s story “Hell on Earth” for DC’s science fiction (and, well, horror too, I guess) graphic novel line:

Told in tight-grid panels with close-ups and shadowy abstract imagery, it made a scary tale that much more creepy.

Much of Giffen’s other work, either as writer or artist or both, is probably much more familiar. Legion of Super-Heroes. Justice League. OMAC. Hero Squared (from Boom!, that was a good’un). Omega Men. Lobo (which he co-created). Dr. Fate. Heckler. Vext. And much, much more…there are very few properties untouched by Giffen at either Marvel or DC.

Giffen’s involvement in pretty much anything guaranteed 1) immense creativity in the storytelling, and 2) good humor, both probably necessary elements for the superhero books he usually worked on. I’m sure he had a lot more wild weirdness to unleash upon the world within that ever-churning mind of his, and it’s a great loss that he had to leave us so soon.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to longtime Giffen cohort J.M. DeMatteis and to what he has to say about his departed friend. And Giffen recently released three episodes of a podcast of him talking about his career and some shenanigans in which he’d been involved. Note: the sound quality is…not great, but listenable, and the actual name of the podcast may be a little upsetting, but wherever Giffen is now, he probably thinks it’s hysterical.

This is a hard one. My condolences to his family, friends, and fans. So long, Keith.

14 Responses to “Keith Giffen (1952 – 2023).”

  • DavidG says:

    This is very sad news – Giffen was one of my all time faves, and produced some of the best comics of the last 40 odd years. Not everything worked (never much warmed to Vext or Heckler) but when it did, boy it was great. Legion, Justice League and the magnificent Ambush Bug. Legendary.

  • Tom W says:

    This is wrenching. The first American comic I picked up after becoming interested in comic was Swamp Thing, that Alan Moore connection, but the second was Son of Ambush Bug #2 and it was no less adult, no less innovative and no less shocking. I remember sharing it with my older brother and saying ‘I… think it’s funny?’ and when he agreed going picking up #6, which was even more disconnected and strange. Hunted down the lot and last night, flicking through that Showcase collection, there’s barely a page without a line I treasure.

    ‘Yowp! They’re crepaxing me with gelbers!’

    ‘What’s so important about college, anyway? I’m keeping my comics!’

    ‘What a neat way to disguise your lousy pacing, Uncle Keith!’

    ‘Let me put you in a cab, I’ll tip the driver’

    I loved JLA too, and Lobo, and should really read Five Years Later now. But it’s a profound loss. Ambush Bug was part of the scaffolding I built myself around.

  • Oliver says:

    The evolution of Giffen’s style during his long and magnificent LSH run is as striking as Kevin O’Neill’s exactly contemporaneous transformation. Although the blatant appropriation of Muñoz wasn’t his finest hour, the whole sorry affair did at least inspire Muñoz & Sampayo to create a new ‘Sinner’ story.

  • Thom H. says:

    I don’t know if I can put into words how much Giffen’s work meant to me as a teenager. I discovered his (and the Bierbaums’) Five Year Later run on Legion near the end of its first year.

    The dense storytelling, the oblique references to 25 years of continuity, and reading the whole first year out of order as I was able to find back issues — those all coalesced into one of the most fun reading experiences of my life up to that point. I’m still partial to puzzle box stories, and very few of them live up to that initial experience.

    And that’s just one small part of his comics legacy. Man, did he know his way around the medium. I’m sad that he’s gone at such a relatively young age.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I don’t know if it was the first Keith Giffen comic I ever read, but the one that cemented him as a creator to look out for was Trencher. An ultraviolent, messy, weird book, Trencher didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen. The art was like if someone tried to recreate a Geoff Darrow picture using melted wax- and that’s a compliment! Eventually, I discovered his Kirby-phase Defenders, his fan-favorite Legion, his confounding (in a good way) 5YL Legion, his hilarious Ambush Bug, his celebrated JLI, random short runs, minis, and one-offs… Keith Giffen was an unapologetically unique and very talented comic book creator, and he will be missed.

  • Randal says:

    I adored Vext and have always been disappointed that nothing at all ever came out of it.

  • LouReedRichards says:

    Awww damn…
    This one hurts.

    In my (fairly small) collection I have a few long boxes and a bookshelf for magazines,graphic novels with a special area for particularly beloved creators: Kirby, Toth, Moebius, Rude, Mignola, Sienkiewicz, and yes, Giffen.

    I don’t have everything by him, but a decent chunk of his output. He had so many interesting projects, Ambush Bug, The Defenders, Dr. Fate, JLI, the aforementioned March Hare, OMAC, Video Jack (one of the most eighties things ever!) and a bunch of stuff I’m forgetting at the moment. Sure some of the comedy is a bit dated and cornball and even if they weren’t all successes, or even that appealing to me (Trencher) he at least went for it.
    I’ve still got projects of his that I haven’t read, The Heckler, all that Legion stuff and most of the 5YL Legion. Not being a big fan of the Legion though, I’ll probably hold off on those. And damn, I’ve never even heard of Vext, guess I’ll have to track it down.

    IMHO His Creeper and Clayface stories in Secret Origins are some of the best of that series.

    I know he went too far with the Munoz inspiration, outright swiping panels, etc.
    He could have coasted on his early 80’s style, but like Miller, and Sienkiewicz he was at least looking outside the incestous styles of mid-80’s comic art. Hell it looked so good even Colletta (Peter Parker #120) couldn’t ruin it!

    Like I guess everyone here, I’ve always loved Ambush Bug – particularly the “Nothing Special” from ’92. Fitting for this site that Swamp Thing is the first guest star in it, and he and his swampy environs looked damn cool!

    Thanks for everything Mr. Giffen!

  • Sean Mageean says:

    I think it is actually quite interesting that Keith Giffen was an artistic chameleon and so good at studying and absorbing the influences of other masters of the medium, despite the Munoz controversy. Personally, I’m more of a fan of the early Giffen art when his two main influences were Jack Kirby and French artist Philippe Druillet–known for “Loan Sloane” in Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal magazine. The Druillet influence is really used to good effect in early Giffen LOSH issues, as when Princess Projectra and Karate Kid are on Orando (I wonder if Jim Starlin named that planet as an in joke after DC Editor Joe Orlando…?) and also on Giffen’s great Challengers of the Unknown run where Gerry Conway threw Swamp Thing, Deadman, and Rip Hunter into the mix.

    Anyway, don’t sleep on early Keith Giffen art, folks…if you haven’t already, track down and dig his late ’70s/early ’80s artistic output on issues of Challenges of the Unknown, Kamandi, Claw the Barbarian, All-Star Comics–where his art is inked by the legendary Wally Wood, Defenders, Micronauts, Killraven in Amazing Adventures, Jack of Hearts in Marvel Premier, LOSH, Ambush Bug, Omega Men, etc., etc. –you won’t be disappointed…and except for the first Rocket Raccoon and Lobo appearances, most Bronze Age Giffen books are still very affordable.

    Also, I have that March Hare issue…the cover makes me think of Munoz plus Will Eisner (the floating newspaper), plus John Romita Sr (that iconic cover where Peter Parker has thrown his Spider-Man costume in the trash and is walking away). Unfortunately, the company that published that March Hare comic, Lodestone, went under because it was owned by David Singer and he lost his legal battle with John Carbonaro, as Singer had published T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comics in violation of Carbonaro’s ownership of the characters.

    Also, R.I.P. Phyllis Coates…who played Lois Lane during the first season of The Adventures of Superman TV series in the ’50s, and was also Lois’s mom on Lois & Clark.

  • BobH says:

    Was the March Hare anthology story the Giffen/Fleming contribution to STRIP AIDS U.S.A. in 1988, “The Black Spot”? I guess you could assume that was a March Hare story, with a dark-haired trenchcoat wearing character, but not necessarily.

  • LouReedRichards says:

    I’ll have to check out some of those recommendations Sean, thanks!

    I never really thought about the Druillet influence, but now that you mention it, it does make a lot of sense.

    Of all my favorite creators, Giffen is probably the one I know the least about. Can anybody recommend any interviews with him?

    I hope the Wally Wood inks have more verve than his usual 70’s work, most of it seems very phoned in to me.
    Oddly enough Janson, an inker I don’t usually care much for looked really good over Giffen’s pencils on the Defenders.

    Yeah that’s right, I’m talking smack on Wally Wood AND Klaus Janson – I’m just full of hot takes! : P

  • Sean Mageean says:


    Yeah, the Druillet thing just clicked with me the first time I saw Druillet’s artwork–which was probably a decade or more after I’d read those LOSH comics with Princess Projectra and Karate Kid on Orando that Giffen drew (and in the last post I meant to write that Jim “Shooter” not Jim “Starlin” was the creator of Orando). Most likely Giffen was buying and reading Heavy Metal magazine in the late ’70s and the early ’80s and Druillet and Munoz and other artists’ work featured therein influenced his own style at that time–which I see as a good thing, as every artist builds on the work of others who came before.

    My take on the Wally Wood inking and art during the late ’70s All-Star Star Comics revival is that it is pretty decent. The first few issues Wood did finishes and inking over Ric Estrada’s layouts; then Giffen did the breakdowns for several issues (with some very innovative panel compositions) and Wood did the finishes; finally, Wood drew and inked two issues that feature the Shining Knight and Merlin and Vandal Savage in Camelot–with the JSA time travelling there. Those two issues are fun–although Giffen isn’t involved with them–because Wood got to draw the Golden Age Earth II Superman in a nostalgic Joe Shuster style. I think most of those All-Star Comics issues are still relatively inexpensive–except for the first one, which is the debut of Power Girl. But there was also a black and white trade paperback published a decade or so ago with all of those Wood and Giffen stories…maybe Mike can obtain it for you?

    I agree that Giffen and Janson did nice work on Defenders–there’s a few issues with Giffen inked by Mike Royer that are also cool, if very Kirby-inspired.

    As for Kamandi, Claw, etc., I just find those comics fun visually to see early Giffen art. I think he did a Wood God story in Marvel Premiere and a few Super-Villain Team Up issues featuring Doctor Doom and Namor as well in the late ’70s.

  • Snark Shark says:

    Ambush Bug #3 was my first Giffen comic, and one that REALLY got me into collecting. (also Spanners Galaxy #5, which has nothng to do with Giffen).

    Here’s an odd recommendation: the last issue of “Hex”, DCs send-Jonah-Hex-into-the-future book. I think it’s #18. (Giffen did the art, probably Micheal Fleisher did the story).

    “and the actual name of the podcast may be a little upsetting”

    He’s only resting!

    ” Omega Men”

    There was a back-up story in… maybe issue #38? Wherein Lobo came back and killed his former bounty-hunting partner 9the guy with the hat) that was quite good.
    Lobo was good, until DC over-used him.

    His Dr Fate back-ups in Flash were great, they were reprinted in a Special.

    “Also, R.I.P. Phyllis Coates”

    Yes! And Suzanne Sommers.

  • LouReedRichards says:

    Yeah those Dr. Fate back-ups were great. Very Lovecraftian – chockablock full of tentacles and ichor!

    Giffen on Hex sounds interesting – will have to check out – thanks!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Giffen on Hex sounds interesting”

    He was an odd choice for that book! The artist who did most of the run (I think it was Ron Wagner) was a better fit, but that LAST issue, with the mood and all of the shadows, worked for Giffen’s style.

    “Dr. Fate”

    Those weird color effects!