For me, it all started with The Flash #80 in late 1993.
I was never much of a Flash fan despite my love for DC’s super-hero comics ever since the late 1970s. I hadn’t been reading Mark Waid’s much-lauded run on the Scarlet Speedster’s title. If memory serves, it was Alan Davis’s cover artwork that drew my attention to the book, but it was Mike Wieringo’s vision of the fleet-footed hero within that held it. His original, lantern-jawed interpretation of the Flash may not have been consistent with the sleekness inherent in a speedster character, but it was striking and attractive. Wieringo brought a mythic, larger-than-life quality to the character that was tempered by the grounded characterization Waid provided. Wieringo also did an amazing job of capturing the speed and energy of the title character. Both he and Waid brought a renewed sense of wonder and traditional comics storytelling to bear in a series that still had plenty of appeal for readers looking for a little more depth from the genre as well. Wieringo wasn’t on the title for that long, not really, but he left a mark on it that’s undeniable. His short stint earned him a place among the most favored artists to handle the character, and it quickly established him as a star talent in the comics industry.
One of Wieringo’s biggest claims to fame was co-creating Bart Allen, AKA Impulse. It’s actually a bit disconcerting how soon after Bart’s life as a character came to an end in a two-dimensional world that his co-creator followed suit in the real world. Sure, by the time Bart’s number was up, he’d become the Flash after a few years as Kid Flash, but the character was never more interesting or loved than when he was Impulse.
After his big splash with The Flash, he went on to do some solid work on Robin, Rogue and Sensational Spider-Man, the latter beginning a memorable connection with Marvel’s most famous super-hero. As his reputation in the industry grew, so did opportunities. He branched out with Tellos from Image Comics, a property that he and writer Todd DeZago owned. I’ve never been much for the fantasy genre in any medium, so I didn’t connect with Tellos. But there’s no denying that Wieringo’s wide-eyed characters and exuberant energy was a perfect fit. When one sees an image of a were-tiger in medieval garb, one recognizes the visual from Tellos immediately.
I was fortunate enough to have a chance to meet Mike Wieringo (ever so briefly) at the Comic-Con International San Diego in 2000. He and DeZago had taken Tellos and joined up with Gorilla Comics, a sadly short-lived collective of top comics talent who published their own comics through Image Comics. There was an undeniable spirit and optimism at the Gorilla booth. The creators — including Wieringo, DeZago, George Perez, Kurt Busiek, Waid, Stuart Immonen and more — weren’t just working together; there was a sense of camaraderie. There was also a lot of personality at play at the Gorilla booth. Mike Wieringo was a tall, striking man, so his presence was always felt. But he was also quiet and reserved, not at all what I expected from the man who offered such dynamic visuals in his comics.
A few years later, when it was announced that he and Mark Waid would team once again on Fantastic Four, I knew it would be an iconic effort, one of the most memorable visual depictions of the First Family of the Marvel Universe. The reason was that he’d already ventured into that world with his contribution to the DC/Marvel event from the late 1990s, Amalgam. Wieringo’s work on Spider-Boy (a merging of DC’s Superboy and Marvel’s Spider-Man, since the then-current incarnations of both characters were clones) was a joy to behold. In addition to the title character, Spider-Boy also featured the Challengers of the Fantastic, an Amalgam of the Fantastic Four and DC’s Challengers of the Unknown. Wieringo clearly drew a great deal of inspiration from Jack Kirby’s work, which made sense, since so many of the characters that served as fodder for Spider-Boy were Kirby creations.
I remember being thrilled to find Wieringo’s art in the Sidekicks Super Fun Summer Special in 2003. Though known for his work with the industry’s two biggest super-hero publishers, his love for good comics led him to contribute art for a scene in a small-press special that was read by a fraction of the number of people he usually reached. Contributing to the Oni Press one-shot didn’t advance his career or expand his fan base. It’s clear he did it for the love of the craft and his fellow creators.
With Fantastic Four, Wieringo’s work lived up to the promise he’d shown us with Spider-Boy. There was a renewed sense of innocence in the book, instilled by Wieringo’s artwork. The book still ventured into intense or melancholy territory at times, but Wieringo maintained a brightness, a sense of joy and hope as well. As the characters went through Hell (sometimes literally), the readers awaited the happy ending quietly promised by the softer side of the artist’s style.
One of the reasons Wieringo’s death of a heart attack at 44 has hit colleagues and fans so hard is that it shouldn’t have been him. He was fit and, by all accounts, mindful of a healthy lifestyle. That he could be vulnerable to a sudden death by natural causes is terrifying.
But ultimately, what’s rattled us all so much is the loss. So many pros have lost a great friend, and fans have lost what should have been decades more of memorable work. I’m pleased that we have so much to remember him by but will always think of what could have been.