There were only two artists I ever really wanted to be able to draw like and that was John Romita Jr and Bernie Wrightson. Losing Bernie Wrightson yesterday was a big blow, but not surprising since he’s not been well for some time as he was battling brain cancer. It was just heartbreaking.
Wrightson has been thrilling me, influencing me, and blowing me away since I first discovered him in sixth grade when I got my hands on his illustrated edition of Stephen King’s Cycle of The Werewolf. Wrightson was a master over my two great loves horror and superhero comics. He co-created Swamp Thing in 1971 with Len Wein, a character I’ve stayed obsessed with since I was a kid. He did a jaw-dropping illustrated edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that isn’t just a standard bearer, but is unequaled. He took on Spider-Man, The Punisher, and Batman. He created iconic stories for Warren’s Creepy and Eerie…and so much more in a career that lasted nearly half a century.
One of my all time favorite Wrightson project is Batman; The Cult. Written by Jim Starlinand colored by Bill Wray, The Cult thrust the Caped Crusader into a nightmare scenario where an underground army, lead by the creepy Deacon Blackfire, destroys the infrastructure of Gotham City and starts to take power (if that sounds familiar, then you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises). To make matters more dire, book one opens with Batman already in the deacon’s clutches, tied up, bat symbol ripped off his chest, and tripping balls. The Cult was a four issue prestige format series and marks a career high mark for Starlin and Wrightson and for me is still a top 5 Batman story.
I love the way Wrightson draws Batman and his influence on the great Kelley Jones, who did some stellar work on Batman over the years, is obvious. It’s a brutal story, infused with a healthy dose of horror. The Cult is probably my favorite Jim Starlin story. The Cult is currently out of print, but hopefully we’ll get some sort of special edition with lots of extra art from Wrightson.
Wrightson was one of a kind and it hurts to know we won’t be getting new work. All we can do is cherish what we have, keep it in print, and keep passing it down to the newer generations.
Thanks for all the memories!