How amazing is it that Neal Adams has returned to the company he transformed; DC Comics and the character he redefined; Batman? I’ll tell you; truly colossal, mammoth. It is the most exciting and almost totally unexpected event in the field of comic illustration in many years.
Neal had hinted at a return to comics a few years ago in a trade magazine saying “I’ll come back and kick everybody’s ass…” this said with great affection and a sort of tossing down of the gauntlet. He is currently onboard at DC as the artist and writer of “Batman Odyssey” a major new release.
I have been a fan almost forever but not quite. When Neal came on the scene he was doing realistic stuff and that wasn’t suited to my adolescent taste and against all the norms of the time. At the top of my favorites were artists: Curt Swan, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino.They were and remain great but they fit into what was expected at the time. Infantino had introduced with Editor Julie Schwartz the “New look Batman” and his work defined the character in the early “Silver Age.”Around 1967 a new character was introduced in one of the DC‘s marginal titles “Strange Adventures” a character named Deadman. The comic’s theme was a twist on the popular TV series “The Fugitive” and the character was; well…dead. Carmine bowed out after the first issue. Adams came on board with the next. It was to be among the greatest runs for a character and creator that the field would ever see. HIs style was perfect for this nontraditional character and storyline. Neal; always a phenomenal draftsman was messing with the whole idea of what a comic should look like and be.
He was doing entire pages as monochromes. Things with the lighting that were increasingly dramatic. His nocturnes were true nocturnes. There was no question that a scene took place at night. He restructured the layouts of the book changing the very thing that comic design had been before. You never knew where you would find the panel flow as you turned from page to page. He stretched the story- telling from the top of one page across to the next. He turned the panels by odd degrees unlike the normal right angles and varied the sizes of panels to form unusual takes on perspective. He took other- wise unrelated individual panels and formed them puzzle-like into larger images. It was; to borrow from another company and a certain character from Billy Chrystal; marvelous!
Adams would go on to rescue Batman from the antics and hyperbole of the popular TV show. He returned the batman to “The Batman” while expanding on the mythology and lore of the character. He and writer Denny O’Neil set the bar for all others to follow. Others have have done glorious things since but the presence especially of Adams is always there. The team of O’Neil and Adams would reach another comic and cultural high with their updating and expansion of Green Lantern and Green Arrow.
The tough, transformational decade that had been the sixties would cross over into the comics with Green lantern issue #76.Green Arrow was added to the book and the two would be foils. It was the beginning of a new look and attitude change for the characters (a new costume for Green Arrow) and the first socially relevant comic book. This was something that came to me and many fans as if from nowhere. Comics had been insulated from the realities of the revolutionary times we lived in; the real world.
Comics were fantasy, they were escapism, and they were safe. When an elderly ; exquisitely rendered, poverty stricken Black man steps up to Green lantern and asks “what about me; Green Lantern…you work for the blue skins, you help the orange skins and every other…what about the black skins?” It was as if a fist had been driven into my stomach and then turned slowly. I realized the power of the medium and since that transformative issue reading comics has never been the same. Comics could be as moving and important as any art form. The series went on to explore many questions in the society during the early seventies. Comics were evolving and maturing as was the readership. Green Lantern / Green Arrow was a hallmark for the team of O’Neil and Adams; a gift for us all.
Adams has moved on from DC to form his own comic and commercial arts company; Continuity Associates. His career has spanned almost ever creative endeavor. He has ranged from album covers to theatre set design from theme park attractions to movie story boards. He has won numerous awards and is recognized by his peers as a standard for excellence. Bill Sienkiewiez, Dave Sims, Alex Ross and Jim lee all acknowledge the Adams influence. Adams has worked to better the lives of all artist in the graphic design field including Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. You might recognize them as the co-creators of Superman. They labored for years as company employees and were denighed benefits or retirement compensation. Adams along with writer Harland Ellison lobbied and won for the pair benefits and recognition for their achievement which was no less than the founding of an industry and the creation of a national icon. Their creation Superman being the original and the basis of all super heroes that followed. He is currently working to grant possession of Holocaust artist Dina Babbitt’s paintings to her from the government of Poland. Babbitt did the works in exchange for her life and the life of her mother.
In a recent interview Adams was asked to describe the character of Batman as he saw him. In his mind Batman was “first a superb athelete then a brilliant mind close to the level of a Sherlock Holmes. He has pushed himself to the limits of human possibility, he is dedicated and deeply committed to doing what is right and good. Because he is the one super hero that is not super; he is simply the ultimate best that he can be.”
When looking for the true ideals of a society or a culture look to the mythology, the legends. Also look to those who are the keepers of those legends . Sometimes you will find the lines between the two to be blurred . I think that is the case with Neal Adams.