Neal Adams is one of comics’ legendary artists. He ushered in an era of more realistic art styles in the late 1960s and early ’70s, working on titles such as X-Men, Deadman, his still-classic run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow and, perhaps most of all, his art for Batman in Brave and the Bold, Detective, and Batman comics with writers such as Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, and Bob Haney.
After years — decades — of just comic book covers and posters here and there, as he forged a career in advertising art and design, Adams has returned to the Dark Knight Detective with a 12-issue mini-series, Batman Odyssey. The story begins, not unlike Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, with the start of Bruce Wayne as The Batman, then goes from there as the tale spans various eras of Batman’s history.
Batman Odyssey #1 hit comic book stores this past week (July 8th). Not too long ago, I spoke with Adams — yeah, one of my comics heroes for ages — about re-entering the world where he first found fame.
“I’ve kind of been dragged, kicking, screaming, back into comic books through an odd side-door, comic books,” Adams said with good humor.
That side-door was the growing world of motion comics. He was working on motion comics campaigns for Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men and with Disney on the far more serious They Spoke Out: American Voices of Protest Against the Holocaust. And he began talking back and forth to DC and Marvel.
“The ad business has gotten a bit boring for me, dragging me more toward the Internet where we’re able to make more creative content,” he said. So while ad accounts such as Taco Bell were successful and lucrative, Adams was looking to do more, and comics were once again calling.
Acclaimed writer/artist Frank Miller introduced him to an editor, and they started talking about a series — a special project.
“There was a Batman story lurking in the the back of my brain — bits that were ignored as he moved forward as a character, little bits of background — and I went along and picked up some of the bigger pieces and started constructing what I consider a pretty epic story,” Adams said.
“It’s 12 issues over 12 months, 25 pages each. There are a few surprises in inking I really can’t tell you about. I did all the pencils. And I wrote it,” he said.
Going back to his work in the ’60s, Adams often had a hand in plots, stories, and character creations, working with various comics writers such as O’Neill and Roy Thomas on X-Men.
“People don’t know how much writing I did in comics — I did Deadman, X-Men, but people were so into the art, they forget the writing,” he said. “I think of myself as a storyteller. I’m a pretty good artist, but I see myself as more of a storyteller, and you might possibly say that’s why my stuff is remembered — not because of nice pictures but because the pictures tell pretty interesting stories. It’s like handing a script over to a director. That’s really what a comic book artist is. That’s what I am in comics. And it’s not just a collaborative business either. Everybody knows one another is looking forward to working with other people we know. There are no jealousies like there are in other things. It’s a joyful business.”
Adams called Odyssey a “voyage of discovery” about not just Batman but Bruce Wayne. “It’s a journey of what they are,” he said, and Adams has no doubt the series will meet with controversy, including early Batman’s use of a gun — the weapon he would eschew and come to hate for killing his parents.
“When I first drew a cover for DC comics of Batman shooting a gun and the reaction was one of ‘What?!,’ I thought, ‘We saw Batman holding a gun in five different covers. Why are people giving you a hard time?’ There’s a reason for him — read the story, find out. People are so attached, protective, and wonder if you’re trying to change things. I changed that first cover because DC Comics went ‘Woah, firing a gun.’ So I did another cover and he’s hit by a bullet — his first wound wearing a costume that’s clearly not bulletproof. I’m telling the story of the first time he went out, if it were sort of like the comic books by Bob Kane. He probably went out with a gun like a vigilante cop would do. It’s a real odyssey, so why shouldn’t we show first case where he went out on carrying a gun? I start at a point, telling a story of his first adventure in a lousy costume, ears flapping, guns at his side, and he very quickly learned it wasn’t a good idea at all. He’s standing on top of train, ears flapping, trying to use the gun. But if Neal Adams did it, suddenly it’s ‘Ah, betrayed.’ What I’m trying to do is tell you a story and say this is what happened. Let’s discover things we didn’t know before.”
Expect many of Batman’s classic rogue’s gallery, including that psychotic prince of crime, plus allies, such as a certain murdered circus aerialist recently brought back to life in DC’s Blackest Night and Brightest Day series.
“The Joker is in a car in handcuffs being taken to jail, and Deadman enters Joker’s body,” Adams revealed. “Batman is sitting next to Deadman, who turns to him and says, ‘Ever notice you keep on arresting/fighting clowns? Penguin, Riddler, Mad Hatter, me… Do they have a lot of clowns in Metropolis? Arkham asylum is filled up with clowns that you battle. Did it ever occur to you that you’re being manipulated?’” Adams dropped tidbits from other parts of the tale as well. “We’re in the Batcave; Alfred is bringing Bruce some tea, drops the tea and doesn’t pick it up. Bruce says, ‘You’re Deadman now, right?’ And he says, ‘Bats, you know me, you know what happened?’ ‘Yes, you were a trapeze artist, somebody, an assassin with a hook used to a hi-powered rifle, shot you in the middle of your act.’ They’re quiet, then Deadman says, ‘You know how Robin’s parents were killed — killed the same way. They want to distract you, release one of the clowns. Are you just a tool? That ever occur to you?’”
Odyssey asks questions, Adams said, such as isn’t Bruce Wayne doing more good, saving lives, than Batman? Who can feed starving children in Africa?
Adams also brings back two of his co-creations with O’Neil, Ras Al Ghul, and daughter Talia. As he wrote on his website last December and repeated in the interview, “When Ra’s al Ghul broke into the Batcave and told Batman he ‘deduced’ Batman was Bruce Wayne years ago, did you believe him, that he, Ras, alone in the world, figured it out? He didn’t figure it out is what I say. There’s a story of some kind back there, and that’s part of what Batman Odyssey is about.”
It looks as though Adams will stick around doing more comics too. Upcoming projects include a Wolverine series. And what about working with some of today’s hottest writers in comics, DC or Marvel, such as Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Mark Waid, Brian Michael Bendis, or Ed Brubaker?
“I suspect, as things fall together, I will work with some of those guys on some things,” Adams said. “If I do, I would prefer it be their best, not their regular. I’ve been lucky enough to work with two of the best writers for DC and Marvel, Denny O’Neil and Roy Thomas. To be perfectly honest, I write my own stuff. First of all, it’s improtant for the writing be there, the idea to be there.”
Neal Adams and his sons — Jason, Joel, and Josh, who work with him at his longtime company, Continuity Associates, which he formed with late artist, inker, and onetime DC Comics Editor Dick Giordano — will be special guests at Comic-Con International 2010 in San Diego later this month, July 22nd-25th. While Adams has long had his own booth at the event, he knows this year will be different with the Batman Odyssey series.
“It’ll be interesting,” he said. “I haven’t been fully in comic books for a long time, and this’ll be a contrast to the way it’s been for awhile now.”
An extended version of this interview appears on That Writer Guy.