New York-based comics god and revered Hall of Fame royalty Neal Adams has amassed a monumental body of work in his 50-year career, drawing pretty much every major character in the DC and Marvel pantheons. His largest legacy, however, is his character-redefining work on Batman in the late '60s and early '70s. In a world in which the Caped Crusader was best known for his campy TV incarnation, Adams brought a grim, gritty style to the character and his realm, setting the stage for his development into the brooding, complex superhero we know and love today.
As a crowned custodian of the Batman mythos, Adams is perfectly poised for reflection during the Dark Knight’s 75th Anniversary year. Blastr caught up with the perennially youthful legend to cruise down memory lane and honor the iconic vigilante with whom he's so closely associated. What’s the enduring power of the man he named the greatest fictional superhero ever? Read on...
March marks Batman’s Diamond Anniversary. Any special plans to help celebrate his big birthday?
I might track him down and try to offer him a beer, but I don’t think he’ll drink it. My drink is a White Russian and I only drink that because it tastes like coffee, as a concession to other humans who insist I must drink something.
In last fall’s PBS documentary, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, you called Batman “the greatest fictional superhero that has existed on Earth.” What elevates him over the Man of Steel?
Well, I don’t consider Superman a human superhero. I consider Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan heroes with a foot in reality. Superman is like a god, with god-like qualities, an alien from another planet. You can’t fairly relate him to a fictional character. So, I think if you try and compare him as a character, he’s either a god and there’s no sense of reality, or you compare him to human fictional characters from literature. There are many different components of Batman’s personality that make him so compelling.
You did the art for Greg Hurwitz’s Old School story in the special Detective Comics #27 75th Anniversary tribute issue this year. What was your approach to the art going in?
Simple. I was asked to do a job and for me that’s all it was. I certainly cared about it as a professional but didn’t invest my soul into it.
In helping to raise Batman, coaxing him past camp and further developing his persona and costume design, what’s it meant being so entwined in his fate?
I would have to ask who was more important to whom. When I was asked to do Batman, they were about to cancel Detective Comics and sales weren’t so great on Batman, either. Carmine (Infantino) was no longer drawing it and they just weren’t turning out a very good comic book. I actually had to do The Brave and the Bold to convince them to even let me do Batman. It was a very crazy time. I would honestly say that I was more important to him at the time, but now he’s more important to me because he’s well established and entrenched in popular culture and creating annual royalties for me because I pulled him out of the s***hole.
Why did you yearn to draw Batman so much?
I wanted to do it because it sucked. I was doing Deadman and The Spectre and anything I drew did well, so why shouldn’t I do Batman? It made no sense. I wasn’t responsible for the intelligence of the natives. Come on, put Neal Adams on Batman! What the hell is wrong with you guys? I don’t mean it to sound egotistical, but if you have great natural resources, you use them.
Batman was extremely important to me by providing two nice $100K checks from the first and third Christopher Nolan movies for my creation of the Ra’s al Ghul character. And why we only got $10K each for my and Denny O’Neil’s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” the basis for The Dark Knight story, I’ll never know. I think it was a mistake in judgment by whoever the powers are that decide those types of things.
Batman, by your admission, is simply a pulp hero who wears a costume. What makes him resonate throughout generations?
Well one of his incarnations was Sherlock Holmes and the first was C. Auguste Dupin in Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Batman is the guy that figures stuff out before everybody else does. I'm one of those guys. I think like that and work like that. That guy is eternal and I can completely relate to him. I was the only new guy in the whole industry, especially when I got in around 1959. I brought in new advertising elements, finer printing and reproduction techniques to the aging comics industry. They didn’t know what the hell they were doing. DC Comics was doing their printing with the same machines Ben Franklin used. It was the cheapest state of printing on the cheapest paper you can possibly find. It might as well have been toilet paper! My daughter Kris was the one who brought modern printing paper to DC Comics.
Ushering Batman into the modern era, what were some techniques and makeover ideas you applied, and when did you realize you were successful in achieving all you’d hoped for?
Good drawing and anatomy. Knowledge of how fabrics flow. One of the things comic-book artists never study is fabrics and how they move. In the classic 1959 Hammer Dracula film, Christopher Lee is standing at a parapet at his castle and a coach went up to the gate below. He turned and spun the wrong way, briefly, then walked away. He was wearing a floor-length cape and by doing that little move, made the cape flow around him. You can’t wear a cape and know how to use it without practicing. That’s the one scene you never see in a Batman movie. It’s him practicing in his cape before a mirror. But he has to! There’s a lot of art wasted by a lack of thinking. It’s significant for an artist to think more consistently to be good. That’s their job and it makes their brain work better.
You’ve seen him in many poses and plots. Which is your favorite Batman cover, issue or story arc?
I don’t have a favorite. Many of his moods and poses are not my favorite, like this one. (Displays a drawing of Batman leaning into an explosive dash) See, it’s like a speed skater, something I did as a youth. All your weight goes on your blades and when you turn you can lean at a 45-degree angle and run your hand down along the ice. You can see him accelerating, and many artists hadn’t thought of that before, but athletics make artists think of other ways of doing things than the tired, standard crap they’ve seen all their lives.
How do you see the medium of comics adapting over time?
Before the turn of the century, artists drew people from models posing. It was static and boring. Michelangelo's David? Boring. Moses? Boring. Everything that was done in art was boring because you had to have people pose for hours. After that, we drew from photographs. It took a certain type of artist to extend that into the space between cartoons and realistic drawing and into comic books. But you need to know perspective, anatomy, good drawing and it all had to come together to form the fantastic art of comic books. It’s the most incredible form of drawing art that we’ve ever had on Earth.
What is it about your personality that makes you so perfectly suited to draw Batman?
Ah, there’s some things you can’t put in a nutshell. It’s everything and anything and in order to do my science I had to learn all the sciences without studying all of them because the clues are scattered to these fragmented places and you never know where they all are until you discover them.
Are you excited for the upcoming Batman VS Superman film?
Absolutely. I don’t know what to expect. I’m sure they’ll steal from Frank Miller; he had them battle before. I’m just a fan and I’m excited to see it when it comes out. I see everything. I can separate the creative from the fan. Look, I even like my stuff!
Enjoy the all-star assembly of amazing Neal Adams Batman art below!