EXCLUSIVE: Superstar Neal Adams on his new Superman: The Coming of the Supermen

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Dec 24, 2015, 6:52 PM EST (Updated)

Trailblazing comic-book titan Neal Adams is soaring into 2016 on the crimson cape of a superb solo project. He's tackling the Man of Steel while resurrecting Jack Kirby’s classic New Gods in a six-issue DC Comics mini-series event, Superman: The Coming of the Supermen, debuting in February.

Blastr recently sat down with the engaging Eisner Award-winning artist and mined the master’s mind for details on his latest sweeping creative endeavor. Hear his illuminating comments on his souped-up Man of Steel beside four jaw-dropping lettered pages and some exclusive, never-seen, uncolored splash panel art.

What was the exact genesis of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen?

I approached DC Comics and told them I’d like to do a Superman story. Thing is about DC, they’re paying me too professionally for me to do minor titles unless I can do something fantastic, like they might let me do Deadman. But they prefer to keep me on Batman and Superman or something that’s going to make a difference, so they can reasonably afford me. I’d never really done my own Superman before; I just sort of did Curt Swan’s Superman and threw a few extra things in.

How did you pitch the plot for this ambitious original story?

So we talked about Superman and I said I’d like to do a Superman with Jack Kirby’s New Gods. I’d like Superman to settle them on a planet already populated by the people of the Bottle City of Kandor, which are the Kandorians, I guess you’d call them. So there’s this thing you hear about in crazy sci-fi fiction called Nibiru, and it’s a planet on the other side of the sun that we can’t ever see, because it’s directly on the other side. So if you assume there’s another Earth over there, the idea of locating somebody in a place, that’s not bad, you can get to it in half a year, or less if you have a faster ship. Darkseid’s Apokolips was in some weird place that doesn’t exist. What if Darkseid comes across New Krypton? I like that concept, so the question is, if you have people from New Krypton settling on that planet and the Apokolipsians deciding they want the same planet, what’re you going to get? War. So at some point we postulate that the New Kryptonians, even though they’re more powerful than the Apokolipsians, who are meaner and more vicious, may have to go get the help of Superman. And to replace him they send three Supermen to Earth in his place to take over duties.

Well, that’s the beginning of the story, so we get quite a bit of new stuff. I’ve got a little Arab kid with a dog who Superman adopts, we’ve got an alien who is watching out for the cultural changes on Earth. One of his abilities is that he can stop time in a local area so if Superman attacks him he just stops him in time. It’s one of those powers that’s pretty hard to fight. I’m having a lot of fun with these characters. I have Darkseid, I have Mister Miracle, I’ve got everybody. I’m just going crazy. It’s going to be a limited six-issue series, but DC can pick up the trails of it and use it if they wish going forward.

Being right there at DC in the early '70s, were you a fan of Jack Kirby’s New Gods?

I always thought it was a balls-to-the-wall craziness. That Jack Kirby would come over to DC Comics after creating the whole Marvel Universe, including ancient Gods, and then start off with New Gods? I mean, who else could do that? Nobody. Nobody but Jack Kirby.

You’ve been an innovator your entire career, what about this project appealed to your sense of artistic progression?

People forget that my place in the business of comic books is to change things, to create new things. The things people see as standard stuff now, at the time 30 years ago, was totally revolutionary. Fans expecting me to do the same thing again is totally insane, because now I’m going to be doing something that’s the next 20 years ahead.

Are you always forging forward and submitting new concepts?

Batman: Odyssey of course I presented to DC, and The First X-Men I presented to Marvel, which they kinda messed up because of editorial decisions. But you find out how beautifully it slots into the recent X-Men movie, where you go back in time and the leader of the X-Men is in fact Wolverine, and Professor X doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.

How do you view your legacy and the current state of your prolific career?

When I stopped doing full comic books in 1977, it was with Superman vs Muhammad Ali, and that’s a long time ago. I have since become a publisher and written comic books and done covers and corrected pages, but I didn’t do full stories. People don’t recognize that, somehow I’m a mainstay, and I’ve come back just in time to catch the tail end of my fan following and have them spread my name even further, of all things.

What attributes do you inject into Neal Adams’ Superman?

He’s got anatomy! He’s got muscles and you can see them. This last guy that played Superman, Henry Cavill, he’s got muscles, then they added muscles to it and they altered him a little bit. I don’t like that. I like the costume to be on the guy. So the Superman I’m doing, I’m putting the muscles on the guy. And I’m also drawing a Superman that women may fall in love with, and guys will like, which is very hard to do. There have been Superman covers I’ve done in the past where fans say, “Yeah, I like THAT Superman.” So that’s what I’m doing … amped up, making Superman into a human being, and bringing into question his human being-ness, which then becomes a sub-plot that really makes the story significant. Editorially, I don’t think DC Comics quite knows that yet.

DC Comics recently announced your new Superman. Can you describe their support and enthusiasm for this project?

DC Comics gets excited about a project according to who’s in charge. When I did Batman: Odyssey we had an editor who, unfortunately, no longer works for the company. That was a terrible tragedy for me as far as support is concerned. It came out when New 52 arrived and DC ignored Batman: Odyssey. This time, Jim Lee is very strongly behind Superman and saying, “Neal is doing a Superman you’re gonna pay attention to.” Well, because of the position he’s in, people will pay attention. He’s seen the process; he’s seen how it evolved. I think this series is going to have many more friends at DC Comics than Batman: Odyssey did. People now are saying Odyssey is one of the best books ever done. DC let Internet critics ride roughshod over it, and told me to ignore the negative comments. I did, only to discover that was a really big mistake. Now if somebody comes after me about Odyssey there’s big trouble in bad town! When everybody forgets about New 52 they’ll be remembering Batman: Odyssey. When Denny and I did Green Lantern/Green Arrow, artists and writers said it was too preachy. Too preachy? It’s fantastic.

Where did the specific plot themes originate from for Superman: The Coming of the Supermen?

I’m an old science fiction reader from the '50s and on forward, and I’d absorb anything that came along. I could go over to 14th Street in New York City and buy old Galaxy magazines for two cents so I loaded up. I didn’t have much money but I could get old books so I read a lot. One of the questions we never ask is why are there so many people out there that look like human beings, then we have this other group that looks so alien that they look like trees. There’s two different kinds, humanoid and crazy aliens. So why is it that the Kryptonians seem like human beings, and all these other races out there as well that seem human-like unless there’s a seed that spread throughout the universe? And, is it possible that Superman is a human? Wow. I doubt he has three penises if you know what I mean. (Laughs)

Was it a challenge integrating Orion, Lightray, Metron, and the rest of Kirby’s New Gods into the action?

No. I’d always wanted to bring back Kirby’s New Gods back into the DC Universe, and I felt any time anybody tried it, they turned it into their version of the New Gods. And it’s not so much a criticism as a chide. I love what Jack Kirby did. I don’t like when he was sloppy; I like when he was neater and took more time, but of course he was cranking out a lot of books. I don’t like the way he handled his dialogue because it was really just shorthand and he didn’t have another Stan Lee over at DC Comics. If he did, I think all that stuff would have lasted longer and would have been great. Had he had a friend in editorial instead of enemies, like Carmine Infantino, who was a bit jealous of Jack’s popularity, that whole thing could have gone far.

This is a good thing for DC Comics to do. I feel enough a part of DC that I want to welcome Jack Kirby’s stuff back and I’m going to go as close as a Neal Adams style can go to it and draw realistically, but still make it true to Jack’s. The same clothes, the same beards, the same faces and same big chunky teeth, with no attempt to do any more than make it more correct, better drawing, not to make it my style. I want to see that Kirby stuff brought forward just the way I did Batman.

What alterations in Batman helped usher him forward?

People ask me all the time what made me change Batman. I didn’t change Batman! My Batman is exactly the Batman that Jerry Robinson and all those guys did. He’s got the grey costume, he’s got the Bat Signal, he’s athletic. All I did was made him more real. He’s Sherlock Holmes, he’s an athlete, just like all those great Batman stories I loved as a kid growing up. I’m almost shocked that people say I did something differently or made a unique contribution. No, I just did it better. And isn’t that what happens as time goes by? You get better artists who are able to do better things. That’s all.

What do you think Jack Kirby would say if he were still alive and saw his New Gods resurrected?

He’d punch me on the arm and blow smoke in my face and say, “Yeah, that’s right kid, make it right.” I think he’d be very happy. Jack never had problems with people working on characters that he’s done. He’s had issues, and I do the same thing, when people changed them.

So sometimes change isn’t always a good thing?

Right. I created a character called Havok. He’s been through these ridiculous changes of costume over time that don’t make any sense. Until finally everybody says, “I guess the way Neal did it was right in the first place.” Well, the costume makes sense with the powers and how they’re absorbed and how they’re projected. Leave it alone or do it better. Make your own character and call it something else. Then it’s yours and you can yell at other people for changing it!

DC's Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 swoops into comic shops on Feb. 3, 2016.  What do you think of Adams' amazing Man of Steel?