Neal Adams, comic book artist who revitalized Batman, dies at 80

Neal Adams influenced several generations with his style and co-created characters like Ra’s al Ghul, Man-Bat and one of DC’s first black superheroes, Green Lantern Jon Stewart.

Neal Adams, the legendary comic book artist who reinvigorated Batman and other superheroes with his photorealistic styles and championed creators’ rights, has died. He was 80 years old.

Adams died Thursday in New York of complications from sepsis, his wife, Marilyn Adams, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Adams rocked the comic book world in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his toned and bouncy take on heroes, first at DC with a character named Deadman, then at Marvel with X-Men and The Avengers and then with his most lasting influence, The Batman.

During his run on Batman, Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil introduced a revolutionary change to the hero and his comics, bringing realism, kineticism and a sense of menace to their storytelling away from the cheesy ABC series of the 1990s. 60 starring Adam West and years of the hero aimed at children’s readers.

He created new villains for the rogues gallery: Man-Bat and Ra’s al Ghul, as well as the latter’s daughter, Talia, who became Batman’s mistress. The father and daughter, played by Liam Neeson and Marion Cotillard, were key characters in Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy.

Batman’s run also revived a few villains who had become stale, no more so than the Joker, who became less comical and more of the homicidal maniac that modern readers and moviegoers know and love, actually taking his place as the Caped’s archenemy. Crusader.

“We took a harder lead. We decided Joker was a little crazy,” Adams told Abraham Reisman for a 2019 Vulture article that argued that without that classic story, 1973’s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” in Batman No. 251, comics like The Killing Joke , representations of Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix would not exist.

“It was no secret that we were doing Batman right,” Neal Adams said during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010. “It was as if the memory of DC Comics accompanied the statements that both Denny and I were making, we want it to be more realistic, more gritty. And that’s how we remember, whether it’s true or not, that Batman should be. And when we did, everyone was like, ‘Ah, that’s it.’ We don’t need comedy anymore.’”

Adams, also with O’Neil, came up with a then-controversial spin on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, tackling social issues like drug addiction, racism, and overpopulation and creating Green Lantern hero Jon Stewart, who became one of the first DC Black Icons characters. His 1971 two-part story “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” remains a precedent in the evolution toward more mature readers.

It was at this creative heyday in the mid-’70s that Neal Adams stopped drawing for Big Two, as DC and Marvel were known, and launched Continuity Studios, an artists’ studio that produced comics, commercial art, and storyboards, among others. services. The comics division created independent characters like Bucky O’Hare and Ms. Mystic.

He also proved to be an influence on generations of artists, giving many a boost or entry into the industry. He acted as a mentor to Bill Sienkiewicz, who would go on to draw an influential career with Moon Knight and the New Mutants, and Frank Miller, who more than a decade later would reinvent Batman himself with The Dark Knight Returns.

“It wasn’t until I sat at convention tables alongside the same people I would see treat my father with such reverence that I understood: He was his father, too,” his son Josh Adams said in a statement to THR. “The most undeniable quality about Neal Adams was the one I had known about him all my life: he was a father. Not just my father, but a father to all who would know him.”

Adams also worked tirelessly to promote better working conditions and, radically at the time, creators’ rights, especially for their work. From the start he recognized the value of creators and was a thorn in the side of publishers, demanding compensation for himself and others when his characters were adapted off the page.

He, along with Stan Lee, formed the Academy of Comic Book Arts, hoping to start a syndicate that would fight for profits and ownership on behalf of writers and artists. Lee wanted an organization that was more like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the two paths parted ways.

In the late ’70s, when a new federal contract labor law was enshrined, Marvel and editor-in-chief Jim Shooter distributed contracts stating that freelancers couldn’t assert copyright in their creations. As detailed in Reisman’s 2021 biography of Lee, True Believer, Neal Adams sent a copy of the contract, scrawling across the top: “Do not sign this contract! You will be signing your life!” While it caused buzz and awareness, the effort didn’t have its intended effect as Marvel flexed their muscles and threatened anyone who tried to unionize with drying up the independent well.

Neal Adams at work in the early 1970s

Neal Adams had more luck taking on the corporate overlords in two other areas. It helped change the practice of comics publishers of keeping artists’ original art or even shredding and throwing it away, influencing companies to establish art return policies, allowing artists to enjoy a second source of content. income. The biggest case: Marvel returned pages of art to Jack Kirby, the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Thor, the X-Men, and the Hulk.

He also proved to be an advocate for two writers and artists who laid the foundation for DC, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. When he learned of their plight—one inciting factor was hearing they couldn’t make it to a Broadway musical with the Man of Steel—he led a lobbying effort that ultimately led to more recognition for the couple, their credits in creating the character within comics and other media that continues to this day, plus a pension.

Adams was born in New York City on June 15, 1941, and attended the Manhattan School of Industrial Art. He set his sights on him in the comics early, and while DC shunned him in the late ’50s, he did humorous jokes for Archie Comics. He also worked in commercial advertising, bringing a comic book art style to his efforts, which would later influence his DC and Marvel work and help him stand out. Adams also worked for several years in the 1960s on a daily comic strip starring Ben Casey.

At the end of the decade, he finally landed at DC, first doing covers, then back-up stories, and finally the main stories. By the time Deadman was assigned to him in the Strange Adventures title, he had pretty much established his style, and it was only a matter of time before the industry caught on. Deadman became a surprise hit, earning him an Alley Award for “the fresh perspective and dynamic vitality” he brought to the medium.

During Batman’s heyday, when Neal Adams was wowing readers on a monthly basis, he was also causing a stir in DC offices with his art.

“In those days, if the work came in early enough, it would sit in flat files in production for about three or four weeks before someone actually took it and did the lyric corrections,” then-editor Paul Levitz recalled in a panel discussion. the 2010 Comic-Con. “The great books that always came, people came and looked at them. And when they came to deliver their art, they stopped at production, [diciendo] ‘Do you have Neal’s latest work?’ or ‘Let me see what’s in the detective’s drawer.’ And that becomes a Can you top this?’”

“My father was a force,” Josh Adams said. “His career was defined by an unparalleled artistic talent and an unwavering character that led him to constantly fight for his peers and those in need of him. He would become known in the comics industry as one of the most influential creators of all time and a defender of creators’ and social rights. When he saw a problem, he didn’t hesitate. What would become stories told over and over again about the fights he fought were born out of my father simply seeing something wrong while he was walking the halls of Marvel or DC and deciding to do something about it right then and there.”

The artist also understood the value of fan support and was a fixture on the convention scene, where he was lovable, curmudgeonly, and a repository of comic book history for what he loved being a storyteller.

In addition to his wife of 45 years and Josh, survivors include two other sons, Jason and Joel; daughters Kris and Zeea; grandchildren Kelly, Kortney, Jade, Sebastian, Jane and Jaelyn; and great-grandson Maximus.

His three children and Zeea work as artists in the field of comics or fantasy.

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Neal Adams, comic book artist who revitalized Batman, dies at 80

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