Legendary comic book artist Neal Adams, whose career spanned nearly 60 years and included revitalizing Batman and the Joker for DC as well as decades of work for artists’ rights and a commitment to social relevance in his work, died early in the morning yesterday, according to his daughter-in-law Saori Adams. He was 80.
In 1969, Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil pulled Batman back from the campy persona he had been saddled with on TV through a series of dark comics appropriate to the times. During the period, the duo also re-grounded The Joker in his homicidal roots, revived Two-Face and created Ra’s al Ghul. That character trio would, of course, become essential to Christopher Nolan’s multi-billion-dollar film trilogy for Warner Bros. decades later.
Adams and O’Neil also revamped Green Lantern and Green Arrow for DC, adding modern-day relevance to their stories with commentary on racism, overpopulation, pollution and drug addiction. In fact, the duo created one of the first Black superheros for DC, the John Stewart incarnation of Green Lantern.
“I come out of a time when bigotry was a lot more subtle than it [was] in the days of slavery,” Adams told The American Prospect in 2011. “Not for the people who had it working against them but for the [white] people who walked around saying, ‘There’s no problem, right?'”
Adams had tried to include Black characters in his work before, but when he got to DC he decided it was time for characters to look like many Americans who weren’t seen much in comics.
“I asked [my editor] what happens if [the then-current Green Lantern] Hal Jordan gets killed,” Adams said. “They tell me they have a backup,” who apparently was a blond guy from the Midwest.
With a little convincing, John Stewart was born. He went on to become the main Green Lantern.
Speaking of Black heroes, Adams also illustrated DC’s memorable oversize Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic in 1978, which he termed a personal favorite.
At Marvel, he worked on the X-Men, Avengers and Fantastic Four, among others.
Throughout Adams’ comics career, a company he co-founded with Dick Giordano called Continuity Studios also produced movie storyboards, advertising art, animatics, 3D computer graphics and conceptual design. Continuity was a related business that could have been a life’s work for a mere mortal. For Adams, it was one of many facets of his career.
Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro paid tribute to Adams’ movie poster work on hearing of his passing, posting the following tribute:
“R.I.P. Neal Adams- one of the first and great stylists to push USA comics to a new level. One of his lesser-know works was pencilling the excellent PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE poster for Richard Corben to color.”
R.I.P. Neal Adams- one of the first and great stylists to push USA comics to a new level. One of his lesser-know works was pencilling the excellent PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE poster for Richard Corben to color. pic.twitter.com/TvMG2M5IrF
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) April 29, 2022
In a remembrance on Facebook, his son Josh Adams wrote:
My father was a force. His career was defined by unparalleled artistic talent and an unwavering character that drove him to constantly fight for his peers and those in need. He would become known in the comics industry as one of the most influential creators of all time and champion social and creator’s rights. When he saw a problem, he wouldn’t hesitate. What would become tales told and retold of the fights he fought were born out of my father simply seeing something wrong as he walked through the halls of Marvel or DC and deciding to do something about it right then and there.
That “force” was responsible for Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster finally receiving decades-overdue credit and financial compensation from DC. He fought to unionize the industry in the ’70s and helped form the Comics Creators Guild, work which work led to a now-standard practice of returning original artwork to the artist.
In 2010, Adams helped create They Spoke Out: American Voices Against the Holocaust, a motion comics series that tells stories of Americans who protested Nazis or helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Adams also was one of the champions of an effort to get the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to return the original artwork of Dina Babbitt, a Jew who worked as an illustrator for Josef Mengele in order to keep herself and her mother from the gas chamber.
In his Facebook post, Josh Adams relates a realization about his father’s life and work that came from his struggle to answer a frequent question he gets: “What is it like to be Neal Adams’ kid?” He wrote he finally came to understand that fans and fellow artists loved his father for some of the same reasons he did.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly got it. It wasn’t until I sat at tables at conventions next to the same people I would watch treat my father with such reverence that I understood. He was their father too. Neal Adams’ most undeniable quality was the one that I had known about him my entire life: he was a father. Not just my father, but a father to all that would get to know him.
Neal Adams was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998, the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Inkwell Awards’ Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame in 2019.
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