Adams read comic books from childhood, which inspired him to develop his own talent with an eye on working in the industry. He was initally rejected by DC Comics in 1959 after being told that there was no room in the industry for anyone new. Neal would freelance on Archie comics and Dell's Bat Masterson western comics, doing pencils and backgrounds. He would also branch out by doing advertising art, storyboards and comic strips. Adams worked on a variety of comic strips, Peter Scratch, Rip Kirby and The Heart Of Juliet Jones. He bacame the principal artist for the Ben Casey comic strip, based on the popular medical TV show of the early 1960's. The strip ran from 1962 - 1965.
Neal returned to comics by working for editor Archie Goodwin at Warren Publishing's Creepy and Eerie using a variety of illustration techniques on the stories he drew. He was successful with his second attempt at working at DC Comics. His early DC work was on DC's war titles, inspired by Joe Kubert and Russ Heath. Then he followed Carmine Infantino on Deadman, drawing one of his earliest DC covers for Strange Adventures #207, December 1967. That cover showed some of his talent for innovative design and composition, showing a bewildered Deadman in front of a background filled with faces staring at him. Neal Adams was a freelancer, but apparently made himself welcome enough to do a lot of his work at the DC offices. He drew stories for a variety of genres at DC, including humor (Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope), war, science fiction and super heroes. Adams quickly became DC's top cover artist, credited with 492 covers from 1969 - 1977, and 105 stories as penciller, inker, artist and sometimes writer.
His first covers were for The Adventures of Bob Hope #106, August/September 1967, and for Jerry Lewis #102, September/October 1967. His first Superman family cover was for Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #79, November 1967, the same cover date as his first Action Comics cover, #356. Other notable firsts for Adams cover were Superboy #143, December 1967 and Superman #204, February 1968.
The first Neal Adams cover I was exposed to was for Superman #240, July 1971, published on May 13, 1971. Adams inked this cover over Carmine Infantino's pencils. An anquished Superman stood in front of an angry crowd. He held a Daily Planet nespaper with the banner headline Superman Fails. This cover was for the story To Save A Superman, written by Denny O'Neil, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Dick Giordano, about a weakened Superman and efforts to restore his powers.
Another early cover was for 100 Page Super Spectacular #6, 1971, published on July 15, 1971. Neal Adams pencilled and inked this wrap around cover. On the front were the Earth-One heroes, with the spotlight on Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, and on the back were the Earth-Two heroes, including some duplicates of such Earth -One heroes such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, as well as Robin, Atom and the Flash. This reprint collection was edited by E. Nelson Bridwell (subject of episode #57) included the first JLA/JSA crossover, titled a Crisis story no less. The other reprints were of golden age characters Spectre, Johnny Quick, Vigilante, Wildcat and the silver age Hawkman.
His last regular covers were for World's Finest Comics #246, August/September 1977, Superman #317, November 1977 and Action Comics #488, July 1978.
Neal Adams' first DC story as artist was It's My Turn To Die, a nine page backup story in Our Army At War #182, July 1967, written by Howard Liss.
His first Superman story was The Superman - Batman Revenge Squad in World's Finest Comics #175, May 1968, a 17 page story written by Leo Dorfman.
Neal's first Superman issue was #249, March 1972, as inker on the seven page story The Origin Of Terra-Man, written by Cary Bates and pencilled by Dick Dillon.
His first Superman issue as penciller was #254, July 1972, on the second story, the seven page The Baby Who Walked Through Walls, written by Lein Wein. Adams also inked this story.
Neal's first issue of Action Comics was the six page Human Target story The Short Walk To Disaster Contract, which was inked by Dick Giordano.
His progressive and innovative art style was a reflection of his progressive views about the business side of comic books as well. As we'll see later in this episode, he worked for improved pay, benefit and working conditions for creators.
Neal Adams also worked for Marvel. At his request Stan Lee put Neal on one of their then lowest selling titles, X-Men (hard to believe, huh). Even though the title would eventually be cancelled, Adams drew a short but memorable run on the title from issues 54 - 66, written by Roy Thomas. These X-Men stories were reprinted in Marvel Essentials: Classic X-Men vol. III and Marvel Masterworks: X-Men vol. VI. Neal also drew part of a classic Avengers story The Kree/Skrull War in Avengers #'s 93-96, in a story that ran from issues 89-97 and was also written by Roy Thomas. This story was reprinted in the trade paperback Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War.
His most famous collaboration was with writer Dennis O'Neil. They simultaneously teamed up on three titles, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and the Batman titles Detective Comics and Batman. With the GL/GA title they created a short but memorable run of "relevant" stories about the issues of the time, from race relations to drug abuse, when Green Arrow partner Speedy fought a heroin addiction. On the Batman titles they returned the Caped Crusader to his dark noir roots from the campy style used during the run of the Batman TV show. These stories were reprinted in the two volumes of Green Lantern / Green Arrow and the three volumes of Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams.
An unusual team-up with Superman was the oversized All-New Collectors' Edition C-56, 1978, published on December 12, 1977, titled Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. Neal Adams drew both the cover and the story. The cover featured Muhammad Ali and Superman as opponents in a boxing ring. In the crowd Adams drew DC staffers and characters, as well as famous celebrities of the era. The story was not as successful as hoped because of the delays getting the story approved by all of the parties involved, including Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. By the time this story appeared on the newsstands Ali had been defeated by Leon Holmes, whom Ali would defeat in a rematch and reclaim his heavyweight championship title.
The story detailed a planned alien invasion of Earth. The leader of the alien armada challenged Earth to produce its greatest champion, to battle his own champion. Superman and Muhammad Ali emerged as the two most likely candidates. Superman and Ali squared off on the planet of a red sun to even the odds and Ali won. He then squared off with the alien champion, barely defeating him. Superman, in a disguise, snuck into the command ship of the alien armada and sabotaged the fleet. The alien leader broke the agreement and planned on invading Earth anyway. His defeated champion led a revolt and took control of the fleet and made peace with Earth. The story ended with Ali knowing Superman's secret identity.
Neal Adams would branch out of comic books to work in animatics, book covers (like editions of Tarzan reprints), theatrical production and stage design. He served as art director, costume designer and poster illustrator on a science fiction stage play Warp, written by Bury St. Edmund and Stuart Gordon. Adams founded Continuity Associates to supply movies with storyboards. Continuity Comics grew out of it, publishing a variety of comic books sporadically from 1984 - 1994. The original characters published included Armor, a highly trained warrior, Crazyman, whose powers came from his lunacy and rage, Megalith, Toyboy, Skeleton Warriors, CyberRad, Bucky O'Hare and Ms. Mystic. A group of inkers who worked for Continuity Comics called themselves the Crusty Bunkers. Many of them would establish long careers in comics, including Superman inker Terry Austin.
Adams influence on the comic book industry would be felt even after he mostly left the industry. During the production of Superman: The Movie he and golden age Batman artist Jerry Robinson spearheaded an industry effort to force DC Comics to give Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster some type of compensation and creator credit on Superman stories. Neal Adams also campaigned for industry practices that were radical at the time but are standard for much of the industry. While he failed in an effort to unionize comic book talent, Neal pushed for the return of art pages to the artists and sales and reprint royalties.
In recent years Neal Adams became involved in a different campaign to return art to its creator outside the comic book industry. He was involved, along with Joe Kubert and Stan Lee, in a so far unsuccessful effort to force the Auschwitz - Birkenau Museum in Poland to return Holocaust art to painter and concentration camp survivor Dina Gottliebova Babbitt. In a story written by Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute For Holocaust Studies, Adams drew and Kubert inked the art, about Dina's family being spared as a condition for her agreeing to be an artist for Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele. In addition to chronicling Mengele's horrific experiments, she painted family members of the camp guards and inmates. After the war she moved to the U. S. and became an animator at a number of studios, including Jay Ward Productions, Warner Brothers and MGM. She worked on such characters as Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez and Cap'n Crunch. The Auswitz museum bought her paintings from two benefactors they refuse to identify, and spent years searching for the artist who simply signed the name Dina. When they determined that Mrs. Babbitt was the artist, they refused to compensate or return her paintings, because of the historical significance of the paintings.
Next episode: A special birthday tribute to Julius Schwartz by DC Comics in Superman #411!
About Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali:
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