Thursday, July 8, 2010

Neal Adams On 'Batman Odyssey,' Green Lantern and Comics

Neal Adams is one of comics' legendary artists. He ushered in a era of more realistic art styles in the late 1960s and early '70s, working on titles such as X-Men, Deadman, his still-classic run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow  and perhaps most of all, his art for Batman in Brave & the Bold, Detective and Batman comics with writers such as Denny O'Neil, Len Wein and Bob Haney
After years - decades - of just comic book covers and posters here and there as he forged a career in advertising art and design, Adams has returned to the Darknight Detective with a 12-issue mini-series Batman Odyssey. The story begins, not unlike Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, with the start of  Bruce Wayne as The Batman, then goes from there as the tale spans various eras of Batman's history.
Batman Odyssey #1 hit comic book stores today (July 8). Not too long ago, I spoke with Adams - yeah, one of my comics heroes for ages - about re-entering the world where he first found fame. 
"I've kind of been dragged, kicking, screaming, back into comic books through an odd side door, comic books," Adams said with good humor.
That side door was the growing world of motion comics.  He was working on a motion comics campaigns for Marvel's Astoninishing X-Men and with Disney on the far more serious They Spoke Out: American Voices of Protest Against the Holocaust. And he began talking back and forth to DC and Marvel. 
"The ad business has gotten a bit boring for me, dragging me more toward the Internet where we're able to make more creative content," he said. So while ad accounts such as Taco Bell were successful and lucrative, Adams was looking to do more and comics were once again calling.
Acclaimed writer/artist Frank Miller introduced him to an editor and they started taling about a series, a special project.
"There was a Batman story lurking in the the back of my brain, bits that were ignored as he moved forward as a character, little bits of background and I went along and picked up some of the bigger pieces and started constructing what I consider pretty epic story," Adams said. 
Neal Adams uncolored art for Batman: Odyssey:
"It's 12 issues over 12 months, 25 pages each. There are a few surprises in inking I really can't tell you about, I did all the pencils. And I wrote it," he said.
Going back to his work in the '60s, Adams often had a hand in plots, stories and character creations, working with various comics writers such as O'Neill and Roy Thomas on X-Men.
"People don't know how much writing I did in comics - I did Deadman, X-Men, but people were so into the art, they forget the writing," he said. "I think of myself as a storyteller.  I'm a pretty good artist, but I see myself as more of a storyteller and you might possibly say that's why my stuff is remembered; not because of nice pictures, but because the pictures tell pretty interesting stories. It's like handing a script over to a director. That's really what a comic book artist is. That's what I am in comics. And it's not just a collaborative business, either. Everybody knows one and other is looking forward to working with other people we know. There are no jealousies like there are in other things. It's a joyful business."
Adams called Odyssey a "voyage of discovery," about not just Batman, but Bruce Wayne. "Its a journey of what they are," he said. And Adams has no doubt the series will meet with controversy, including early Batman's use of a gun, the weapon he would eschew and come to hate for killing his parents.
 "When I first drew a cover for DC comics of Batman shooting a gun and the reaction  was one of 'what??!,'" he said. "I thought, 'we saw Batman holding a gun in five different covers, why are people giving you a hard time? 'There's a reason for him, read the story, find out. People are so attached, protective and wonder if you're trying to change things. I changed that first cover because DC Comics went "woah, firing a gun."  So, I did another cover and he's hit by a bullet, his first wound wearing a costume that's clearly not bullet proof. I'm telling the story of the first time he went out, if it were sort of like the comic books by Bob Kane. He probably went out with a gun like a vigilante cop would do. It's a real odyssey, so why shouldn't we show first case where he went out on carrying a gun. I start at a point, telling story of his first adventure in a lousy costume, ears flapping, guns at his side, and he very quickly learned wasn't a good idea at all. He's standing on top of train, ears flappng, trying to use the gun. But if Neal Adams did it, suddently it's "ah, betrayed." What I'm trying to to is tell you a story and say this is what happend. Let's discover things we didn't know before."
Expect many of Batman's classic rogue's gallery, including that psychotic prince of crime, plus allies, such as a certain murdered circus aerialist recently brought back to life in DC's Blackest Night and Brightest Day series.
"The Joker's in a car in handcuffs, being taken to jail and Deadman enters Joker's body, Adams revealed. "Batman's sitting next to Deadman, who turns to him and says 'Ever notice you keep on arresting, fighting clowns?  Penguin, Riddler, Mad Hatter, me. Do they have a lot of clowns in Metropolis? Arkham asylum is filled up with clowns that you battle. Did it ever occur to you that you're being manipulated?'"
Adams dropped tidbits from other parts of the tale as well. "We're in the Batcave, Alfred is bringing Bruce some tea, drops the tea and doesn't pick it up. Bruce says, 'You're Deadman now, right?' And he says, 'Bats, you know me, you know what happened?' 'Yes, you were a trapeze arist, somebody, an assasin with a hook used to a hi-powered rifle, shot you in the middle of your act.'  They're quiet, then Deadman says, "You know how Robin's parents were killed - killed the same way. They want to distract you, release one of the clowns. Are you just a tool? That ever occur to you?"

Odyssey asks questions, Adams said, such as isn't Bruce Wayne doing more for good, saving lives, than Batman? Who can feed starving children in Africa?
Adams also brings back two of his co-creations with O'Neil, Ras Al Ghul and daughter Talia. As he wrote on his website last December and repeated in the interview, "When Ra’s al Ghul broke into the Batcave and told Batman he “deduced” Batman was Bruce Wayne, years ago, did you believe him, that he, Ra’s, alone in the world figured it out? He didn’t figure it out Is what I say. There’s a story of some kind back there. And that's part of what Batman Odyssey's about."
Adams (along with artists such as Irv Novick, too) was instrumental in rescuing Batman from his camp portrayal in the 1960s television show.
"It was more or less a comedy until somebody, a guy called "Smiley," grinning because he was so happy to be in comics, reminded people Batman was a serious character," said "Smiley" himself, Adams. "It wasn't comedy, it was serious adventure, science fantasy, a detective story. It didn't take too very long for everyone to catch on. 
"Brave and the Bold started it, let the cork out of the bottle and it didn't take long for Julie Schwartz (then DC's head honcho editor in chief) to invite me, twist my arms, to come on over and work on Detective and Batman."
Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection - Volume 1Along the way, Adams refined and updated some character looks, such as the still-bearded today Green Arrow. There was the introduction of Man-Bat and the Joker brought back as the homicidal maniac he first was in the the early '1940s.
  Next came his collaboration with Denny O'Neil on those short, yet still acclaimed early '70s issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, which many believe was just cancelled. Adams said not exactly.
"It was a shining star at time. Editorially DC Comics didn't know what they were doing with it. Denny and I had run out topics, once we had done heroin addiction, ran out of places to go. We'd had the Vice President (A Spiro Agnew look-alike baddie), a union town, over population." 
The drug addiction issue, with Green Arrow's former sideick/ward Speedy as a junkie was a shocker, even more so than Spider-Man's friend Harry Osborne popping pills, though both issues ran around the same team, leading DC and Marvel to work at revamping the Comics Code Authority, whose stamp of approval meant no drug stories and such.
"I don't think people in our industry have a problem with self-regulating because we're selling comic books to kids," Adams said. "If you're going to do comic books ultra-salicious or ultra-violent, keep them out of my comic book store."
Looking back on that era of relevancy in comics, such themes would surface again over the decades and Adams is proud of that.  I created a black Green Lantern, John Stewart, that every kid in America [from the Justice League animated TV series] thinks is Green Lantern.  And he is Green Lantern, which I feel is some small contribution to equality in America. I've had black guys come up tro me in conventions, cleary intelligent and stand in front of me and tey tro talk and then break down and cry. It's very, very devastatingly real and has happened more than once, i can tell you that."
X-Men Visionaries: Neal AdamsIt looks as though Adams will stick around doing more comics, too. Upcoming projects include a Wolverine series. 
"I've never done Wolverine as feature character," he said. I know exactly what I'm going to do with it. I did Batman when Batman was satire and cartoon. I did X-Men before they were going to cancel it, brought the magazine back to life, created Sauron, created Havoc, created a viable series to last and from that point on, it became a success, showed hot to do a group book. "
Adams believes his work in other areas of art bring him back to comics with a new perspective. "I get to experiment with stuff our studio had been doing for advertising agencies for more than 20 years; how many bells, whistles magic tricks can you intellectually exploit and in the end, it turned out to be fun. I have a cover I'm doing for one of the Batmans, kind of loking for iconic covers, I like storytelling covers - Batman leaping forward from the mouth of the cave, trying to figure out how to make a mouth of the cave, a double image, it looks like one thing, then you look at it another way."
And what about Adams working with some of today's hottest writers in comics, DC or Marvel, such as Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Mark WaidBrian Michael Bendis or Ed Brubaker?
Batman Illustrated, Vol. 1"I suspect as things fall together, I will work with some of those guys on some things," Adams said. "If I do, I would prefer it be their best, not their regular. I've been lucky enough to work with two of the best writers for DC and Marvel, Denny O'Neil and Roy Thomas. To be perfectly honest, I write my own stuff.  First of all, I prefer, it's improtant for the writing be there, the idea  to be there."
Neal Adams and his sons, Jason, Joel, and Josh who work with him at his longtime company Continuity Associates, which he formed with late artist, inker and onetime DC Comics Editor Dick Giordano, will be special guests at Comic-Con International 2010 in San Diego later this month, July 22-25. While Adams has long had his own booth at the event, he knows this year will be different with the Batman Odyssey series.
"They'll drag me over to the DC Booth, they'll roll things out," he said. "It'll be interesting. I haven't been fully in comic books for a long time and this'll be a contrast to the way it's been for awhile now"

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