know what you're thinking…"Neal Adams is a Batman
artist!". Maybe so, but technically he was a Superman artist
first, and in some ways his impact on the Man of Steel was
just as profound as the mark he left on the Dark Knight.
Whereas Wayne Boring, Curt
Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger and others earned membership
in the Superman Artists' Hall of Fame by producing hundreds,
even thousands of pages of story art, Adams generated very
little interior art for the Superbooks (just a couple of
World's Finest tales and one tabloid-fomat epic).
His main contribution was a long line of eye-catching covers
for the various Superman titles, and perhaps more significantly,
images used on t-shirts, mugs, calendars, school supplies,
puzzles, posters and other goodies that flooded the market
during DC Comic's first great merchandising blitz in the
For me, the appeal of Neal's
art was not only his mastery of hyper-realism, but also
his ability to imbue previously cookie-cutter superheroes
with individual and distinct personalities. Through posture,
movements and facial expressions, Neal revealed more about
a character than most writers could with whole paragraphs
of dialog. Superman, for example, was all about power, infinite
power stored in the body of a man with an average build.
When Superman used his powers, especially flight, he seemed
to be enjoying it as much as any of us would.
Adams began his association
with Superman on the "second tier" titles like
Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and World's Finest.
Having come from the field of advertising, Neal was a young
buck working in an industry dominated by seasoned vets (read:
"old guys"). He had to prove himself to Superman group editor
Mort Weisinger, who reluctantly allowed Neal a few Superman
family covers around 1967. When the sales figures for those
issues went through the roof, Mort decided he was a Neal
Adams fan after all.
Adams' covers were a revelation, pumping
a new vitality and dynamism into the Superman image
while never completely deviating from the clean "house
style" established by Curt Swan and others. Replacing
Weisinger as Superman group editor in 1970, Julius
Schwart graduated Neal to the "big guns,"
Action and Superman, and used the artist
every chance he got. Many of Adams' images from this
period, like that of Superman bursting a Kryptonite
chain on Superman #233, or flying over Metropolis
on issue #254, were so effective that DC adopted them
as advertising and packaging art for years to come.
Adams' most important contribution to Superman may have
been his fight on behalf of the Man of Steel's creators.
One of the industry's earliest advocates of creator's
rights, Adams spearheaded a mass-media campaign in the
mid-70's in hopes of seeing Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster
fairly compensated by DC for the character they'd created
so many years before. A symbol of that campaign was
the illustration at left, created for use on op-ed pages
in newspapers around the country. The eventual success
of this crusade resulted, among other things, in a return
of "created by" credits for Shuster and Seigel in every
Superman comic produced thereafter.
In the late 70's, Adams
returned to produce covers for much of the DC line,
including Superman, Superman Family, Action and
the Justice League of America. I remember being
particularly thrilled with Superman #317, where
a Kryptonite-poisoned Man of Steel glowers menacingly
at the reader and seems ready to explode with anger.
In 1977, Adams delivered
his one full-length Superman tale, the famous (or infamous)
Versus Muhammad Ali. Despite the concept's inherent
silliness, there was plenty to like about the book,
especially Neal's renditions of busy Metropolis streets,
natural disasters and a full-scale alien invasion. The
book enjoyed healthy sales even among non-comics fans,
and its celebrity-filled cover became one of the most-parodied
covers in the history of comics. Recently Adams himself
produced a variation on the cover for a major sports
magazine, substituting Michael Jordan for Superman and
filling the audience with the greatest names in sports.
The mere fact that Adams was commissioned to do this
implies there's a huge audience out there familiar with
the original work.
The Ali tabloid was pretty much Neal
Adams' Superman swan song, except for some book-and-record
sets aimed at children, a paperback cover of DC's Greatest
Team-Up Stories Ever Told collection and the cover of
a well-publicized Heroes for Hunger one-shot in the
80's. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Neal
contributed a piece of Superman art for DC's "9/11"
project. Other than that, the only way to get hold of a
new Superman image by Neal Adams has been to buy the occasional
piece of original art from the man himself at his
Nonetheless, Neal's rendition of the Last
Son Of Krypton continues to influence modern artists to
this day, and established a definitive look for Superman
that delighted an entire generation...mine!
BONUS: Neal Adams
The spectacular wrap-around cover
to Superman #254, featuring "DC's Flying
Heroes." The image later saw use as a black and
white promotional poster for the publisher. The Superman
figure was cut out for use on numerous products and
was still appearing above the "Superman"
logo on comic book covers as late as 1976. Scanned
and enhanced via photoshop. Download it as
wallpaper (800x600 res, 420kb) and see how many
vintage characters you can identify!
The Official Neal
Adams Website: http://www.nealadams.com