Today (May 7) marks the ten-year anniversary of my launch and first post to this weblog, Clotho’s Loom. Suffice to say that, what began as a mere promotional device for a novel, later morphed into a venue for interests as diverse as film reviews, teaching resources, political rants, pop-culture analysis, band promotion, and indie author/publisher support. Even a few poems. I have you, my readers, to thank. And, of course, WordPress: an outfit that somehow manages to be the Anti-YouTube, and still stays afloat, so that the lass-flashy and loud thoughts can be heard and read–without being buried under an intrusive smokescreen of stuff you already bought, political postions you already hold, and “news stories” that contain nothing new, and no story.
But rather than dilate on that, I cannot think of a better way to mark this day, than to pay tribute to a great man, whose death will be felt by creators everywhere: Neal Adams. Without question, one of the all-time best in his field, which happened to be comic-book illustration.
Adams lived eighty-years, a short enough time on this planet, but he made much of it. An extended professional obituary appears on the website of The Comics Journal. Here, I’ll confine myself to my own experience with Adams’ work, from the late ’60s forward, offering a few modest observations, on aspects of his paternity that may not be emphasized elsewhere.
In order from least to most important, these are: his underappreciated influence on Hollywood; his work ethic; and his advocacy for human rights. In these senses, he functioned as a role model for many, including myself. Not only kids who loved his work, but younger pros in his field of endeavor.
Inasmuch as comic books are non-auterial–the products of collaboration—films are vastly more so. Adams only made one film, which is nearly impossible to find. But although not immediately apparent, Adams’ influence on Hollywood comics-based movies is probably as profound as that of Stan Lee. The impact is not at the level of character invention and plots, but rather character refinement and atmospheric style, both visual and mythological.
Though most today would likely point to Frank Miller as the main comics influence over the DCEU (film universe) today, it is hard to imagine Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy without Neal Adams, in the deep background. The unfilmable villain Ra’s al Ghul features, but this is really the least of Adams’ legacy. Going back over two decades, in Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali, he even created the plot device for de-powering Superman, thereby emphasizing the heroism of his human half, used for Superman II. And so on. All that on the surface. But in the global sense, Adams went further than anyone in creating the environment in which superheroes could be taken more seriously, than in the 1960s TV series, Batman (admittedly brilliant, in its own way). Batman is, foundationally, a revenge-driven psychotic whose sanity balances on the precipice only by virtue of his disciplined, analytical mind—a detective in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. And the Dennis O’Neil/ Adams team returned him to that place. As for Marvel and the MCU, Adams’ and Roy Thomas’ run on X-Men likely saved the series from cancellation in the late 1960s, long before Byrne and Claremont took it over. In fact, the Kree/Skrull War from the pages of Avengers (a 1970s political allegory for the American invasion of Vietnam; now, the War on Terror) glimpsed in Captain Marvel will undoubtedly be writ large, if Feige and associates have any clue.
Adam’ art consistently showcases his imaginative work ethic. At a time where some writers and illustrators—nameless here– were grabbing more assignments than they could responsibly handle, and phoning them in, Neal Adams continued to push the boundaries. Literally. His unconventional, geometrically irreverent layout lines could not contain the strivings of his oft-foreshortened figures; and their emotional anguish jumped off the page. The aforementioned Ali book is an exemplar of the real world and the comic world coming together. More than one younger artist has related how Neal pushed them to improve their work—in not always the kindest terms, perhaps. He demanded the best from himself; why should those who would seek his guidance, do less? Even in his less memorable work for his own studio, Continuity, the creative mind intent on busting his ass to get it right surfaces through the pages. He was to comics, what Bruce Springsteen is, to the music industry.
Rather than take on more work, he seemed intent on being treated fairly for what he had done—crusading for the rights of comics creators, in many well-known venues. In this, he may have come ahead of his time. According to TCJ, neither the Academy of Comic Book Arts (co-founders with Adams included Stan Lee,) nor the Comic Book Creators Guild, went the distance. But Siegel and Shuster, thanks to him, Jerry Robinson, and others, did get their Superman rights, at last. Human rights and environmental issues were in the background of much of Neal’s work, most notably in the legendary Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76-89 run. Many have proposed that social criticism and “pop art” do not mix well, aesthetically. They have not experienced the O-Neil/Adams synergy. Even that ever-volatile American subject, race relations, was tackled explicitly by the pair, resulting in the creation of a black guardian for the pantheon: John Stewart. The later, underappreciated Ms. Mystic put an environmental concern for the Earth at the forefront of the saga, featuring a witch-goddess, for the ’80s. Again, fact and fiction converged.
A glass of pure spring water, then, raised high…to Neal Adams!