Monday, October 01, 2012

Neil Adams and DC

Over the weekend I heard a talk by Neil Adams. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the face of DC comics meaning that he did a lot of covers.

DC was gong through a rough patch at the time. At the beginning of the 1960s, they owned the superhero franchise. Superman alone accounted for a half dozen titles. What is now Marvel was still called "Timely" and was mainly doing monster comics. by the end of the 1960s, Marvel was the dominant comic book publisher and DC was reworking its titles to make them relevant.

Neil Adams started with DC in the mid-60s with Deadman and The Specter. While both were about ghosts, the tone of the two couldn't have been more different. Deadman was done realistically. It followed the ghost of a circus performer as he tried to find his killer. He had no powers except for being able to posses people. The Specter was the exact opposite. He had vast, undefined powers. Sometimes it seemed like he could do nearly anything. Despite this, Adams handled both characters easily.

While the Batman TV show was running, the comic added a lot of camp and over-the-top elements. After the TV show ended, the character needed a redefinition. Most of this happened under Neil Adams and writer Denny O'Neil. The flamboyant villains and gadgets were dropped in favor of real detective work. The pair also made major changes to Superman, moving him from newspaper reporter to broadcaster and doing away with kryptonite. Their magnum opus was Green Lantern who they teamed with Green Arrow and sent off to find America.

All of that was well and good. It had a huge fan following but not all of it found a market. Deadman, the Specter, and Green Lanter/Green Arrow were all cancelled.

While I remember a number of very good Batman stories from that period I also remember a lot of bad Batman and Superman stories. One problem was that a Neil Adams cover did not mean that he was the artist on the inside. More often it was Dick Giordano whose work looked similar (partly because he inked Adams) but was not as good a story-teller. The biggest problem was that the books often read like Adams did an interesting cover then O'Neil wrote a story to go with it. A prime example is a cover showing Batman being thrown out of an airplane. In the story, he stopped a skyjacking then ejected his costume.

Basically Neil Adams' work stood out as a bight spot in the rest of the DC line and an Adams cover was no assurance of quality inside.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

DC was notorious for "falseadvartising" on the covers in the 60's. DC called it poetic lisence or literary lisence if a fan complained. I don't recall much of it, but I do remember a giant green hand reaching from a cloud for Superman and Batman on a World's Finest cover. No such thing inside. It wasn't a story on Kandor.