Neal Adams is arguably the world’s greatest living superhero artist, having depicted the most iconic champions of both the DC and Marvel Universes in unforgettable runs on books like Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Batman, and X-Men. With the exception of his one-shot Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, however, Adams hasn’t tackled DC’s flagship character… until now. In the new six-issue Superman: The Coming of the Supermen, the veteran artist shows that his gift for dynamic realism is as acute as ever, in page after page and panel after power-packed panel. I chatted with Adams about how the series came to be, his approach to depicting the Last Son of Krypton, and what’s next for him…
Nerdist: How long have you had the idea for this book?
Neal Adams: I think there had been concepts that were gestating in my mind for a long, long time. When I presented it to Jim Lee a couple of years ago, he thought it was a pretty good idea. He wanted us to be involved together and make sure the story tracked and all the rest of it. So he’s made a contribution, he and his guys have made a contribution to make sure everything tracks and does what we want it to do. But essentially it’s all based on Jack Kirby when you come right down to it.
You could say everybody’s a fan of Jack Kirby. I would say I’m a fan of Jack Kirby. I’m a fan of Jack Kirby the man. And if you just view this reasonably, Jack Kirby made Marvel Comics by creating the Marvel Universe. Then he stepped over to DC and he created a whole new universe. He created Darkseid and Apokolips and the New Gods. He created all this stuff. It just seemed to flow out of him like magic. Even things that people laughed at in the beginning turned out to be terrific characters.
For example, Orion’s scooter. He puts his feet on it and he scoots around on it. It’s got these handlebars. That looks like a Segway—those Segways that people ride around on in the street. The two-wheeled Segway. It’s a Segway, only it flies in the air. He rides a Segway. Well, that’s 15 years before the Segway was invented. You know what I’m saying? So he’s done all of this fantastic stuff, and for whatever reason we’re not taking advantage of it.
I mean, we just had a Superman movie where we had Zod. We recycled Zod from the first two Superman movies. Why didn’t we do Darkseid and all these characters? That seems like the much more logical choice. We haven’t done it because we haven’t explored it properly and we haven’t given Jack Kirby his due. One of the things I’m also trying to do with this series is say, “Hey guys, in case you missed it, this is Jack Kirby’s stuff. And we should be doing it like crazy. Let’s do it.” So I’m showing everybody my appreciation of Jack Kirby, almost more than anything else.
That is not to say that there isn’t a terrific story, that there aren’t new characters. That’s not to say we can’t explore Superman and some of the characters from Krypton. I mean, there are so many things in here that are tremendous fun, and it’s all packed into six issues. I don’t know that I should have packed in into six issues, but there you go.
N: How about the idea of giving Clark Kent an adopted son in the first issue? What was the motivation behind that?
NA: Well, the thing that you have to remember is, not everything that you see is the way it is. Because, you know, that’s the nature of a good story. If you understood everything from the first chapter, you wouldn’t read the rest of the chapters. So if I tell you ahead of time that, yes, that is the kind of kid that Superman might adopt, he also might be something else. And that little dog he lugs around, that could be a little dog, or it could be something else. And that creature that seems to stand guard over them could just be some alien creature that dropped in for a cup of tea, or it could be something else. So there’s lots of mysteries that have been set out there for you to figure out and to follow and to see what happens by the end of the story. Because it is just the set-up for you, and I’m here to fool you. [Laughs.]
N: Thank you for giving Superman his briefs back in this series.
NA: Yeah. It was a hardcore fight inside of me, but I thought, “You know, I really like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.” Although I think they’re illogical. I guess if I wanted to go to the can and I didn’t want to reveal my zipper, I could pull those down and I could pull down the zipper and I could take a leak. So they do make a certain amount of sense. So he’s got a tunic and he’s got that over it and the color blends and I’ve got a belt that works with it. So I’m trying to give women a Superman they can fall in love with, and guys a Superman they can appreciate and think of as a friend. Who actually goes to the gym. Of course, it’s Superman’s gym. I mean, it’s just hard to believe a guy with all those muscles doesn’t go to the gym, you know what I mean? It’s just a very special gym. [Laughs.]
N: You’ve said before that when it comes to Superman, you value the “man” more than the “super.”
NA: Well, I certainly don’t think of him as a god. And I don’t like that part of it. I don’t like people using him like a god because they want to beat out some other super character in another comic book. I think that’s a wrong direction. Because he is, after all, an evolved person who evolved on another planet. But he didn’t turn into a god, because there’s no part of nature that makes you do that. There may be terrible things in nature that make you have thicker skin, that cause you to be able to fly or levitate, and then use gravity in such a way that you seem to be falling but you’re really flying. Or there may be other things that happen to your eyes. But to make you into a god just doesn’t make any sense. It’s totally illogical. And it puts the character so far away from you that you can’t believe somebody would fall in love with him. You can’t believe that you could think of him as a friend. I don’t like that. So I don’t think it’s good. I mean, it’s enough that Superman is the first and best comic book superhero that ever existed in the history of the word. And that Batman is the first comic book hero who doesn’t have any superpower. All the other superheroes lie between them—the alpha and omega of comic books. But that is what it’s meant to be and not more.
N: Outside of Joe Shuster, are there any other Superman artists that you’ve especially admired?
NA: I think they’re all fine. It was Curt Swan that did it for the longest period of time, and he did a terrific Superman. But beyond that, other people have done it… I mean, I like this guy Neal Adams who did Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. [Laughs.]
N: A classic!
NA: That’s right. [Laughs.] I don’t get involved in criticizing or extolling really good artists who do their job. That’s for other people. People may criticize artists or they may think that this guy’s fantastic. To me, it’s the outstanding people, people like Jack Kirby, that really make a difference, that are very, very important. I think that Curt Swan, when he did Superman for the longest time, became the definitive Superman artist, and everybody got it. That made him very, very special in the annals of comic books. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who created Superman, are singularly important. You would have to put Jim Lee into the category that brought us comic books that would sell millions of copies because of the style of the artist, and he still is preeminent in the comic book business. There are just people who rise above the natural fold of things. Otherwise, everybody’s a yeoman artist as far as I’m concerned. And that’s fine. I have nothing bad to say. I’ve nothing good to say. They are people who are in my business and I appreciate it and I would always extend a hand to help them. I would not extend a hand to criticize them.
N: You’ve also recently created a new series of covers for DC…
NA: Yeah, those 28 covers; isn’t that insane? Unbelievable. [Laughs.] They called me up and they said, “Neal, we’d like you to do 28 covers—legendary covers by this legendary artist. We just want you to redo them in your style.”
I said, “That sounds okay. Who is this legendary artist?”
They said, “You!”
“Are you out of your mind? Really? Are you people nuts?”
They said, “No, no. This is what we’ll do… We’ll have you draw the same layout, only you’ll change the characters. So instead of Superman throwing Batman off a roof it’ll be Wonder Woman throwing Superman off a roof. And then we’ll let different people ink them.”
I said, “Okay, that sounds like the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. Let’s do it. I never heard such a bad idea since Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. We’ll do it.” [Laughs.]”
They started to let inkers ink it. Then the pencillers said, “How come we don’t get a shot at these?” Then Walt Simonson wants a cover and Jim Lee wants to do a cover. All these artists want to do covers and they’re leaving the inkers out. They stepped over their dead bodies and decided to ink everything. So all these covers have great artists inking them, and they’re all very interesting from every different point of view. It went from 25 to 28, and they’re not going to be able to have them all out until the middle of next month. That’s how many there are. You could do five a week and you’ve still got half a month left. I really can’t explain it but they’re very popular. I was at a store yesterday, and people were picking their favorites and coming up and having me sign them—half a dozen [of] Joker over the mansion, Batman chasing Harlequin. That’s the most popular one. Then the Jim Lee one is popular. It’s funny and fantastic.
N: It’s heartening to think that these covers will introduce a new generation not only to your work but to the tradition of dynamic realism that you’re art’s exemplified.
NA: Or being conned into buying more comic books than they should realistically purchase in a given week. Think about that, too. You gotta buy five more comic books this week just to get those stupid covers. Unbelievable.
N: Is it too soon to say what’s next for you?
NA: I can’t tell you exactly. I’m loathe to drop any hints. I’m trying to think of a way to drop you a hint without actually dropping a hint. Let’s just stick to this, okay. We won’t talk about things like Harley Quinns and Deadmen.
N: Ha. Okay. Fair enough.
NA: I didn’t say anything! Do you agree? Nothing was said. [Laughs.]
Images: DC Entertainment
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