We are sad to report legendary comic book artist Neal Adams has passed away at the age of 80. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he died from complications from sepsis. It is safe to say that Adams changed the way modern superhero comics look and feel. He also fought hard for creator’s rights long before that was a common practice in the industry.
Adams was among the first generation of fans who grew up reading comics, and wanted to work in the industry as adults. As a teenager straight out of high school, he began working for Archie Comics. Later, In his mid-twenties, he joined DC Comics. There he made a name for himself illustrating Deadman, and doing various covers featuring Superman and Batman. His realistic anatomy and attention to detail were brand new things in superhero comics, a medium previously aimed strictly for little kids.
In 1969, Adams went over to Marvel Comics. He and writer Roy Thomas wanted to try and raise the profile of their lowest selling title, X-Men. Marvel let him run with it visually, and suddenly the book looked far better than anything else Marvel was publishing. Despite this revamp, Marvel canceled X-Men, a decision they would later regret. When the sales figures came in, they realized they had shot up significantly with Adams as the artist. His run was hugely influential on Chris Claremont’s groundbreaking revival five years later.
But it is Batman on whom Neal Adams has had the most lasting impact. After the end of the 1966 Batman TV series, sales fell hard for the title. DC publisher Julius Schwartz realized that they had to do a complete turnaround for the character. So along with writer and longtime collaborator Denny O’Neill, Neal Adams brought Batman back to his 1939 gothic roots. While working on Batman in the early ’70s, he co-created iconic characters like Man-Bat, Ra’s al Ghul, and Talia.
He also revived both the Joker and Two-Face after a long hiatus, turning them into the deadly villains they still are today. Later in the ’90s, Adams designed the second Robin costume, for Tim Drake. Dick Grayson later wore that costume on Batman: The Animated Series, and it became instantly iconic. Although Frank Miller gets all the accolades for bringing back the “darker” Batman, Adams deserves just as much credit.
During the Bronze Age of comics, 1970-1984, Adams also revitalized Green Arrow, giving him a new costume, and turning him into a crusader for social justice. He and O’Neil teamed him up with Green Lantern for a seminal run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics, which also introduced DC’s first African-American superhero, Green Lantern John Stewart. Thanks to the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, millions of people think of John Stewart as their Green Lantern.
Kids who grew up in this era also remember seeing Adams’ work on a metric ton of DC promotional material, as well as on the covers of record albums and on different kinds of merch. His versions of the Justice League characters became ubiquitous.
Perhaps most importantly, Neal Adams fought for comic book creators’ rights. In 1978, Adams helped form the Comics Creators Guild, which over three dozen comic-book writers and artists joined. His non-stop lobbying helped Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster receive credit and some financial remuneration from DC. In recent years, he returned to both Marvel and DC occasionally, illustrating Batman, Superman, and Young Avengers stories.
Adams is survived by his wife Marilyn, and his Jason, Joel and Josh Adams, and his daughter Zeea.