This past week I've been reading Deadman stories. Thanks to the too-small but still handsome trade reprints of the classic series by Arnold Drake, Jack Miller, Carmine Infantino, Bob Haney, and Neal Adams we have the ghostly series readily available for the modern fan. Without the involvement of superstar Neal Adams, this series would garner little attention, but that said, it was a solid story even before the great Adams put his hand to it.
Deadman is the tale of circus acrobat Boston Brand, a quixotic man who is murdered within the first several pages of the debut, but thanks to the handiwork of the mystical Rama Kushna is given a chance as a ghost to seek out his murderer, a mysterious man with a hook. (Shades of the The Fugitive.) His search for The Hook, leads him to lots of places where he chases many a red herring. Brand seems to have been a man with lots of folks in his past who might want to see him killed. Deadman does some good along the way as he relentlessly seeks his killer, and this is the basis for the series.
As revealed in the very interesting forwards to both editions, we learn how Deadman came to be. The death of longtime DC editor Larry Nadel, gave opportunity for Jack Miller to take the reins of Strange Adventures. He immediately cast about for a new series to spark that waning title and sought out Arnold Drake, creator of the Doom Patrol, to help him out. Drake created Deadman and with the moral support of Carmine Infantino who tweaked the costume design the series was given life of sorts.
Drake wrote only the first two issues then gave way. Miller wrote a few issues himself before his own untimely death. By this time a relatively young Neal Adams had taken artistic control of the series and his cache was such at the time that he apparently could strike a bargain to write too. He took control and Deadman became his pet project for the remainder of its run, as well as in tandem with Bob Haney on some issues of The Brave and the Bold which are actually pretty much in Deadman continuity. I should say too that Robert Kanigher wrote an issue too along the way.
Then Deadman died. But soon was revived in (of all places) the pages Aquaman. Neal Adams crafted a three-part story about alien invasions which dovetailed with the lead Aquaman story, though the two heroes never meet. Ocean Master does figure prominently in the Deadman story, but it's truth told a very odd trio of tales.
Alas Adams despite being an ace artist, is a meager scripter and it hurts the overall impact of Deadman. The stories become weirder, but not necessarily better as the chase to find The Hook gets snarled up with a secret society of assassins. Adams becomes distracted by the ability to perform artistic gymnastics at the cost of story clarity. The neat edge of a basic detective story which makes the early Deadman stories so vivid gets blunted.
Finally in these collections there is a final Neal Adams Deadman effort, in Challengers of the Unknown, where the ghastly acrobat shows up in a tale primarily crafted by George Tuska and Denny O'Neil. Then it was well and truly over for Deadman, as he became a perennial DC guest-star for many years. I'm currently rounding up all of those appearances I can find and will report later on that.
One final note on these collections. Neal Adams is the reason these collections exist, so I can understand why he might want to fix something he sees as a problem. That resulted in one issue by him which he found to have gotten indifferent inking by George Roussos, to be re-drawn, or at least re-inked. It sadly seems out of place with the other artwork in the series as striking as it is. I personally wish they'd left well enough alone, but then we still have the other and its been reprinted too, so no real harm done I guess.
Below is a dazzling cover gallery of the issues contained in the two Deadman trades in order. Enjoy!
There's little or no Deadman on the outside, but the series continues as a back up in these Aquaman issues.
And wraps in this issue of the Challengers of the Unknown.