Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams Volume One!

The late great Neal Adams was without question the most influential comic book artist of his generation and a few more besides. There have been great artists such Alex Toth, John Buscema, and Jim Steranko who have informed the way comic stories are told, but it's almost unique in the case of Adams. There is comic art before he arrived on the scene and after it, and the twain shall not meet. He brought a muscular realism to the comic page which had been lacking before. The dynamics of his pages are palpably different. 

I was fortunate in many ways to arrive on the comic book scene at about the same moment that Adams began to have his impact. The collections Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams document his evolutionary impact on that character and that influence begins with some of the very first comic books I ever came into contact with. The three volumes present all of his Batman work, the covers and the stories from the pages of The Brave and the Bold, World's Finest, Detective Comics, Batman and a few others. I want to savor these stories and glory in the covers all over again. All the covers are included in chronological order with snapshot reviews of the stories. We'll begin with volume one which begins itself in the year 1967. 

After handling the Batman on several covers for Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, World's Finest Comics and Batman, Neal Adams was at long last commissioned to do his first Bat-story. It would appear in the pages of World's Finest #175. 

World's Finest #175 sports an outstanding cover. It does its work magnificently because who could resist buying this book to find out about these lurid versions of the world-famous heroes. I never saw this one on the stands, but I did see ads for it and craved reading it for many years before I was able to do so. It's a wild and crazy tale about these two outlandish groups concocting an outlandish scheme to blow up both Batman and Superman. It's so complicated I imagine even the bad guys got confused by the story's end. But that wasn't the fault of Neal Adams who brought a strange reality to this bizarre tale. 

I actually got hold of a copy of World's Finest #176. DC was promoting Batgirl like crazy at the time and in this wacky story she and Supergirl team up with the World's Finest team, but that team is feuding over a couple of aliens who tell different stories about their origins. Getting to the truth is the point of this one. Like many DC tales of the time, there are a lot of things that happen that make little sense but are given very thin excuses. The art looks great though. I know that in some reprint collections Neal Adams made refinements to his work, and a panel or two in this story seem to have had that treatment, but I can't swear to it. 

Adams slips over to The Brave and the Bold and brings Deadman with him in issue #79. The ghost guest-stars alongside Batman as he tries to coax the Dark Knight Detective to take on his murder case. This was one of my earliest B&B issues and made a huge impact on my budding tastes. Batman is busy chasing a mob kingpin dubbed "The King" but eventually finds that he and the late Boston Brand have some goals in common. Bob Haney becomes the fourth writer to tackle Deadman in his brief post-mortem career. 

The Brave and the Bold #80 gives the world the Hellgrammite is one of the weirdest villains I've ever seen. A giant grasshopper and man hybrid this critter hops across Gotham gathering up gang bosses for a mysterious purpose. The Creeper has dropped into town to warn of the threat but has to dodge both Batman and the police who want to jail him as much as the other guy. This Bob Haney and Neal Adams production was meant to boost the sales of Steve Ditko's character but like the same kind of guest-starring role in The Justice League of America it failed. 

The Brave and the Bold #81 gives us one of the all-time great titles - "But Bork Can Hurt You!" Batman joins forces with the Flash to try and stop a muscle-bound chap named Bork who is taking over the dock workers and is poised to go further. He is somehow invulnerable to injury and while Batman fights to stall his aims in Gotham, it is up to the Flash to get to the bottom of how Bork got so powerful. Haney wrote it and Adams drew it. 

The Brave and the Bold #82 teams up Batman with Aquaman. At the time of this story Aquaman is searching for his lost wife Mera and already upset falls under the spell of his brother Orm, the Ocean Master who is working a swindle in Gotham. Aquaman is being used as muscle. A beautiful dame is involved of course, and Bruce Wayne seems more than a bit smitten this time. I have to admit I found Bob Haney's story a little confusing in places. The cover is by Adams and Dick Giordano. 

(This over by Irv Novick is not included in this collection.)

The cover to The Brave and the Bold #83 is not included because Irv Novick drew it instead of Adams. But Haney and Adams did do the story titled "Punish Not My Evil Son". This story teams up Batman with the Teen Titans who at this time were made up of Robin, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash. When a wayward orphan suddenly shows up on Bruce Wayne's doorstep, Bruce tries to do the right thing, but the young delinquent has other ideas, especially when uncovers the identity of both Batman and Robin. 

We dive deep into the "Haneyverse" with this one. DC continuity was a new thing overall and not very well developed, but even the stories of Bob Haney in The Brave and the Bold fell outside it. This story titled "The Angel, the Rock, and the Cowl" has Bruce Wayne of the modern day reflecting on his work during WWII which brought him into contact with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company. They are preparing the way for the greatest invasion in human history, but run into a deadly scheme to steal gold and use toxic gas. The work of Neal Adams really kicks it up a notch in this one, a story filled with mood and atmosphere. 

"The Senator's Been Shot!" by Haney and Adams for The Brave and the Bold #85 is one of the most important comics in DC history. This one blew me away when I was a kid, with a story that was breathtaking and tied into the turbulent news of the day. We encounter the new Green Arrow for the first, with is signature mustache and goatee. Both Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen are contemplating quitting as masked crimefighters as they work together to foil a villain named Minotaur. 

And that wraps up volume one of these great vintage Neal Adams stories and covers. Seeing them again is like traveling back in time when these images fired my imagination as never before. I take on volume two tomorrow. 

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  1. Although Adams is credited with drawing the cover to WF #185, it looks more like a Curt Swan cover to me, especially Superman's face. Perhaps Adams inked Swan's pencils?

  2. These all take me back. I always liked Neals "Brave and he Bold " covers. I wish he had drawn more Superman stories when he was at his peek , from memory I think he only drew the excellent "Superman v Ali " special (and a Clark Kent back -up story) at this time. Great stuff again .

    1. The Brave and the Bold was an outstanding comic. It was great for a part-time DC fan like I was back then as each issue was a standalone event, some with their own continuity. Salute to Bob Haney!