It’s BATMAN DAY! THE NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES tackles a controversial series…
By PETER STONE
In September 2010, Neal Adams returned to the character who made him a comic book legend. He wrote, penciled and inked his magnum opus featuring the Darknight Detective — the 13-part Batman: Odyssey, released in two volumes. This time, however, he was able to stretch the parameters of Batman. Neal was not a crime noir kind of guy. He skewed more towards Jack Kirby than Frank Miller. So, when he created a series for his favorite hero, it contained the kind of characters and situations rarely before seen in a Batman or Detective comic. Vast underworlds, dinosaurs, Neanderthal cavemen, gremlins, gnomes, trolls and gods. Not to alienate the foundations of the Batman mythos, familiar faces travel through the story helping the Caped Crusader — or trying to kill him. Batman even travels into a metaphoric version of Hell.
It is truly an Odyssey in the Homeric tradition.
On Batman Day, here are 13 REASONS BATMAN: ODYSSEY DESERVES YOUR RESPECT. You will find unlettered covers, penciled and inked by Neal, along with some of the key plot elements that make this series so unique, a wonderful epic comment on one of the most iconic characters on the planet by “one of the pillars of DC comics’ building” as Paul Levitz once commented.
Issue #1. Batman has been shot countless times in various stories. He’s been blasted in comics, movies and animation, but for the most part in has been in the torso. As Frank Miller so famously wrote in The Dark Knight Returns, “Why do you think I have a target on my chest?” Never have we seen a bullet punch through Batman’s wrist, track under the skin along the radius bone before popping out near the elbow. Fantastic? Yes, but certainly possible. An off-duty cop in a beauty salon was in the midst of a robbery when she was shot in the forehead. The bullet flattened against the skull then traveled along the skull, under the skin before popping out the back of her head. She ended up with a concussion, but she lived. This Batman moment is not impossible.
The rest of the issue focuses primarily on why Batman does not use guns. Batman explains that when surrounded by men with guns, he is focused on survival and moving out of the way. Not deciding who to shoot at first and getting shot in the crossfire. This issue also features a sleek, super-cool Batmobile.
Issue #2. On the cover, years after the first issue’s events, Batman has strengthened his body armor so that the barrage assaulting him does not cut him down. However, on the inside, we see Batman barely surviving a similar fusillage of bullets that tear open the surface of his flesh. Covered in blood, he collapses while a thug is ordered to shoot him in the face where there is no armor. No protection at all.
This issue also features one of Neal’s favorite scenes, the crashing of a multi-car train. After rescuing the passengers, including a delightful older woman, and disconnecting the engine from the passenger cars, a bomb explodes, sending the engine tumbling through the air. Neal laughingly commented that few artists could pull THAT one off.
Issue #3. This cover features one of Neal’s perennial tricks, hiding images within others. Here we see Batman leaping down into a cave while Robin and Alfred watch from above. The rock makes up a hidden image of the Riddler while Robin’s crouched body makes up the Riddler’s nose.
The interiors reveal that when Batman is going to be shot in the face, he whispers Alfred’s full name to create a protective plexiglass shield over the exposed area. Even a .357 isn’t strong enough to puncture that shield. Then Neal gives us a brutal fight sequence that rivals almost anything seen before or since. Whoa… those guys are all going to a hospital. But as the Riddler gets arrested, Batman (and the reader) get a visual treat. Talia Al Ghul reveals herself to be part of our story, wearing a green (what other color would it be?) dress with a sexy slit up the entire side. Batman gets a sweet little kiss on the lips. Harkens back to Batman #232.
Issue #4. This cover features Batman reliving his childhood trauma, but in reverse. With perhaps a bit of Robin thrown in there for dramatic measure. The death of a child… and in this case, it’s partly Batman’s fault. The daughter lives, of course, but Batman relives the death of his parents in a hallucinogenic manner.
This issue also reveals that Bruce Wayne and Talia used to play as children while their fathers were in business together. Quite a shock, of course.
Neal also shows that the Man-Bat serum can be used on anyone. Like Ra’s Al Ghul’s henchman Ubu. A Bat-Man appears with a strange-looking Robin character. Lots of mysteries presented here.
Issue #5. The introduction (on a cover at least) of a new character who we discover is named Bat-Man. Using the tools at his disposal, this character has created his own Batman suit. It’s a bit rough. We also get to see Neal messing around with Aquaman’s outfit and hair. I think they call it a mullet. (LOL!!)
Neal (and Talia) reveal that Bruce’s father and Ra’s were in the oil business together. Ra’s is also revealed as the King of the Underworld. Ra’s has brought peace to this mysterious place that we shall surely see later. But now, the Joker makes an appearance and is quickly defeated by Batman and (wait for it) Deadman! Yep, Deadman appears, controls the Joker and they’re off to Arkham.
Issue #6. Our sixth-issue cover has the Joker about to blast an unconscious Bruce Wayne while Robin and Deadman watch. Interesting forced perspective on this one.
This issue features the futuristic-looking jail cells of Arkham and its inhabitants. Even the Mad Hatter.
We finally get to see and interact with Ra’s al Ghul. No one draws that dude better, in my opinion.
Batman reveals that all those years ago, Ra’s stumbled across his Batcave from the Underworld. Right? Ra’s has to admit he’s right. Ra’s never figured out that Batman had a cave. It was an accident. Shattering an illusion from 50 years earlier.
Issue #1. Batman, Deadman and the Joker leaping into the great beyond. It’s the start of the second half of the Odyssey so we’re getting a view of what’s coming up… or perhaps they’re going down into the center of the Earth. Not the first time a character has done this, but Neal’s doing it his own way.
By far the most interesting part of this issue is revealing the greatest Superman disguise ever. It is also the simplest. What is it? A BAND-AID. Superman wears a Band-Aid on his hand because Superman would never wear a Band-Aid. It’s so obvious and so simple and so perfect. No one would ever think that Superman would wear a Band-Aid. Clark Kent couldn’t be Superman.
Issue #2. Wonderful, action-filled cover. Colored by Moose, it is sci-fi/Edgar Rice Burroughs/Frazetta at its best.
Inside, we discover the Underworld where dinosaurs from 65 million years ago live along with Neanderthals, giant bats, tribes of savages and even evolved intelligent dinos. Batman gets involved in some primitive tribes’ betrayals and politics. He, unfortunately, gets one of them killed for betrayal of the tribe.
Issue #3. Creepy cover with a horde of new underworld denizens — gremlins/trolls who are more than willing to devour Batman.
The interior features an odd team-up of Deadman (who has his physical form back) and Robin. They search for Batman, who is in the middle of a fight with martial arts master the Sensei. They come to a standstill but not before a serious conversation about the future.
Issue #4. Anubis, the Egyptian god, has grabbed Robin but is going to have to face a furious, shadowed Batman on our cover. A touch of Frazetta again here… and, in my opinion, a bit of Giger as well.
BIG MOMENT for Robin in this issue. He discovers his parents were killed by the League of Assassins the very same way Deadman was killed – as a test. Needless to say, he’s not happy. Batman, meanwhile, meets the lost Egyptian gods who turn out to be hybrids of man and beast. And everyone is looking for something called THE KEY!
Issue #5. Another terrific cover. Neal Adams… Batman… dinosaurs… exceptional coloring.
Inside, Batman makes friends with the Egyptian gods, who are at war against the Sensei’s army. Lots of fighting a la Neal Adams.
Issue #6. Remember that famous pencil drawing of Vampirella, featuring the sexy vampire and the one-eyed monster? So did Neal. He used it for this cover (since it was his, after all). It’s creepy and weird and even better than the original. (Except for the sexy girl, of course.)
The interiors are penciled by Neal and inked by the truly amazing Kevin Nowlan! Neal reveals the ultimate bad guy and it’s not really a shock. It’s Ra’s al Ghul. (Gasp!) Of course it is. Batman fights the Cyclops (and his family) for the “Key.” One more issue – the characters are all gathered. Let’s go get the Sensei!
Issue #7. The famous Batman running figure (Batman #251), from a different angle, graces this cover. Neal loved that pose. This time, with RATS!
With Arkham Asylum as the scene, Batman fights the Sensei in an epic battle that ends with Batman shooting the Sensei in the back with a handgun, blowing out the villain’s chest.
The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc are all horrified. Batman doesn’t kill! Does he?
No, he doesn’t. It’s all a trick to scare the villains. The “Key” turns out to be a fountain of youth kind of thing, making the Sensei a baby again and giving him a chance to atone for his crimes. (Of course we’ll see him again…)
In the end, whether you like Batman: Odyssey or not, it was not created by the same artist who drew Batman 50 years earlier. He worked for 50 years AFTER the original stories. In comics, advertising, movie posters, amusement park rides and commissions. If Neal did not expand and change, he would not continue to get work.
Many fans are still looking for that moment of their childhood… of wistful nostalgia. Batman: Odyssey is not 1971. It is 50 years later… years filled with storyboards and commercial work and growing and learning. 1971 stories remain available in print, but one must also allow artists and writers to change and grow.
Neal was supporting a company, a bunch of employees, an ex-wife and five children. He could no longer simply create covers or draw stories for comic companies that barely paid a minimum wage. For the time it took him to draw one comic panel, he could draw a storyboard frame and get paid five times as much. Advertising also forced him to stay up with the times… the fashions… the culture. He HAD to move forward or he would have faded away into obscurity.
In the end, he was better in 2010 than he was in 1971, but fans have a hard time accepting that.
So… Batman: Odyssey has a ton of interesting ideas. Just the idea of connecting Robin to Deadman… whoa! Blew my mind.
— THE NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES: Dig NEAL ADAMS’ Never-Published Inks Over GENE COLAN’s CAPTAIN AMERICA. Click here.
— THE NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES: A Rainy NEAL ADAMS BATMAN Illustration to Brighten Your Day. Click here.
Peter Stone is a writer and son-in-law of the late Neal Adams. Be sure to check out the family’s twice-weekly online Facebook auctions, as well as the NealAdamsStore.com, and their Burbank, California, comics shop Crusty Bunkers Comics and Toys.