The story behind one of comics’ most historic covers.
It’s NEAL ADAMS MONTH here at 13th Dimension, and we’re featuring daily commentary by Adams on his variant-cover project for DC Comics. Each of his 27 variants is a twist on one of his famous covers from the past. He provided the pencils, and the inks and colors were handled by some of the biggest names in the business like Walt Simonson and Scott Williams.
For the full NEAL ADAMS MONTH INDEX of stories — click here.
For yesterday’s (hilarious) segment, on the gorillariffic Action Comics #400/Starfire #9, click here.
Things are — no pun intended — more sober today, with Batman/Superman #29, due out 2/10. This one’s based on a cover that’s not just a classic, it’s historic: Green Lantern #85.
This is one of the covers I was most looking forward to discussing with Adams. For one, the original is still shocking and amazing and historic. It’s still uncomfortable to look at more than 40 years after it was published. And then Adams had to go and make Robin a junkie on the new cover, which for me personally just makes it kind of awful and dark in the best way. (Plus, I like that the new one was inked by Adams’ son Josh, which just amps up the familial aspect to it all. Brilliant decision.)
Dan Greenfield: The classic “My ward is a junkie!”
Neal Adams: It’s a shocker!
Dan: A shocker! Yes. “DC Attacks Youth’s Greatest Problem — Drugs!” Now you went all in on the new one by making Robin a heroin addict! (Dan laughs) Now, which Robin IS this? Is this his son or is this Dick Grayson?
Neal: Whichever. (Dan laughs) I don’t know. I think it was sort of Damian. It looks like he’s got Damian’s haircut. I’m thinking of it as Damian, who is a character (I don’t like). Me, I like Robin. I like Dick Grayson. I would like to see everything roll back in time and have Dick Grayson be Robin. He was the best Robin. He was a gymnast, he could bounce around and do all that stuff. Back when I did Batman: Odyssey, that’s my Robin!
Neal: And everything about him is exactly the way I like it. So I try not to make a distinction, even though the spiky haircut is kinda what Damian has.
Anyway, I don’t know if you know the story of the original cover.
Dan: Go ahead. For the benefit of our readers, at least.
Neal: We were kind of winding down on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series and in those days it attracted a lot of attention, negative and positive. Although now the attention is all positive, back then, “It’s too preachy,” you know. “What do Neal and Denny think they’re doing? They’re out of their minds.”
Dan: It’s fun to read the letters column in those issues because after the first few ran, that was the debate that was going on.
Neal: Yes! Exactly! We didn’t really care. We just let loose. And Denny was way too much of a liberal not to enjoy this to his heart’s content. He was just…(makes happy noise).
Now, we had been asked by DC Comics to…I don’t know if it was the city of New York, but somebody wanted to do a drug comic book. And so Denny and I both went to a Phoenix House for a couple days and talked to a lot of people. “Rapped” to a bunch of junkies. We talked to a bunch of junkies about addiction and all the rest of it so that we could get some background—real background, not just BS background.
So we both came away with an attitude and we were both going to write a proposal for this thing. Denny’s proposal and my proposal bore certain resemblances and one of them was: No, it’s not the kids that are doing it. It’s the family situation.
And that you can’t point your finger and say you’ve gotta fix them. You’ve gotta fix everything! And if you study it, really that’s the only conclusion that you can come to. Really it’s very clear that these people came out of homes where they were ignored. Y’know? Dad comes home, he smokes a cigar, he sits in front of the TV set, he takes his scotch and soda or whatever it is and watches TV and the kid comes home, he’s got nobody to talk to and he’s got three more hours of homework to do. And his mother tells him to shut up because your dad’s watching TV and he’s had a hard day. Of course, he gets paid for it and the kid doesn’t. And it still exists today. It’s not something that’s easily solved.
So they didn’t want anything that we did. (Neal laughs) So we sat, a little frustrated.
(At the same time) we were kind of winding down on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stuff. First of all, it wasn’t selling that well, which is totally another story … but also because we were running out of topics.
We might have found new topics but the last one that Denny did was on overpopulation. I was, like, really? You could fit the population of the world into Texas. But it was just a popular theme. Guys were getting vasectomies. It was, (makes goofy noise) “Really?”
But at the same time, while that theme was going on, I became the chairman of the neighborhood committee for a drug addiction center up in the Bronx. So I was walking guys up at 4 o’clock in the morning to the drug center with their noses and their mouths drooling and stuff. So I was more deeply into the drug addiction problem than anything… than most anybody that I had ever met.
So I thought, well we’re gonna run out…This is gonna be gone. But we haven’t done everything. First of all, we haven’t really introduced a black character. (Read more about that here.)
Second, we haven’t handled drug addiction. We couldn’t. So what I did was I went home and I did that cover, penciled and inked, with the dialogue, and I gave it to Julie Schwartz. He dropped it like a hot potato. “We can’t do this. We’ll never do this.”
He said we should, of course, and he said two things: “One, we’ll never print this cover and, two, I’ll never pay you for it.” (Both laugh) I said, “Well, that’s fine. That’s cool.” I showed it to Carmine. He didn’t know what to make of it. Showed it to the executives and they said, “We can’t do this, can we?” So anyway, it sat on Julie’s desk for a couple months.
While it was setting on Julie’s desk, over at Marvel, Stan Lee had decided to have a character pop pills and walk off a roof. Stan Lee doesn’t know too much about drug addiction. Generally when people do pills, they sit in a corner and ask people to stay away from them.
Or they have a good time. It’s generally not walking off roofs. Maybe one did. Maybe he read an article. I don’t know. But Stan went to his uncle, the publisher, Martin Goodman, and said that he’d like to run the book without the Comics Code seal because they had already turned him down.
Dan: That was a Spider-Man book.
Neal: Yeah, a Spider-Man book. But they had turned it down. Said you had to change it. And he didn’t want to change it so he asked his uncle if he could run it without the seal. His uncle said, “Sure.” (Laughs)
So I went back there like the next week and Johnny Romita pulled me aside. I said, “What’s up? What happened with the book?”
He said, “It went out there.”
“Nobody said anything. (Dan laughs) Nobody said ANYTHING.”
I said, “Nobody? Like a letter from an old woman or the mayor of a town or something?”
He said, “Nobody. Nobody even noticed.”
I go back to DC Comics. They’re in an uproar because Stan had beaten them to the punch and this cover had been sitting there! Within a week, the publishers got together and they changed the Comics Code. They came back and Julie told Denny, “Write that story.” Which was pretty easy to write.
So we went ahead and did the story and that changed the face of comic books. It wasn’t just Stan. I have to give Stan the credit. He was first out. Not that the opportunity wasn’t there.
Certainly this (gestures to the cover) is a much more significant statement.
Dan: It’s better remembered, too.
Neal: It’s better remembered. And that changed the Comics Code. That got us out of that insanity that we were in.
Dan: And now there’s no Comics Code at all.
Neal: Now there’s no Comics Code and nobody (outside of comics) noticed when it went away.
Dan: People (in comics) celebrated it. I actually had a shirt that had the logo on it for irony’s sake. It said, “Approved by the Comics Code” because I thought it was funny.
Neal: Anyway, THIS cover… was inked by my son!
Dan: There’s some irony there, doncha think?
Neal: A good irony.
NEXT: Batman dies with some help from Walt Simonson. Click here.
You can also find more on Neal Adams at his website, here.