Much of the Neal Adams outpouring has been DC focused. Columnist Jim Beard takes you to the other side of the street…
By JIM BEARD
Tributes to the late, great Neal Adams have been pouring in, and rightfully so, the majority of them focusing on his DC work, specifically Batman, and again rightfully so.
I’d like to take a moment to highlight his Marvel output, a much briefer era in his career compared to DC, but to me just as amazing, incredible, fantastic, and mighty.
Neal was one of those creators who pushed his way past the “old boys club” of the 1950s and 1960s comic book guard—and I say that in the very best way possible. He was told he didn’t have a ghost of a chance in the industry, but that wasn’t what he felt in his heart, and so he wowed them on DC characters like, yeah, the ghostly Spectre, and a dude dressed up like a bat. Not to mention the two guys who really, really liked the color green.
He was freelancing at DC in the late 60s, and like other artists he started getting work across the aisle at Marvel. Neal wound up on a book that at the time frankly just wasn’t a flagship title for the House of Ideas. X-Men was basically a revolving door for artists by ’69, having seen Jack Kirby depart it long ago and making due with guys like Werner Roth and Don Heck, and Barry Smith; they were all good, but the mag didn’t really have, you know, a “look.” That changed when Neal Adams joined the team alongside regular writer Roy Thomas.
The Adams cover to X-Men #56 illustrates a change in the weather. The Living Monolith isn’t just shouting out his vengeance on the Merry Mutants; he’s reaching out and literally grabbing their logo in fine Adams fashion. It was a good sign that readers were about to get something different in the mag.
Neal stuck around to usher the book into its “demise,” that period of time X-Men became a reprint title, but when he was really cooking on it he did all those cool things he became known for: playing with panels, looking for interesting angles, breathing life into lifelessness with dynamism, and basically endowing the stories with a realistic feel they’d never had before.
He was leagues away from the main artistic architect of the Marvel Universe, Jack Kirby, but both men had their own, unique ways of delivering a punch, and at that moment in time, they were two undeniably original bookends to place your Marvel mags between.
After teaming up on X-Men, Roy Thomas and Neal Adams had something else up their collective sleeve. That was a little thing called “The Kree-Skrull War.”
The saga is told in Avengers #89-97, and while Neal came in late to the war—he did #92’s cover and picked up the pencils beginning with #93—you can’t deny the powerful impact he had on the story through its visuals. That opening splash of Avengers #93, Ant-Man’s trip through the Vision, Captain Mar-Vell, the Fantastic Four, spaceships and aliens, the Inhumans, the creepy Kree Supreme Intelligence… you get the picture. Or rather, Neal got all the pictures, and while his presence in the saga is kind of sparse overall, I personally can’t think of it without my brain conjuring up Adams vistas.
There was some other Marvel work; a few issues of Thor, that monstrously marvelous cover for the one-and-only issue of Legion of Monsters, and a few other covers and one-off stories, but Neal wouldn’t really return to the House of Ideas in triumph until way later in 2012 with his First X-Men miniseries and then in 2020 with his Fantastic Four: Antithesis story.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t worry too much about what little Marvel work he did compared to DC. I’d say having the X-Men and the Kree-Skrull War under your belt isn’t anything to sneeze at.
Thanks for reading along, Bunky. After you enjoy re-perusing Neal’s Batman stuff and his groundbreaking Green Lantern-Green Arrow opus, I hope you might consider taking another look at his Marvel masterworks. I think you’ll be glad you did.
And rest in peace, Neal. You deserve it, legend.
— The NEAL ADAMS MEMORIAL Index. Click here.
— THE NEAL ADAMS INTERVIEWS: The Comics Master in His Own Words. Click here.
JIM BEARD has pounded out adventure fiction since he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. He’s gone on to write official Star Wars and Ghostbusters comics stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. His prose work includes his own creations, but also licensed properties such as Planet of the Apes, X-Files, Spider-Man, Kolchak the Night Stalker and Captain Action. In addition, Jim provided regular content for Marvel.com, the official Marvel Comics website, for 17 years.
Check out his latest releases: a Green Hornet novella How Sweet the Sting, his first epic fantasy novel The Nine Nations Book One: The Sliding World, Running Home to Shadows about Dark Shadows, and the most recent Batman ’66 books of essays he’s edited: Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season One, Biff! Bam! Ee-Yow! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Season Two and Oooff! Boff! Splatt! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season Three.