PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite NEAL ADAMS SUPERMAN Covers

The celebrated Mr. K pays tributes to one of comics’ greatest artists – who turns 80…

Neal Adams, who turns 80 years old, is such an important part of comics – and such an important part of my personal comics experience – that he’s almost certainly the artist we’ve posted the most about during 13th Dimension’s history. I personally have hogged about 99 percent of those stories.

This year, however, I’m turning our annual birthday tribute over to columnist Paul Kupperberg, a devoted Superman fan who has his own tales to tell about the man who I consider the greatest comics artist ever to put pencil to board. Rather than focus on the more typically lauded Adams works like Batman and Green Lantern, Paul has chosen to spotlight 13 COVERS featuring the Man of Steel – which are some of the best ever.

Happy birthday, Neal! — Dan

By PAUL KUPPERBERG

When the topic is “comic book artists who changed everything,” there’s no doubt that Neal Adams – born 80 years ago on June 15, 1941 — has a place near the top of that relatively short list. He not only changed the way readers looked at comic books, but the way other artists came to draw them. There hasn’t been a generation of creators since the 1970s that hasn’t had its share of young Adams-influenced artists.

Neal did groundbreaking work on Batman, Deadman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, The X-Men, The Avengers, as well as the historic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali tabloid edition and countless other projects, including designing the sets and costumes for the 1973 Broadway production of WARP, all while pursuing a career in advertising with his Continuity Associates studio.

I “discovered” Neal Adams as the cover artist on select issues of Superman, Action Comics and World’s Finest in the late 1960s, after which I could never look at the Man of Steel the same way again. I’d follow this artist across comics, from DC to Warren Publishing to Marvel, and through his own Continuity Comics.

I would even get to know Neal in passing; his first words to me were in the halls of DC Comics at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, in 1977 or 1978, when, brandishing a Polaroid camera as I recall, he stopped me and demanded, “Did I take your picture yet?” When I stammered no, he stood me up against the wall and took one. I later found out it was so he could include me in the audience on the cover of the aforementioned Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic.

Happy birthday to an original (in every way!) and thanks for the Super-memories! Here then, are MY 13 FAVORITE NEAL ADAMS SUPERMAN COVERS, in chronological order by publication date:

Action Comics #356 (Nov. 1967). I can’t tell you where I first saw most of the comics from my younger fan days, but I have vivid memories of my first time seeing this cover on the rack in the candy store on Seaview Avenue in Brooklyn where my father had sent me in to buy him a pack of Camels while he waited outside, double-parked. Part 1 of the Leo Dorfman-scripted Annihilator storyline in the previous issue, which I had read, had sported a standard and perfectly serviceable Curt Swan/George Klein cover.

But for “The Son of the Annihilator”? This was Neal’s first Superman cover for DC, and it made me literally leap for the newsstand to snatch it up. I wasn’t intrigued so much by what the cover depicted as how it had been drawn. The interior of this issue was drawn by veteran Superman artist Wayne Boring… I mean, talk about cognitive dissonance! DC’s most old-fashioned artist covered by an artist showing us all what the future of comic book art held!

Superman #204 (Feb. 1968). One of the ongoing schticks of the Mort Weisinger era of Superman were characters with double-L initials: Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemaris, and so on. I don’t remember the story that went with “The Case of the Lethal Letters” (by Cary Bates, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito), but this image of the Man of Steel sprawled helplessly on the floor has stuck with me ever since.

Action Comics #359 (Feb. 1968). Another cover that remains more memorable than the story it featured. “The Case of the People Against Superman” (by Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, and George Klein) was one big melodramatic hunk of cheese, but damn! Look at the expressions on all those beautifully rendered faces, from Superman’s guilty look to the stenographer in the background, whose hands I always imagined were hovering just above the keys to his Stenotype, too shocked to actually type the little girl’s accusation.

Around the same time he drew this cover, Neal was regularly showing off how well he drew kids on a series of memorable covers for House of Mystery featuring children in spooky situations.

World’s Finest Comics #174 (March 1968). Great groveling heroes, Batman! No, I mean it! Neal drew great groveling heroes for this cover for “Secret of the Double Death-Wish!” by Cary Bates, Pete Costanza and Jack Abel. Neal didn’t deal in cliched cartoony shortcuts to depict emotion and invested every part of the characters — right down to their claw-like hands and bodies that can barely stand upright under the weight of their guilt or anxiety — creating a level of tension that just sucked readers in.

Action Comics #361 (March 1968). From raw emotional power to sheer physical impact, Neal’s dynamic photorealistic style made this cover for the Jim Shooter/Al Plastino tale “The Power of the Parasite!” a hard-hitting triumph!

Superman #233 (Jan. 1971). “Superman Breaks Loose!” One of the era’s most iconic images of the Man of Steel, this chain-busting cover loudly announced that there was something new happening in this venerable old title. And what it announced was the debut of a new direction for Superman, now under the editorial and creative stewardships of Julie Schwartz and writer Denny O’Neil (along with stalwart artists Swan and Murphy Anderson). Kryptonite was gone and stodgy newspaperman Clark Kent was transformed into a television newscaster, leaving the silly, more juvenile stories of the previous editorial administration behind. For the time being, at least. (Click here to see what Adams thinks of this cover. – Dan)

Superman #237 (May 1971). Denny O’Neil, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson’s “Enemy of Earth” is fronted by this unforgettable Adams cover, embellished this time around by frequent inker Dick Giordano. We can’t see Superman’s face, but his body language — and subtle use of reaction lines — makes the Man of Tomorrow’s horrified reaction obvious to all.

Action Comics #400 (May 1971). Half a gorilla on a comic book cover is better than none, especially when that half an ape is by Neal Adams. “My Son… Is He Man or Beast?” is neither Superman’s “son” nor a beast, just an unfortunate kid named Gregor Nagy whose father dies and who Superman accidentally causes to become a freak who willy-nilly turns into different animals. Poor kid. “As Gregor Nagy awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a variety of beasts.” We get it Leo Dorfman! You read a book! (Click here to see what Adams thinks of this cover. – Dan)

Action Comics #402 (July 1971).Why?” Silly rabbit! Because you’re dealing with forces beyond your understanding… i.e., comic book “science.” A silly and in some ways unfortunate story (Superman saves an indigenous Mexican peoples’ treasure, a legacy from Montezuma, from a criminal white man), but Neal’s cover for “This Hostage Must Die!” (Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson) is moody as all hell.

Superman #242 (Sept. 1971). The storyline that began a year earlier under that iconic “Superman Breaks Loose” image for Superman #233 came to an end here with another killer cover, for “The Ultimate Battle” by Denny O’Neil, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson as Superman fights to the finish with his sand-creature doppelganger (and an Asian war-demon “inhabited — and activated — by a creature from the dimension of Quarrm!”). The story guest-stars the pants suit Wonder Woman and her sensei, I Ching, who does things in this story I never realized I Ching could do before.

World’s Finest Comics #208 (Dec. 1971). I mean… come on! Just look at it! “Peril of the Planet Smashers!” was by Len Wein, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella.

Superman #252 (June 1972). Oft copied but seldom duplicated, Neal’s wraparound cover for “The World’s Greatest Flying Heroes” 100-Page Super-Spectacular issue of Superman was… well, super and spectacular! Fans of a certain age (like me) are likely to have this image burned indelibly into our brains from viewing its awesomeness for close to 50 years.

When my son was born in 1996, John Byrne offered to decorate Max’s room with a superhero mural, using the cover as his inspiration. (The mural was painted onto the wall and left behind when we sold the house in 2010; neither the new owners nor their five/six-year-old son seemed particularly smitten with it and I doubt it survived their redecorating efforts.)

Action Comics #419 (Dec. 1972). If you needed any more proof that Neal Adams “got” Superman, you only have to look at this (yet another!) iconic image! “Up, up, and away!” indeed! This is everything that makes the Man of Steel the world’s greatest superhero wrapped up in one powerful and joyful illustration. (A nod of appreciation as well to the late, great DC production maestro, Jack Adler, who created the photographic background and colored the piece, which was inked by Anderson). (Click here to see what Adams thinks of this cover. – Dan)

MORE

— NEAL ADAMS’ 13 Greatest BATMAN Covers – RANKED. Click here.

— A Powerful Piece of History: NEAL ADAMS Plans Sale of Landmark GIL KANE Art. Click here.

Paul Kupperberg has been writing comic books from Archie to Zatanna for 45 years at DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, Bongo and others. He is also the author of Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics (Charlton Neo Press); I Never Write for the Money… But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check (Comics Career); the comic book industry-based murder mystery The Same Old Story, the short-story collection In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other StoriesJSA: Ragnarok, and his latest, the YA fantasy/time travel adventure Emma’s Landing, all from Crazy 8 Press and all available on Amazon, or signed and personalized direct from Paul (email him at pkupps55@yahoo.com for details).

Author: Dan Greenfield

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2 Comments

  1. I too started out with those late 60’s Action covers by Neal! They were so striking that they bolstered this 7 year olds collecting habit! Happy birthday Neal!

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