Legendary Comics Artist Neal Adams Dead at 80

Neal Adams, who helped reshape characters like Batman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow, has died. He was 80 years old. Adams fought for creators rights in comics, conducted regular Q&A sessions with fans on social media, and created or co-created numerous beloved characters, including John Stewart, Ra's al Ghul, and Man-Bat. According to Adams's family, he passed away due to complications from sepsis. Adams, with writer Dennis O'Neil, helped to reshape the public perception of Batman in the 1970s, establishing the dark, vengeful spirit of the night that defines the character to this day. 

Besides his contributions to Batman, Adams will be remembered as the artist for Green Lantern/Green Arrow which, also with O'Neil, reinvigorated both characters and helped redefine them for a new generation of readers. The Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics were an examination and critique of contemporary culture, including issues around racism, poverty, and other topics that rarely made it to the pages of DC books before O'Neil and Adams.

Neal Adams was born June 15, 1941, in New York City. He would live and work in and around New York for most of his life. As a child, he traveled a lot due to his father's military career, living on bases around the world. Adams attended the School of Industrial Art high school in Manhattan, graduating in 1959, and within a few years was beginning to make his mark on comics. Beginning in 1960, Adams started drawing superhero comics and gag pages for Archie Comics, under editor Joe Simon.

In the early 1960s, after leaving Archie, Adams would work on comic strips like Bat Masterson and Ben Casey, as well as doing work in the advertising industry, where his photorealistic style made him a hit. By 1967, Adams was collaborating with Archie Goodwin on horror comics at Warren Publishing. Having been rejected by DC in 1960, Adams tried again in 1967 and landed a gig drawing some war comics. He would also work on The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope. In late 1976, Adams landed a pair of Superman covers, and drew an Elongated Man backup story for Detective Comics

From 1967 until 1969, Adams and writer Arnold Drake would work together on Deadman, the first major commercial success attributed to Adams. The artist became associated with the character -- so much so that he would revisit the property in 2017. At the time, he said that Deadman was the character he had most wanted to return to.

"Deadman is, in a weird kind of way, number one," Adams told ComicBook.com at the time. "Deadman, I didn't get to finish the story. When I did Deadman...I didn't tell anybody the rest of the story. all we did was introduce the character. Nobody knows who Deadman is and what his relationships are and what's going on with him and his real story. You just got to see the beginning. So when I ended, other people picked it up. They started to do 'The Adventures of Deadman,' like any other comic book superhero…but no, that's not what it's about It's about Deadman. He's got a story to tell, and he's dead."

While Adams was best known for his DC work, in 1969 he drew, colored, and plotted a number of X-Men issues for Marvel. There, he was first teamed with writer Dennis O'Neil and inker Tom Palmer, both of whom would work with Adams for years after.

In 1971, Adams and famed comics artist and editor Dick Giordano founded Continuity Associates, which takes on various different kinds of creative and commercial art projects. The company, which is still in business, aims to show that "the graphic vernacular of the comic book could be employed in profitable endeavors outside the confines of traditional comics." From 1984 until 1994, Continuity had its own comics-publishing arm.

O'Neil and Adams were tasked with reinventing the Dark Knight following the end of the '60s Batman TV show with Adam West and Burt Ward. The show, having embraced camp and then becoming such a huge success that the comics tried to emulate it, had left Batman comics limping along when it ended, since comic book readers did not necessarily respond to the sillier take in the same way TV audiences had.

The philosophy that guided O'Neil and Adams on Batman was to return to the formula originated by Bill Finger and Bob Kane when the character debuted, and that decision -- to lean into the dark, gothic, violent, and mysterious elements of Batman -- has reverberated through comics and related media ever since.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow remains relevant decades after it was first published, with Hal Jordan serving as a police officer (granted, on a cosmic scale) and Oliver Queen standing in for a protester. Neither man was ever fully "right," and that was the fun of their dynamic -- but Oliver often forced Hal to confront a world far less black-and-white than his philosophy of "I'm going to punish rule-breakers" would have led him to on his own.

With Continuity and other personal projects keeping him busy, Adams's Big Two work after Green Lantern/Green Arrow tended to be an issue or special here and there, rather than jumping on as full-time artist for an ongoing book. He drew Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, as well as contrbuting work to the Marvel/DC crossover Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man.

During the 1970s, Adams tried to unionize comic book creators. While that effort was doomed to failure, he was instrumental in helping to set a precedent that continues to this day: the return of original art to the artists, who can resell it. Prior to the 1980s, the practice varied from company to company, with pages variously being sent back to the artist, retained by the publisher, given away, or destroyed. In 1987, Adams helped force Marvel to return pages not only to him, but to numerous other creators, including Jack Kirby. He also helped bring attention to the plight of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, which would result in pressuring DC and Warner Bros. to better compensate them.

Adams is survived by his wife Marilyn and his son Josh, also a comic book artist, as well as include two other sons, Jason and Joel; daughters Kris and Zeea; grandchildren Kelly, Kortney, Jade, Sebastian, Jane and Jaelyn; and great-grandson Maximus.

Our condolences go out to Mr. Adams's friends, family, collaborators and fans during this difficult time.

h/t The Hollywood Reporter