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Comic Con: Why you should know, and thank, Neal Adams

Published September 3, 2014 12:15 pm

Comic Con • Artist brought Batman to a grimmer Gotham and crusaded for Superman's creators.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake Comic Con presents a prime opportunity to meet a man who has made quite the impact on pop culture, and comics specifically.

Neal Adams has worked on a whole host of famous characters from the Avengers to Superman. But the legendary comics artist is probably best known for his lasting influence in molding a darker Batman, as well as his impact on the X-Men and Green Arrow — the television adaptation of which is well represented at Salt Lake Comic Con. He even went on to become a champion for comics creators, notably helping the co-creators of Superman finally receive the compensation they felt they deserved.

And at Salt Lake Comic Con, you don't even have to wait in a long line or pay money to talk to him like other celebrities. He's right there among the vendors. Adams' accomplishments cannot be fairly represented in the space this article has, but here are some highlights.

Bringing more night to the Dark Knight • On the heels of the light and fun atmosphere of Batman's mid-1960s comics adventures and the Adam West TV show, Adams' realistic designs and grimmer tones helped bring Bruce Wayne to the grislier Gotham City we know today. Adams' stories "looked gorgeous, with an unprecedented realism in capturing the human form," according to Daniel Wallace's book "Batman: The World of the Dark Knight."

"Saying that Neal Adams is one of the definitive Batman artists is underselling things quite a bit," writes authoritative Batman expert Chris Sims at Comics Alliance. When DC Comics published a collection of Batman comics to celebrate the character's 75th Anniversary this year, they were sure to include Adams' work among the dozens of artists who have pencilled the Dark Knight since 1939.

Adams and writer Denny O'Neil also brought The Joker back to his roots as a homicidal madman in "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" story. The landmark comic set the tone for The Joker from there on out, and cemented the The Clown Prince of Crime's dynamic with Batman as the only person he deems worthy of his deadly exploits, according to Wallace's book. The Joker most people know today — including Heath Ledger's and Jack Nicholson's on-screen portrayals — owe much of their tone to Adams and O'Neil.

Adams in large part paved the way for everything from the seminal and wildly influential "Year One" comic, to "Batman: The Animated Series," to Christopher Nolan's trilogy, to the Dark Knight currently appearing in DC's relaunched (and highly regarded) "Batman" comic. That Ra's al Ghul is even a character in Nolan's movies is thanks to Adams, who co-created the super villain. (He also co-created the transforming villain Man-Bat.)

Making waves in the X-Men • In an interview with Arlen Schumers for "Comic Book Artist" magazine, Adams described how early in his career, he asked Marvel Comics' Stan Lee to give him a shot by letting him work on his worst-selling book. Surprisingly, given its immense popularity today, that meant Adams was working on "X-Men." The mutants were on the verge of cancellation.

But Adams — who besides drawing it, plotted a lot of the story — helped keep "X-Men" on the stands for about another year, and gave it the complex web of plot and character that it retained when it was eventually relaunched and lends to its popularity today.

"What I did was make the world of the X-Men more complicated; build one thing on top of the other, integrate one thing into the other, so that after a while, you get a whole world populated by these characters, all integrated, so that you started to see a tapestry of characters, all having these different interrelationships," Adams told Schumers. "I don't think the X-Men ever should have been a story, and then a story, and then a story; it should be this tapestry that goes on."

The X-Men's sales had increased during Adam's tenure, "but that fact was only discovered six months after it had been canceled," cartoonist and writer Steve Stiles writes.

A hero for other comics creators • Adams' lobbying for creators rights in the 1970s led to the modern industry practice of returning original artwork to their artists, allowing them to then sell the artwork and better support themselves. He was also instrumental in making sure comics creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — the co-creators of Superman — were paid remuneration.

Siegel and Shuster fought a legal battle with their publisher in the 1940s, arguing for ownership of Superman, despite — as the court ruled — having signed their rights away when they sold their first Superman story. They lost that battle, lost their bylines on the book, and by 1973, "Shuster was legally blind and Siegel, who had sold off his comics collection in desperation, was earning $7,000 a year as a mail clerk," according to a 2004 issue of The Comics Journal.

But two years later, with the Christopher Reeves movie coming out, they found a champion in Adams. He and Batman artist Jerry Robinson crusaded for Siegel and Shuster.

"Adams told the Journal's Mike Catron, 'I was speaking to newsmen every day, four or five a day, some days more, because it got to be hot and heavy. It was a battle for three, three-and-a-half months,'" the Comics Journal wrote.

As Larry Tye writes in his Superman history book, Adams, Robinson and the Cartoonists Society made the case with parent company Warner Communication. After decades, the creators of Superman finally had their bylines back, and an annual compensation for life. "'What was my leverage?' Adams asks. 'Humanity. Pity. Common sense. I mean, truth, justice and the American way.'"

Adams is scheduled to be at Salt Lake Comic Con all three days. He is also expected to hold a signing Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Black Cat Comics, located at 2261 S. Highland Drive in Salt Lake City.

"Ordinarily, Neal charges $20 per signature, but when he is here [at Black Cat Comics], the first signature is free with a $10 charge for each additional," the store announced.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda —

Convention Info

Neal Adams will be Salt Lake Comic Con all three days.