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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Neal Adams explains Deadman, Batman Odyssey and Coming of the Supermen

On May 11th 2018, Ottawa had the honor of featuring Neal Adams as a guest at the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon. I could not wait to interview him. I had just finished reading his new Deadman series, and had plenty of follow-up questions for him. This was the interview that ensued:

Deadman #4 (2018). Cover by Neal Adams.

Justin: "I've been dying to ask you about your NEW Deadman material. It's brand new -- released this year -- six issues have been released... and you have a sequel planned: Batman: Demigods War"

Neal: "That's true."

Justin: "Your work on the Deadman feature (in 1968's Strange Adventures) is still fresh in mind. You were writing this feature before it got cancelled due to bad marketing/poor sales..."

Neal: "No, it got cancelled because the whole of the comic book industry was imploding on itself. The comic book companies were taking returns from the distributors and nobody knew what was selling or what wasn't selling. The comic book business was on it's way down -- and if it wasn't for the direct sales business to comic book stores -- it probably would've went out of business, because the business being done was SO BAD it didn't seem like there was going to be any way to save it. Titles like Batman were failing, Superman was failing, it was a terrible time."

page from Strange Adventures #217 (1968). art by Neal Adams.

Justin: "Deadman had a HUGE cult following... fans loved it... yet it got cancelled..."

Neal: "Which is weird, y'know? How is it that we have all these collected [Deadman] issues, it gets reprinted all the time, and somehow it got cancelled? It didn't make any sense."

Justin: "They reprinted your Strange Adventures material in the mid-80s, and -- based on fan reaction to that -- they decided 'alright, let's finish Neal's Deadman story'. It didn't go to you, though, instead it went to Andrew Helfer for some reason. He wrote a Deadman mini-series that... just didn't take off. It looked as if they were hoping to turn it into a regular ongoing series, but it didn't gain momentum..."

Neal: "Well, there's a problem with Deadman, and the problem is basically this: everybody has a standard format that they do comics in, and when they come up with a NEW character -- whether it's Daredevil or whoever -- essentially what they do is 'The Adventures of Daredevil' or 'The Adventures of Deadman' or 'The Adventures of [insert character here]', but they're not doing a story ABOUT the character. The thing about Deadman is that Deadman is DEAD. The guy is DEAD. It's HIS story. People just don't die [and keep hanging around as a ghost], y'know? If they die and they're still around, that's a unique situation. It shouldn't be about how Deadman rescues a cat out of a tree, it's about Deadman -- and that's what the story SHOULD BE about. And, unfortunately, the people that were doing Deadman were doing 'The Adventures of Deadman' and rescuing cats in a tree. It's not what we want."

Justin: "So that was a wash -- the mini-series didn't go anywhere. Later in the 80s, Mike Baron wrote a few Deadman one-offs for Vertigo, and there's been a whole bunch of other stuff since then (ex: Brightest Day, Justice League Dark)... now you're getting a chance to re-tell YOUR original story and how you wanted to conclude it. And frankly, it's crazy..."

panel from Deadman #1 (2018). Art by Neal Adams.

Neal: "That's the idea. I don't want to conclude it. The idea is that this is a story ABOUT Deadman. It's as if you said 'okay, let's do a story about Superman, but we're not going to make it about Superman's adventures (as he rescues people and does stuff), it's about Superman and Krypton and his life and sitting on a psychiatrist's couch and whatever it is that Superman does. It's ABOUT Superman.' Okay, you're not going to do THAT, but Deadman is the kind of character you CAN do that with. Let's say you were going to make a film about Deadman. You're not going to make a story of the adventures of Deadman... it's going to be ABOUT Deadman -- the same way that the Hellboy film is ABOUT Hellboy. There's enough density in the character to tell his story. It's just that I started it, and then other people did 'The Adventures of' -- which is NOT what it was about -- and now I'm back doing the story of Deadman."

[Anyone who's reading this, before you continue, I'm going to warn you that there's SPOILERS coming up. Neal Adams' new six-issue Deadman series, his Superman: Coming of the Supermen (2017) and Batman Odyssey (2010/2011) is fantastic stuff and I'd strongly encourage you to pick it up and read it before continuing.]

Justin: "Regarding your new Deadman material... it's great stuff. I'm getting a very Silver Age vibe from it. There's a few things in here..."

Neal: "You see, I don't think it's Silver Age at all. Lookit, there's a reason why DC comics and Marvel comics reprint my stuff --  it's timeless. Green Lantern and Green Arrow is timeless. Deadman is timeless. Superman vs Muhammad Ali could be Superman vs Mike Tyson (or another boxer of today), except -- of course -- Muhammad Ali was very unique in his way.  These stories are timeless and you can keep on reprinting them. Deadman is DEAD -- you don't set it in a time -- he's dead. If [GuillermoDel Toro decided to make a Deadman story, he'd make it about today, right? ...and that's what it's about. If you read the Deadman story that we have now, it's about NOW.  When he goes into the next story where he goes to get the help of the greatest detective in the world (Batman), we're not going thirty years in the past...  it's Batman and Deadman today."

[Okay, so here's the part where I confess that I did read Neal's new Deadman series, but thought it was a retcon set in the past. I stand corrected. This actually created more questions than answers. Read on.]

Neal: "Now Deadman -- take all the old Deadman stories and ramp 'em forward, and now let's tell the story again. I can't go back and re-do those stories, but I can do the new ones. I'm having a great time." [laughs]

Justin: "I can see that, and it shows. You've revealed some new things about Deadman (i.e., he had a brother and sister we didn't know about) and then your whole series ends with a cliff-hanger that potentially reveals that his brother might be Ra's Al Ghul. That's what I'm leading to assume, unless there's something I'm missing?"

[Neal looks really excited -- like he's going to burst. The kind of look when you have a really great secret but can't tell anyone.]

Neal: "It can't be. It can't be Ra's Al Ghul."

Justin: "It looked like him."

Neal: "It looked like him. What the hell's the deal with that?"

Justin: "I don't know, but I'm guessing you've got something good cooked up."

Neal: "I certainly do."

Justin: "All this to say, it's a very entertaining comic and I'm loving it and the direction it's headed."

Neal: "Well, this is what I suggest. I suggest that people read Batman Odyssey before reading my newest Deadman series..."

Justin: "...because they're all connected?"

Neal: "Oh yes! It ALL connects."

Justin: "So is this like a Neal-Adams-Universe type of thing? Earth-Adams?"

Neal: "No, I'd say it's THIS universe. The universe that we in comic books are just a little afraid to play with: like fossil fuels, like energy for the world, like how countries are moving forward but are being held up by certain anti-progressive concepts, like bad politics..."

Justin: "I get the gist. I follow your twitter." [laughs]

Neal: "I'm not getting into the politics, I'm getting into the politics of THE WORLD, okay? Because guess what? That's where we are -- we LIVE in this world. Comic book characters LIVE in this world. We have to worry about what fuels we're going to fuel the world with, which people are going to control them, how they're going to control them, and what assholes they are who are controlling them the wrong way, and we have to worry about that. You know what? It can show up in the comic books and still be ENTERTAINING, and they ARE entertaining."

panels from Batman Odyssey #4 (2011). Art by Neal Adams.

"If you guys read Batman Odyssey you'd discover that, first of all, you find oil down where salt domes are. 'Oh! I missed that!' Well you shouldn't have missed that, because -- you know what? -- it's right in there. And you SHOULD know about that, and guess what?  You can go to your geology teacher and ask him about it, and that's what he'll tell you. And you should. Because I expect my audience to be intelligent, and to look and to read things to know what we're talking about. And we're talking about things... and guess what? It's going to be their life in the future. We're going to be worrying about this stuff and taking care of this stuff and solving the problems that are being raised all around us, and will also be raised in these comic books. In also Batman Odyssey, as well as Deadman, and as well as the new one that's coming up,"

Justin: "What about Superman: Coming of the Supermen? I liked that one a lot. Darkseid and the New Gods are some of my favorite characters."

Neal: "You didn't read the last page, did you?"

Justin: "I absolutely did."

Neal: "Oh yeah, what did Luthor say on the last panel of the last page?"

Justin: "He said something along the lines that he has proof that they're all human. That's a spoiler."

panel from Superman: Coming of the Supermen #6 (2017). Art by Neal Adams.

[Neal starts laughing.]

Justin: "I'm trying to frame this interview in such a way so that it doesn't spoil anything for readers who want to pick up these books for the first time. I want people to pick it up, read and find out on their own -- as opposed to me just blurting it out."

Neal: "You can blurt out whatever you want, and then people will be reading this stuff. People should be discussing this stuff. I'm not afraid of the discussion, I've still got the surprises -- they're still in my pocket. I haven't told them to YOU, but I have told you where the clues are. That last page of Superman... I gotta tell ya! It's an ass-kicker!"

"While you're thinking about that, maybe think about why Superman DOESN'T have a weird anatomy even though he comes from a strange planet?"

Justin: "Can I ask you something about that? Are you implying that Darkseid and the New Gods are all human? Luthor mentions 'the blood samples' but I only remember Luthor getting blood samples off the Krpytonians from the bottled city of Kandor..."

Neal: "Okay, let's try this: did you ever notice that when you watch Star Trek or Star Wars or you read science fiction stuff... that you have these really weird looking aliens that look like rolled up tape or things with googly eyes or whatever?  And then you have this other group of aliens that look like human beings? And Earthmen can have intercourse with them? What the hell is that? So, is there a strain -- that is even out there in space -- that's human? And if that's TRUE, then HOW did that happen?"

Justin: "It's brilliant. I've got to give you credit for really looking at things from a different perspective."

Neal: "Y'know, people say that, but I don't FEEL that way. I feel that as soon as I explain it to people they go 'yeah, I get that. I understand that.' Superman's not a roll of tape. Hey! What is he?"

Justin: "In the first or second issue of Coming of the Supermen, Superman travels back in time and meets Darkseid -- but it's not Darkseid -- it's an Egyptian pharaoh."

panel from Superman: Coming of the Supermen #1 (2017)/ Art by Neal Adams.

Neal: "That's funny, isn't it?" [said coyly]

"We all have the SAME history on the SAME earth, You've got to think about that. How does Superman have finger nails? Does he cut 'em? I'm just sayin'"

Justin: "These are really good points."

Neal: "I'm just sayin'... what the deal? Does he have tear ducts?  I mean, does he have one ear on one side and one ear on the other side? How come he's so like you and me? What's the deal? I don't get it. What is the deal with Darkseid? He may look like hell, but he looks VERY human to me. And what the hell was he doing back in Egypt?  How come that Sphinx is a lion?"

Justin: "Have you finished up Demigods War, yet? Has it been pencilled and written?"

Neal: "Yeah!"

Justin: "Is it done?"

Neal: "No, it's not done. Ha. That would be REALLY fast. Ha."

Justin: "Is there a launch date, yet?"

Neal: "No, because you have to have enough issues in before they start publicizing. So I'm working on it to get it done... to get it moving."

Justin: "Thank you, Mr Adams. This was a really fun interview. I can't wait to see what you've got coming next."


Neal Adams, among many things, is a man of science. You can check out more about his Growing Earth - Growing Universe theories on and on his personal science blog.

We can't thank Agence Pink and Ottawa Comiccon for allowing us this opportunity to interview Neal Adams. Neal also hosted a Q&A session at the Ottawa Comiccon, which we'll save for another time.

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