Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 3

By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Len Wein, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4075-2 (TPB)

It’s Batman’s anniversary year. What are you reading?

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate major licensed newspaper strip Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded, however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC, doing a few covers as inker or penciller before eventually finding himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC recently chose to reprint every piece of work Adams ever did for them into a series of commemorative collections. This is the last of three superb tomes (available in a variety of formats including last minute delivery eBook) starring the “Darknight Detective” as he was dubbed back then, and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order.

This particular package celebrates the covers and pertinent contents of Batman #232, 234-241, 243-246, 251, 255, Batman Annual #14, Batman Black & White # 4, The Brave and the Bold #99, Detective Comics #412-422, 439, 600, Heroes Against Hunger, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-25, C-51, C-59, Robin #1, Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4, World’s Finest Comics # 211, 244-246, 258; cumulatively embracing June 1971 to September 1996.

Following Adams’ liberally illustrated Foreword and key collaborator Denny O’Neil’s recollections describing their work process in his Introduction, the comics gold begins.

Throughout this period Adams remained one of the industry’s top cover artists, generating a stunning succession of mesmerising images on most Bat-related titles (and plenty of other comics). Those are listed here in chronological release order…

Behind a macabre eye catcher, Batman #232 (June 1971) took the hero to new heights as former kidnap victim Talia returns and we learn more of her as O’Neil & Adams – with inking as usual from Dick Giordano – introduce her father: immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl.

A whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature highpoints of the entire Batman canon, ‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn drawing the increasingly grim hero from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to be working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabian origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11, ISIS-infested world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned. The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Gotham’s Guardian…

The chilling covers for Detective Comics #412 and 413 (this was the peak of the revival in supernatural comics, after all), leads to Batman #234 which featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped, physically actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was quietly retired from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano), he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicts the city, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

Covers for Detective #414-417 Batman #235-236 lead into another much-reprinted classic. ‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by the usual suspect from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings, only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

The fronts for Detective# 418-422, The Brave and the Bold #99, Batman #238-241 and World’s Finest Comics # 211 bring us to Batman #243 (August) as the long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul reaches Def Con 3: a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity and depicting the final confrontation between two opposing ideals.

Not included here are the non-Adams episodes from Batman #240 and 242 (although they are available in many other collections). In them, the Darknight Detective abandoned his civilian identity by faking Bruce Wayne’s death and gathered a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – suborned to the side of the angels by his own superstitious code of honour and sworn to destroy the Demon forever.

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano reunited for Batman #243 which sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – invade the Demon’s Swiss citadel moments after their intended target dies. Nobody suspects the ageless villain’s resources include ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which can revive the dead…

The fateful finale came in #244, wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax. With the job done, a short addendum in #245 resolves ‘The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!’, restoring the billionaire to his rightful place in Gotham’s social whirl…

The all-Adams cover to Batman #246 (October 1972) leads to another graphic landmark. ‘The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge’ comes from Batman #251 (September 1973 by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams) and finally ended forever the zany, “camp” taint of the TV show by re-branding the characters and returning to the original 1930s concept of a grim and driven Dark Avenger chasing an insane avatar of pure evil.

Such a hero needs truly deadly villains and – by reinstating the psychotically unpredictable Killer Clown who scared the short pants off readers in the Golden Age – this single-issue yarn set the bar very, very high. A true milestone that utterly redefined the Joker for the modern age: the story sees the Mirthful Maniac stalking his old gang, determined to eradicate them all with the hard-pressed Gotham Guardian desperately playing catch-up. As the crooks die in all manner of Byzantine and bizarre ways, Batman realises his arch-foe has gone irrevocably off the deep end….

Terrifying and beautiful, for many fans this is the definitive Batman/Joker story, but signalled Adam’s graduation to other jobs and away from regular bat-missions. Before that departure, however, the cover to Detective #439 (February/March 1974) and one last thriller awaited.

Scripted by Len Wein and inked by Giordano, ‘Moon of the Wolf’ from Batman #255 (March/April 1974) pits the ultimate human hero against a tragic former sportsman mutated into a truly supernatural lupine killer and enslaved by old enemy Professor Milo

From Limited Collectors’ Edition C-25 comes a pin-up before a rare example of the artist’s commercial comics work appears. Adams produced art for a series of comics adventures starring various Marvel and DC heroes – as well as screen icons such as Star Trek and Planet of the Apes – for Power Records’ line of Book and Records sets. These offered a vinyl recording of a story accompanied by a fully illustrated comic tale. The Batman offerings began with ‘Trumping the Joker’ in Stacked Cards (PR-27, 1975 and written & illustrated by Adams) was followed a year later, by PR-30 (Adams, Frank Robbins and Giordano) wherein ‘Robin Meets Man-Bat’. The all-ages tales are accompanied by a house ad for the DC stars available in Power Records’ unique packages.

Still a huge draw as a cover artist, between 1977-1996 Adams generated Bat-related frontages for World’s Finest Comics # 244-246 & 258, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-51 (a wraparound reprinting the “Bride of the Demon” saga) and C-59 (‘Batman’s Strangest Cases’), the Heroes Against Hunger benefit comic, a pin-up in Detective Comics #600, covers for Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4 (another wraparound), Batman Annual #14, and pin-ups for Robin #1 and Batman Black & White # 4.

The history of Batman is inescapably linked to and shaped by Neal Adams’ efforts, and captivating secrets of creation are revealed in the stunning Neal Adams Sketchbook section (featuring comic art, ads, storyboards and conceptualisations for a Batman amusement park) which closes this compelling and irresistible tome (still readily available in trade paperback and digital editions).

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2005, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.