I know what you're thinking…"Neal Adams is a Batman artist!". Maybe so, but technically he was a Superman artist first, and in some ways his impact on the Man of Steel was just as profound as the mark he left on the Dark Knight.

Whereas Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger and others earned membership in the Superman Artists' Hall of Fame by producing hundreds, even thousands of pages of story art, Adams generated very little interior art for the Superbooks (just a couple of World's Finest tales and one tabloid-fomat epic). His main contribution was a long line of eye-catching covers for the various Superman titles, and perhaps more significantly, images used on t-shirts, mugs, calendars, school supplies, puzzles, posters and other goodies that flooded the market during DC Comic's first great merchandising blitz in the early 1970's.

For me, the appeal of Neal's art was not only his mastery of hyper-realism, but also his ability to imbue previously cookie-cutter superheroes with individual and distinct personalities. Through posture, movements and facial expressions, Neal revealed more about a character than most writers could with whole paragraphs of dialog. Superman, for example, was all about power, infinite power stored in the body of a man with an average build. When Superman used his powers, especially flight, he seemed to be enjoying it as much as any of us would.

Adams began his association with Superman on the "second tier" titles like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and World's Finest. Having come from the field of advertising, Neal was a young buck working in an industry dominated by seasoned vets (read: "old guys"). He had to prove himself to Superman group editor Mort Weisinger, who reluctantly allowed Neal a few Superman family covers around 1967. When the sales figures for those issues went through the roof, Mort decided he was a Neal Adams fan after all.

NEAL ADAMS COVER GALLERY: WAVE 1 (click to enlarge)

Adams' covers were a revelation, pumping a new vitality and dynamism into the Superman image while never completely deviating from the clean "house style" established by Curt Swan and others. Replacing Weisinger as Superman group editor in 1970, Julius Schwart graduated Neal to the "big guns," Action and Superman, and used the artist every chance he got. Many of Adams' images from this period, like that of Superman bursting a Kryptonite chain on Superman #233, or flying over Metropolis on issue #254, were so effective that DC adopted them as advertising and packaging art for years to come.

Ultimately, Adams' most important contribution to Superman may have been his fight on behalf of the Man of Steel's creators. One of the industry's earliest advocates of creator's rights, Adams spearheaded a mass-media campaign in the mid-70's in hopes of seeing Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster fairly compensated by DC for the character they'd created so many years before. A symbol of that campaign was the illustration at left, created for use on op-ed pages in newspapers around the country. The eventual success of this crusade resulted, among other things, in a return of "created by" credits for Shuster and Seigel in every Superman comic produced thereafter.

In the late 70's, Adams returned to produce covers for much of the DC line, including Superman, Superman Family, Action and the Justice League of America. I remember being particularly thrilled with Superman #317, where a Kryptonite-poisoned Man of Steel glowers menacingly at the reader and seems ready to explode with anger.

In 1977, Adams delivered his one full-length Superman tale, the famous (or infamous) Superman Versus Muhammad Ali. Despite the concept's inherent silliness, there was plenty to like about the book, especially Neal's renditions of busy Metropolis streets, natural disasters and a full-scale alien invasion. The book enjoyed healthy sales even among non-comics fans, and its celebrity-filled cover became one of the most-parodied covers in the history of comics. Recently Adams himself produced a variation on the cover for a major sports magazine, substituting Michael Jordan for Superman and filling the audience with the greatest names in sports. The mere fact that Adams was commissioned to do this implies there's a huge audience out there familiar with the original work.

NEAL ADAMS COVER GALLERY: WAVE 2 (click to enlarge)

The Ali tabloid was pretty much Neal Adams' Superman swan song, except for some book-and-record sets aimed at children, a paperback cover of DC's Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told collection and the cover of a well-publicized Heroes for Hunger one-shot in the 80's. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Neal contributed a piece of Superman art for DC's "9/11" project. Other than that, the only way to get hold of a new Superman image by Neal Adams has been to buy the occasional piece of original art from the man himself at his website.

Nonetheless, Neal's rendition of the Last Son Of Krypton continues to influence modern artists to this day, and established a definitive look for Superman that delighted an entire generation...mine!

BONUS: Neal Adams Wallpaper

The spectacular wrap-around cover to Superman #254, featuring "DC's Flying Heroes." The image later saw use as a black and white promotional poster for the publisher. The Superman figure was cut out for use on numerous products and was still appearing above the "Superman" logo on comic book covers as late as 1976. Scanned and enhanced via photoshop. Download it as wallpaper (800x600 res, 420kb) and see how many vintage characters you can identify!

Related Links

The Official Neal Adams Website: http://www.nealadams.com