While Neal Adams is perhaps more famously known for game-changing runs on Batman, Detective Comics and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the living legend believes he delivered some of his most groundbreaking work with DC Comics’ lesser-known superhero Deadman in the pages of Strange Adventures.
Deadman gave him a chance to do something with a character that was unlike any other in comics, Adams told CBR, because he was already dead and readers already knew how his story would end. At least, they thought they knew.
Now, Adams is returning to the character 50 years later for a new story that is actually a continuation of the story that he started in Strange Adventures #207 back in 1967. The limited series Deadman is back from the dead starting on November 1, and in talking with CBR, Adams shared that Boston Brand — Deadman’s alter ego –– will team-up with Batman, Zatanna, Phantom Stranger, Dr. Fate and the Spectre to solve his own murder mystery. Originally, Deadman believed it was an organization known as the Scavengers who killed him, but in the latest chapter of his ongoing adventures Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins have become prime suspects.
CBR: You started drawing and eventually writing and drawing Deadman in the late 1960s in the pages of Strange Adventures and the character became a breakout hit. Why do you think readers responded so well to Boston Brand and his strange adventures?
Neal Adams: It really wasn’t a surprise to me. The great opportunity with Deadman was that you had a character that nobody had really done anything with – Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino created the character, which is terrific, but Carmine only did one issue with him – and it gave me a chance to do things that I hadn’t seen done in comics all of my life. For example, artists laying out pages instead of panels – meaning you design the page not just the panel. You could treat the page as if it were a piece of art. That had really never been done before because we were so use to working panel by panel.
Adams’ art for the glowing aspect of his series’ special cover
I also got a chance to do a character that was unlike any other character in comics because he’s dead. He’s a character that is already dead. That is paramount in my thinking because most comic books are stories about the characters that are amongst the living like Batman and Superman. But Deadman is already dead. That brings such a unique perspective. When I finished the series at the time that I was doing it, I actually never told anybody else about the ongoing story of Deadman. I kept it to myself. Not because I was selfish but because one day, I intended to go back and let people discover it. He has another brother and sister. He has a mother and father who are still alive and they have their own circus. There is also a lot of friction between Deadman and his parents – big friction – that has to do with the League of Assassins and Ra’s al Ghul, who I created with [editor] Julius Schwartz and [writer] Denny O’Neil a few years later. All of this comes together and makes a big Deadman story, which nobody has ever seen. Nobody had any idea what this story was about. We just sort of started and now I am getting the chance – so many years later – to continue it.
I was going to ask you if this was the DC Rebirth introduction of this character but based on what you’re saying, as far as Boston Brand is concerned, DC Rebirth and the New 52 never happened.
That’s right. I don’t mean to say that I ignored all of the other stories that happened in between, but I am basically jumping off from where I ended. I am taking now all of the things that I have learned from between then and now and applying them newly into this story. Remember, when I was doing Deadman, I was doing new things. People were like, “Whoa, what is he doing? He’s laying out pages and doing all of this crazy stuff!” For that time, it was new. And it was important that it be new, for me, because I was trying to make a statement. And I was trying to say, “You guys haven’t really paid attention to what we can do with comic books.”
Now is a new time, and in this new time, things are happening and the opportunity here is to show some new things. What are we doing now as opposed to then? We are watching movies on a big screen, we are watching television on a big screen and we are playing computer games on a big screen. And we’re not looking for layouts of pages. We’re looking for that drama that you see in your computer games where you see a giant picture and you see all of this stuff going on and then you go to another picture and you see all of this stuff going on so the layouts are now new layout concepts. They’re not fixed panels, the same size.
And you have noticed in your comics, some of your artists are doing this almost reflexively, the panels are wider so when they are on the Internet, you can see the whole picture going on rather than square, it’s widescreen, like a TV picture or a computer picture.
Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all boast successful movie franchises, while Green Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl are enjoying great success on TV. Why hasn’t Deadman transitioned to other media and do you think he could carry his own movie or TV series?
I absolutely think he would work. When we did it, Deadman was ahead of his time, and I think he’s ahead of his time again. I think those characters that you mentioned have done well, and I had something to do with that. [Laughs] I did [Green] Arrow. I did Green Lantern. I did Batman. And a lot of that stuff was borrowed from me because I did it within the genre. Well, this Deadman series is a jump-ahead to everything that is out there now. There are things that you don’t see in comic books that you need to see. For example, borrowing from the best of the colorists out there, keeping your coloring clearer and better. Telling your story in a motion picture type of way so you see this happen, this happen, this happen now you turn the page and see a new scene instead of saying that every panel is a new scene. No, no, no. Why are we taking our camera and moving it around in all of these different places when in a film, there is a certain point – like when you see a martial arts film – where you see all of the action happen at once. You see all of the elements of the action and then you go to a new scene. I’m picking these things up from what’s happening today. We can do a comic book that’s more modern, cooler than even what we see on film if we pay attention to these elements. And that’s what I am doing with Deadman. It’s an opportunity for me to show what I have learned over the last 25-30 years.