'Art of Neal Adams' revisits artist's bombshell arrival in comics

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

Neal Adams changed how comic books were drawn in America.


I still remember the first time I saw his artwork. It was in the late 1960s, and I was familiar with the major artists at the bigger companies, the A-listers all the B-listers were copying. Jack Kirby was “The King,” and set the pace at Marvel Comics. Dan DeCarlo was the de facto house style at Archie Comics. DC Comics didn’t have a single house style, but several, split up by editorial office – Curt Swan on the Superman books, Joe Kubert on the war books, Carmine Infantino on the science fiction books, and so forth.


But those artists, while terrific, were basically cartoonists with excellent individual styles. Adams was something altogether different. He came from advertising, and was a master of the “photo-realism” school. His characters had weight and texture. Instead of “spotting blacks” where convenient, his people and objects threw shadows as you’d see in real life. And all his superheroes were anatomically accurate, bursting with the kind of power you see in professional weight-lifters.


For the first time, Batman truly became a creature of the night. For the first time, Superman really looked like he could bend steel in his bare hands.


Adams has reportedly said “if superheroes existed, they’d look like I draw them.” That may be apocryphal, but when I heard that remark as a boy, I could only nod in agreement. It wasn’t bragging; it was simply true.


Adams quickly moved from back-bench comics like Strange Adventures, where he drew Deadman, to big guns like Batman and Justice League of America. Where he didn’t have time to draw whole books – and Adams was notoriously slow – he did covers. He drew many books that remain famous today: the racism and drug abuse stories in Green Lantern/Green Arrow; the Kree/Skrull War in Avengers; the apocalyptic Sentinel story in X-Men. Everybody wanted to draw like Adams, and before long a lot of artists did.


But that was the 1970s. It’s been decades since Adams was a major player in comics, and other artists are the trend-setters now. But Adams isn’t really gone. When you look at work by superstars like Jim Lee (now co-publisher of DC Comics), you can see Adams. He’s still an influence, and will probably remain so for generations.


So it’s appropriate that Vanguard Productions has published The Art of Neal Adams ($24.95), an overview of Adams’ career. Written by Adams himself, the book has slick paper and high-quality printing to show the art to its best advantage.


Adams has done everything you can do with illustration: Advertising, comic strips (Ben Casey), every genre of comic books, an art studio, his own publishing firm (Continuity Comics), even movie posters. The Art of Neal Adams covers it chronologically, in Adams’ own words. If you want to understand why today’s comic-book artists draw the way they do, you need only glance through these pages.




Captain Britain was the first superhero created by Marvel UK – the British arm of Marvel Comics – back in 1976. Captain Britain Vol. 1: Birth of a Legend ($39.99) reprints roughly the first year of the character’s adventures, and it’s surprising how terrible they are.


Captain Britain was first written by Chris Claremont, who went on to fame in X-Men comics, but in these early days of his career basically strung together snippets of Stan Lee dialogue to poor effect. In the first story he gives Captain Britain a nonsensical origin and lame super-powers that amount to being kinda strong, kinda fast and carrying a stick.


The art was by Herb Trimpe, a second-stringer whose biggest claim to fame is a long run on Incredible Hulk in the ‘70s. And Captain Britain sported one of the ugliest costumes in a genre that’s seen a lot of horrendous haberdashery.


In short, early Captain Britain is just awful, a mish-mash of cliché, amateurism and worse. It gets marginally better when journeyman Gary Friedrich picks up the writing, and the art shifts to several other B-listers. But it’s still nothing to write home about.

Currently Captain Britain is a big player in the Marvel Universe, with A-list super-powers, an X-Men affiliation and a much spiffier outfit. But it’s easy to see why his earliest adventures weren’t included in the Captain Britain Omnibus that came out a couple of years ago, and why it’s taken 35 years for these stories to appear in the United States at all.


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com

Views: 310

Comment by Larry Hamel on June 30, 2011 at 9:01pm
Neal Adams' art was simply breathtaking. One of my all-time favorites.
Comment by Figserello on June 30, 2011 at 9:23pm

I just got Marvel Team-up #66, from 1978, last week which stars Captain Britain.  Claremont must have learned a lot in 2 years because the first half of this two-parter, written by Claremont adn drawn by Byrne, is a slick example of their blockbusting partnership at its best.


I've been waiting to read the second half (#66) for decades, and its beside my bed at home as I write this.  Exciting!


It sounds like Jeff of Earth J's thread on Captain Britain was more fun than the actual early comics.  I'd still love to read these stories though...

Comment by doc photo on July 1, 2011 at 8:54am
My first exposure to Adams was Spectre #2 when he replaced Murphy Anderson. The switch from Anderson's slick rendering and relatively conservative layouts to Neal's work was a major shock. I really disliked Neal Adams art style, and came to dislike it more when numerous other artists began aping his work. I still am not a huge fan of the more realistic drawing approach he pioneered in comics, but I have come to appreciate the quality of his art  and recognize that he is one of the most talented individuals to ever work in comics.
Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on July 1, 2011 at 10:05am
I really loved Adams' Continuity Comics studio. That, of all things, was one of my first comics from a non-major company. The company put out some crap toward the end, but the first few issues of those titles were great. I would love to see the likes of Megalith, Ms. Mystic, Armour and Silver Streak be absorbed into Marvel or DC. Really, those were some neat characters and they were beautifully designed, especially Megalith.
Comment by Philip Portelli on July 1, 2011 at 12:32pm
His and Denny O'Neil's R'as Al Ghul issues from Batman are practically the storyboards for the greatest Batman movie of all time! 
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on July 1, 2011 at 4:52pm
In short, early Captain Britain is just awful, a mish-mash of cliché, amateurism and worse.

I can see why you say that, but these stories (the color ones, anyway) aren't just merely bad, they're gloriously bad! If you continue into volume two, they're going to get worse before they get better. But they do get better... very much so... by the time Captain Britain is a featured guest star in the Tolkien-esque Black Knight strip. Start to finish, from Claremont and Trimpe through Steve Parkhouse to Alans Moore and Davis, Captain Britain presents a fascinating study of the evolution of a comic book character, with breathtaking highs and agonizing lows.
Comment by PowerBook Pete, the Mad Mod on July 1, 2011 at 4:54pm
I'll agree that the original Captain Britain costume was ugly, but I do have a fondness for it.
Comment by George on July 1, 2011 at 5:13pm
Interesting that Adams remains such a significant figure, considering that he was actively involved in mainstream comic books for only seven years (1967-1974) and that none of his comics were commercial hits at the time. I guess quality won out in the end. He's still a major figure.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on July 4, 2011 at 10:09am
The same could be said about Steranko. Get in, make your mark, get out.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on July 4, 2011 at 1:35pm

I'm glad to see that someone else thinks poorly of Trimpe's art. I've never liked his style.


Adams, on the other hand...oh, my stars and garters. He's so blessed good. I'm sure he works hard at his art but you don't become that good without raw, natural talent. He's amazing.


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