Neal Adams is returning to Deadman, a character he helped define in his earliest appearances, to finally conclude a story he feels like he never got to tell.
Launching in November, the Deadman mini-series will be both written and drawn by Adams, who's trying to bring a new, "filmic" sensibility to his artwork for the book. And the story will finally explore the secrets of Deadman's origin — unknown answers that Adams says he always intended for the character.
Newsarama talked to Adams about the story, how Batman gets involved, and what else readers can expect from the legendary writer/artist's Deadman.
Newsarama: Neal, it sounds like you're going to add to the history of Deadman. Was there always more to his story that you wanted to tell?
Neal Adams: Yes! When my Deadman ended, you must understand, it ended in the middle of a minor culture change in the comic book business: The direct sales market was beginning … [It's] too long a story to tell here, but what that caused was popular comic books not doing well.
With Deadman, I was revving up to do the ongoing story of Deadman — not the "adventures" of Deadman, not another costumed superhero in tights who was rescuing cats out of trees or whatever superheroes do. This was Deadman. Not your common event. He's dead.
It's his story, a personal, specific, great story.
And it never got told. It got begun.
Anyone who did Deadman after that did "the adventures of Deadman."
So now I'm getting to do Deadman's story. And it's a big story.
Nrama: So there are going to be things about him you never revealed?
Adams: There are things I never told anybody. I didn't tell that he had another brother and sister, and one of them is a member of the League of Assassins. I didn't tell everybody that his mother and father are still both alive and they have a small circus, and there's friction between Boston Brand and his parents for that reason.
I didn't tell anybody that he was not killed as a test for some assassin. He was killed for a specific reason that had to do with an international crime syndicate that is associated with the League of Assassins and Ra's Al Ghul and all those.
I didn't tell anybody how important Nanda Parbat was.
I didn't tell anybody who that supposed goddess was who could not have been a goddess, because guess what? There aren't any goddesses.
We're telling the rest of the story.
And there are things that I have learned that I can do anew — now that I'm being paid decently, as opposed to back then when I was getting $50 a page. Now they're paying me. I can tell this story!
If you're fans of mine, you're going to read one hell of a story. People are not going to want to miss a word.
Nrama: You've waited all this time to finish the story?
Adams: I'm a very patient guy!
Listen, I'm waiting for Man-Bat to appear on the screen. Why hasn't he appeared on the screen? The guy's a Jekyll and Hyde character! Perfect for a Batman movie. Why isn't he there? I don't know! I don't get it!
Look how long I had to wait for the Arrow television show, and those guys are real fans. They'll grab anything that Denny O'Neil and I have done and jam it into that show.
And the director, Del Toro, wants to do Deadman — he wants to do that Deadman.
Nrama: Are you being given a lot of freedom on this Deadman series to do what you want with the character?
Adams: I am! I asked and they said, "Go ahead! We don't care about Deadman." [Laughs.]
Nrama: Does the story pick up right where you left off?
Adams: Essentially. The other stories are there. They were the "adventures of Deadman." I'm not complaining. I'm not saying they were bad comic book stories.
But this is a biography of a dead guy. This isn't Casper the dead baby — this is a dead guy. And he exists in a place that we could not even hope to understand. And this is his story.
Nrama: The covers for this are unusual too.
Adams: Yeah! I'm doing what they call gimmick covers, but they're not really gimmicks — they relate to the story.
Publishers think that iconic covers sell better, so they'll always tell an artist, well, don't worry about what's in the story. Just do an iconic cover because that sells better than a storytelling cover. Maybe that's true.
But what I do is I take the iconic idea, I find out what the story is about, and I add that aspect of the story to the iconic.
So it's not only iconic, it's also storytelling. That's what makes the covers unique. They are not only iconic, they are also storytelling. And I think that's very, very important.
For the first Deadman cover and it's a glow-in-the-dark cover. And you might say, "ah, it's an event cover." No — it's nuclear radiation! That's why it's glow-in-the-dark! It's nuclear radiation! Not because it's just a glow-in-the-dark cover.
And the second cover — it has Deadman in the rain, at the circus, standing in the mud (of course, he doesn't really stand in mud), and there's lightning and stuff and there's a circus wagon behind him. And he turns to his left and he looks into the air next to him and there's nothing there. You can't see anything. It's just the rain and the smoke from the mist rising up.
There's nothing there … until you take the cover and you hold it up to a light, and suddenly there's a giant lion there about to jump on him. How did we do it? We printed the lion on the back of the cover.
I'm doing a gimmick cover for all six covers. They're all getting a gimmick. But the gimmick is tied to the story.
Nrama: The solicitation for the first issue mentions Batman. He gets involved from the get-go?
Adams: He gets involved from the get-go, but when we first see him, he's actually in the disguise of Commissioner Gordon. And he's in Japan. And so he kind of teams up …
Well, I shouldn't tell everything that happens, but you're going to have to keep your eye on what's going on. That Commissioner Gordon is actually Batman.
Then we get other characters — Spectre is part of it, Dr. Fate… those characters come in. Nanda Parbat. There are so many pieces, but it's tying it all together. Pay attention from the beginning.
Boston Brand is the innocent bystander who got sucked into this, but this is some deep sh*t.
Nrama: Let's talk about the art. What you did on the original series was seen as revolutionary for its time. But what about now? Are you picking up where you left off, or is this a new art approach for a new era?
Adams: Remember, a person is either a victim or his time or he is the profiter of his time. I always try to be the profiter of my time. I don't disappear and then do nothing. I have been doing lots of things — things that people don't know about as well, like I design amusement park rides for Disney and all the other amusement companies out there through a place called Landmark. So I design rides – new rides that nobody's ever seen before. I do advertising. I do art direction for stage production. I do 3D that nobody else can do — a kind of production that nobody else can do. I find new technologies that can be done.
I like to take that stuff and bring it back into comic books. I have fresh eyes — I've gained those fresh eyes by doing these other things.
So I'm looking at what I did then in Deadman as kind of a casual observer. I'm looking at it and saying, OK, this guy came along and instead of just designing individual panels, he decided to design the page. That was part of a revolution in the comic book business. Everybody looked at it and said, "Oh my God, what is he doing? He's got all these cock-eyed, slanted panels." He's got these Jim Steranko effects and these giant heads over several panels — are we all going to have to do that? Are we all going to have to be creative? Yes, you are. I'm sorry.
So everybody picked up on that. You had a revolution in the way we did comic books. It wasn't just six panels anymore. Everybody picked up this new language.
Now, that old Deadman series doesn't look quite so revolutionary, because we do that today.
So now, am I going to do the same thing?
No! Things have changed.
What do we do today? We watch television, we watch movies, and we play video games. Those are the three things we do. And they're all on this oblong screen. They're not square. They're not like old movie screens. All HD is like that. They're all these wide screens.
Six panels on a page doesn't work with that. People want to see wide panoramas.
That doesn't mean you can't change it up. But you have to deal with what people are dealing with all the time. You can say, if I don't want to do that, i don't have to do that. Excuse me, yes you do. I'm sorry, but for little kids — this is how they're looking at stuff. You have to play the game with them.
You can't go that much against the tide if you're trying to create something new. You can go with the tide, and then introduce a new thing — the big, double-page spread, making three panels into one panel, these various things you're also going to see in what I'm doing.
But basically, we're changing it into a panorama. We're doing a wide screen. People are used to it. And also, comic books are appearing on the internet. And you don't want to put a vertical panel on a computer that's going to show it in a horizontal panel.
So I've been looking at a new way of doing things — the cinematic, filmic way. I'm playing with that format now.
Forget the stuff from the '70s and '80s. Now, I have a new audience. Let's thrill them, and then we can throw extra stuff in. So that's what I'm doing.
I'm making it possible for people to see, here's Deadman the way he was and yes, it was revolutionary for the time. Now he's the new revolution — boldly filmic. We're making a movie.