Neal Adams has been collecting ideas about Batman for years, and now readers will get to see his thoughts played out in Batman: The Odyssey.
As DC Comics officially announced last week, the 12-issue Odyssey mini-series begins in July and is both written and drawn by Adams. The project, which is something Adams has talked about publicly since 2007, is indeed an "odyssey" for the character, as Batman goes through a series of adventures that end up tying together.
According to Adams, the trials Batman will face in Odyssey are ideas he's generated and kept over the years, and they will highlight truths about Batman that readers may never have thought about before.
The artist, who first started working on Batman in the 1960s, is cited as having created the definitive modern Batman, bringing a dramatic photorealism to the character that has been emulated by artists over the years. In a career spanning decades of work in the comics industry and titles at both Marvel and DC, Adams has established himself as a modern legend in the world of comics.
More recently, Adams has honed his skills as a storyteller in motion comics, working on Marvel's Astonishing X-Men and also teaming up with Disney for a 10-episode motion comic series called The Spoke Out: American Voices of Protest Against the Holocaust, which was just announced this week at the MoCCA Festival.
But with Batman: Odyssey, the artist is showcasing his storytelling abilities as both an artist and a writer, penning the 12-issue series himself in what he calls a "tight script," and pointing out that it's not his first time writing for DC.
Newsarama talked with Adams about the series and found out that Deadman shows up in Joker's body, and Frank Miller gets first dibs on the pages...
Newsarama: Neal, my teenage daughter is reading Homer’s The Odyssey right now, and if this comic is anything like that, it's going to be quite the journey for Batman.
Neal Adams: It is something like that. You know, everybody's "odyssey" is a little bit different. Batman's is his own and unique to him. But this is my own humble little offering to the Batman mythos.
Nrama: You've been talking about this story for a while. Have you had this "odyssey" in mind for Batman for a while?
Adams: Well, what I discovered is that I've been collecting these little bits and pieces of this story for a long time without ever thinking about it. I wasn't necessarily thinking about the opportunity to write any of them into a story, but I had just been wondering about why people don't do certain things they ought to do with the character.
So when the opportunity came for me to do this, I scrambled through the unconscious of my brain for all those bits and pieces I've been collecting through the years, and I jumbled them into this story that I think has some things in there that you just don't normally think of.
Nrama: What do you mean by "things they ought to do with the character?"
Adams: Well, I mean things that are there, but things you don't really think about. It's like Sherlock Holmes. I listen to the old Sherlock Holmes radio shows on the internet, and what happens is some guy walks into his office, and Sherlock Holmes says, "You're a doctor and you work in a hospital and you're recently divorced, and you have a dog that is near the end of its life." And the guy says, "My God! It's like you crawled into my head! How do you know these things?" Then Holmes explains it all, pointing out the marks on his cane or something on his clothing, and now the guy says, "Oh, OK. I thought you were doing something special, but instead it makes all the sense in the world. It was here all along."
So it's like that when I mention these things about Batman to people, and they say, "Oh, yeah. That's true. I never really thought about that."
Nrama: Can you give me an example?
Adams: Well, people looked at some of the first illustrations I did on this comic, and they saw that Batman had guns in his hands, and they said, "Aaah! Batman has guns? How can Neal do that? It's outrageous! He's going to ruin Batman!"
Now, I wish I could go to them and tap them on the shoulder and say, "No, Batman did, in the history of Batman, have guns in his hand, but within a very short time, he got rid of them. So has it ever occurred to you why he did that? Why he got rid of them?" I would think, probably, the reason he had guns in his hands when he was starting out is because he thought that's what crime fighters did, which is very logical and sensible. So then the next question would be, could he effectively use them? And I don't think he could, because his parents were killed with a gun. Even if he were morally against it, which we all believe, wouldn't he be tremendously psychologically against it and not even be able to shoot a gun?
Nrama: Like a psychological block, left from that childhood traumatic experience.
Adams: Right! So it doesn't matter how many guns you see in Batman's hands. He's not going to shoot anybody, because he can't!
Nrama: Great example. And that's in your first issue?
Adams: Yes. And now I'm revealing part of my story, which I probably shouldn't because I do want to intrigue the readers. But the way I tell this story is, I think, pretty interesting. And that's just one part of the story. It's the first part of his odyssey.
In the first six issues, moving up into the seventh issue, I tell you these stories that seem to be separate stories, having nothing to do with one another. But in the end, you start to see that Batman is moving toward something. And you start to see what is happening. He has to go to a place where he has to resolve certain issues. He's going through hell here, and he has to go and find himself and really, truly resolve these issues.
Nrama: When you say he's going through hell, would you call this a dark story?
Adams: Well, it's not a light story, although the individual issues just seem like interesting Batman adventures. He's dealing with the Joker, and the Riddler, and then Deadman shows up, and it reads like Batman adventures, but this odyssey starts adding up to something more.
Nrama: Wait... we get to see you on Deadman again?
Adams: Yeah. [laughs] And I'll go ahead and tell you a little about it, although I probably shouldn't. But Batman has got the Joker, and I'm not going to tell you how. But Deadman enters Joker. Interesting concept, right?
Adams: And Batman's with Joker in the car, and Joker's all tied up. Of course, within moments, he'll get away. But Deadman enters him and starts talking to Batman in his own way, you know? Like he's Deadman. You can imagine Batman being in the car, and he's driving along with the Joker, who's saying all this crazy stuff to him, and suddenly, Joker turns to him and says something dead serious to him, like "did you ever notice that you're constantly dealing with clowns? Do they have clowns in Metropolis?"
But that's just one of the things you'll see. All these little things have been lying around, and I'm going to pick them up and examine them. And it may be that they all have to do with something really terrible happening to Batman, or something he has to deal with. To me, that's what an odyssey is about. It's not because one certain thing happened. It's because all these various things culminate in something that Batman has to find his way through.
Nrama: "Odyssey" implies that it covers a long time period. Since you mentioned Batman with guns, which was very early in his crimefighting career, will this comic be covering a long span of time?
Adams: Well, we have this magical thing we call a flashback. So the story doesn't really take place over a long period of time, but you do get flashbacks that make the point even more clear, revealing the parts that add up to the whole.
But yes, it flashes back to the very beginning. Batman's very first case. "Why are my ears flopping in the breeze? I guess I'd better make them stiffer."
Nrama: You mentioned Joker and Riddler, and since this comic flashes back quite a bit, will we see a lot of villains from Batman's past?
Adams: There are villains from the past, and from the current time, and a couple of new villains, and perhaps new heroes. And not necessarily the way you have seen them. I'm trying to treat the villains a little more as characters for this story. It's not a story where the Joker or Riddler come in and commit a crime that Batman has to solve. It's not like that. They become integral to Batman's story. In other words, the characters are there for Batman: What they do to him and how they affect him and what he does as a result of it.
It's not the usual Batman story. He doesn't go out at night, solve his crime, and show up in the morning at Wayne Manor waiting for the next thing tomorrow night. In this story, something really bad has happened. This is a broader, more personal story to Batman.
So we'll see characters that mean something to him, characters that are important to his life, characters that are his friends. Like Aquaman shows up and thinks he's a pantywaist and tells him so. Deadman shows up and tries to warn him because he's just not aware enough of what's going on around him. And another character shows up that I can't tell you about, and he's got a sidekick. So there are a lot of characters in the story.
Nrama: A new character with a sidekick?
Adams: Yes, somebody new.
Nrama: I'm sure you're aware that, right now, continuity has Dick as Batman. But just to clarify, this is Bruce Wayne as Batman and Dick Grayson as Robin, right?
Adams: Absolutely. I think of it as a movie. I think of it as the next Batman movie.
Nrama: And you're only inking the first two issues? With guest stars doing the rest?
Adams: Yes. We're going to have some surprises along the way relative to inking, so I'd rather not say who just yet. But there will be people inking issues or parts of issues. It's fun. I've got a lot of friends in the business, and somebody will show up on your doorstep and say, "Can I ink a couple pages?" And it's kind of like that. But yeah, there will be whole issues inked by different people.
Now that I think of it, I won't even ink the entire first two issues. There are some pages inked by another magical individual. I can't tell you who.
Nrama: Well, I'm not going to guess, but I remember snapping a picture of you and Jim Lee together at New York Comic Con a little over a year ago, and you were showing him artwork. Am I right in assuming it was this project you were showing Jim?
Adams: Yes, you are. It probably was.
Nrama: I remember he was impressed with what he saw.
Adams: Well, Frank says it's my A-game. I'm not entirely sure that it is. But you have to remember that when I was doing comic books, way back in the Stone Ages – I says "ages" because I worked through a few of them – but back then, I was paid $50 a page. And having to support a family, I had to take shortcuts to get the books out quickly.
It's a little bit nicer now, and people are treating me very nicely. So I am able to slow down a little bit. So I can do some things I couldn't have done before. Like you get a nice Batmobile, and it's got some neat detailing, you know? Stuff like that. So I get to do more now.
Nrama: I know you've been working on it awhile. Is it going to come out monthly?
Adams: I think so. We're talking about doing it monthly. It's 12 issues, which would take a year to come out. So my daughter Chris, who is the smartest person in the family, is deciding with DC now if it will be every 4 weeks or every 6 weeks.
But we have quite a jump on it. I'm on Issue #8 right now. So I'm really not too worried about it. And I've got a little help, as we talked about, with the inking.
One of the things people think about me is that I don't do deadlines. But if you look at all the books I've ever done, they're all sequential every month. There might have been glitches along the way. But almost all of my books appeared sequentially. I think sometimes if you get too much attention, then everybody watches you more closely, and they make these broad generalizations about you that aren't really true. It's OK for people to talk, and I get it, but that's not my plan. My head's not there.
Nrama: You mentioned "Frank" earlier, and I'm assuming you mean Frank Miller. Wasn't he originally supposed to be involved in this project?
Adams: He was, and he's gotten kind of busy, and it didn't seem to be all that necessary, although he has demanded that he gets to see the stuff before other people. [laughs] And I'm sure he'll give me some sage advice, just like I used to give him sage advice. But it's not really necessary at this point. I write a very tight script.
Nrama: Well, it's not like you haven't written comics before. Your Deadman was an award-winning series.
Adams: Some people don't realize that I did most of the Deadmans. People don't know that I wrote two Spectres. People don't know that I did contribute to Green Lantern/Green Arrow. I did not do the scripts for Green Lantern/Green Arrow or Batman, but I did the plotting for the X-Men that I did, and the Avengers that I did. So I've done a lot of writing for comics, and I've done a lot of writing for advertising.
And the weird thing is, I've done almost as much writing as I've done drawing, but people just don't know it because people are so enamored of the art. But if you think about it, if you care about my stuff at all, which is totally unnecessary, one of the things you have to look at is I'm a pretty good storyteller. Over and above the image itself, I'm telling a story. That's what I do. I'm an artist who tells stories. I'm not an artist who draws to decorate the Sistine Chapel or something. I'm a storyteller. So I write. I write scripts and advertising and comic books.
Maybe it's a little harder for an artist to write, but I haven't seen anyone write Deadman to my satisfaction since I did it, honestly. And the X-Men stories I plotted have stood the test of time, because my initial 10 issues was the plot of the first X-Men movie, with Magneto turning humans into mutants. That was the basic plot of my first series of X-Men stories. I've seen now my Batman turned into the last two Batman movies. Yes, things have changed, but there's Ra's Al Ghul up in the mountains with the snow, so it's very, very reminiscent of my Batman. And the Green Arrow I helped to define is now on Smallville, and Hal Jordan is going to be in the Green Lantern movie. So what's happened is that much of my old stuff has ended up on film or television, so it's time for me to jump back in and play with these things again.
And I'm excited about doing it. I'm having a great time. I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it and drawing it. I'm having the time of my life.