I have already espoused the greatness that is Neal Adams in my previous posts on Volume One and Volume Two of these Batman collections. By this third volume, I was eagerly flipping the pages, dying to see what new techniques and illustrations he would come up with. As expected, Adams delivered above and beyond my expectations.
My previous posts on the subject have already delved into the unique style Adams brings to the table in these works as a whole. Here, I will instead focus on a few key images that stood out in my mind as I was reading, and that I believe are a good representation of his genius as an artist.
This first example is a depiction of Two-Face. This panel’s brilliance is in its complexity. On the surface it’s a standard frame – no action, just a close-up shot of a character’s face with a little dialogue thrown in. If other artists did this, I would probably barely give the panel a second look. This image, though, is well-worth repeat viewing. Though a simple design, Adams brings emotion and character to Two-Face, showing the dichotomy of his emotions perfectly in his split features. The image is grotesque yet human, and captures the villain’s personality perfectly. This was the very first comic depiction of Two-Face I’ve come across on “The Shelf”, and it’s certainly going to be a tough act for other artists to follow.
This second image is fairly self-explanatory in its brilliance.
With the grim reaper looming over Robin, presumably ready to strike, Adams’s depiction elicits true emotion from the reader, something many of these earlier comics was lacking. He gives the reaper’s face a true sense of foreboding, so much so that the reader doesn’t need to see Robin’s face to know a wave of fear is washing over him. The background, likewise, adds to the overall image without detracting from the main focal point. Adams’s keen use of proportion and color creates an eerie, eye-catching image that feels entirely spooky without seeming cheesy or overdone.
The next image that deserves mention is one in which Batman and his sometimes love-interest Talia embrace at the end of one particular issue: This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Batman (or any superhero for that matter) kiss a girl, yet it’s the first that’s stood out to me. Once again, Adams creates a whole scene with a single panel and manages to draw the reader completely into the story. You can sense the movement in the picture, seeing Batman pull Talia closer to him as they kiss. This isn’t merely a simple kiss between characters; this is the culminating scene that we have all seen repeated countless times in comics and movies alike. Adams’ depiction doesn’t feel cheesy; it feels romantic and natural (randomly shirtless Batman aside). It was refreshing to see that such a scene could still fit in flawlessly to the story when so much of the other artwork creates a dark and foreboding atmosphere.
Along the same line, I was happy to see that Adams was capable of injecting a bit of humor into his art, at least when the story called for it.
I wasn’t sure how a Joker story would mesh with Adams’ stylistic approach. Sure, Adams can nail the darkly sinister side of the character, but the Joker can’t be without a pratfall or two, and I wondered how Adams’s more serious approach to his artwork would work with such a character.
As the panel above shows, Adams manages to incorporate the humorous element quite well into the story. The Joker’s fall off the pier is depicted in a slightly cartoonish, comical way. I would expect nothing less; after all, this is the Joker we’re talking about. What’s impressive is that Adams manages to seamlessly inject this panel into the story without having to make the entire scene cartoonish. The surrounding panels maintain their dark, sinister feel, yet this one frame gives the Joker the humor that readers have come to expect from him. Adams’s keen balance of these tones only further proves his talent.
As an aside, I must bring up page 45 of this trade, which I think may be my favorite single page in the entire collection. On this one page we see the following:
Understatement of the year, Commissioner.
Next, we have the brilliant appearance of Batman as he sneaks up on an unsuspecting Reeves, who is busy bragging that he could take on the Batman in a fight.
Lastly, we see Gordon chuckling to himself as Reeves runs for his life.
It’s panels like these that make me want to keep reading non-stop. Sure, Batman’s a creature of the night, vowing to fight the forces of evil, blah blah blah. Even he deserves a moment or two of light-heartedness though, and I’m glad to see he’s awarded that every once and a while.
This collection, like the two that preceded it, firmly cement Adams as a key factor in the development of Batman’s image. He drew these characters so deliberately that there is no question what his intent was. Not only did he excel at creating a darker, more intense Batman, but he did so without sacrificing the character’s humanity, allowing small bits of humor or comical depictions to weave their way into his art. I’m truly disappointed that I’ve reached the end of his work with Batman, but given how profound his impact on the character and comic was, I can only imagine that his presence will be felt in the artwork of countless artists to come.
PS: Completely unrelated to Adams’s work, and more a personal aside on one of Denny O’Neill’s writing choices: At one point in the comic, Batman is recovering from a blow to the head and sighs, “Bro-THER”, an exclamation that Mistah J has been known to use once or fifty times. Finding a similarity between Mistah J and the comics he loves so much, even one as small as this, made me even happier to be experiencing these stories, and only makes me want to devour more.
Okay, adorably nauseating personal anecdote over 🙂