Farewell to comic book genius Neal Adams, who fearlessly battled for justice

The superhero artist leaves behind an important legacy not only as a storyteller but also for his campaigning as a proud Jew


American DC comics book and commercial artist Neal Adams, UK, 15th June 1979. (Photo by Jones/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Legendary comic book artist Neal Adams is being mourned by fans across the world after his death at the age of 80.

He leaves behind an important legacy not only as a storyteller but also as a fighter for justice and for his campaigning as a proud Jew.

Born in New York in 1941, his early career included drawing a comic strip based on the American TV show Ben Casey. But it was his work starting in the late 60s at DC Comics — the home of Superman and Batman — which put him on the map.

His powerful style stood out, drawing on the graphic influence of advertising and utilising dramatic camera angles and dynamic storytelling.

Adams was also a pioneer in his subject matter, working with writer and editor Denny O’Neil to tackle hard-hitting social issues including racism and drug addiction in a series partnering superheroes Green Lantern and Green Arrow beginning in 1970.

Turning to Batman, Adams took a character who had become moribund in lightweight stories and with great success returned the Caped Crusader to a grittier, gothic approach.

The makeover in the 70s proved to hugely influential: without it arguably the Christopher Nolan trilogy of films and the most recent cinema iteration — this year’s box-office smash hit The Batman starring Robert Pattinson — would never have existed. Adams and O’Neil created the villain Ra’s Al Ghul, who appeared in Nolan’s movies, and he also remade the Joker and Two-Face, turning them into worthy and truly menacing foes.

Among Adams’s noteworthy other highlights at DC was Superman vs Muhammad Ali, a hugely popular one-off 1978 special which pitted the Man of Steel against the boxing champion.
Adams had been deeply affected by learning about the Holocaust as a child.

In 2006, he began to campaign for the return of paintings by artist and Holocaust survivor Dina Babbitt from the Auschwitz-Berkenau State Museum in Germany.

She had painted portraits of inmates at the concentration camp under duress at the direction of the notorious Josef Mengele, before emigrating to the US after the war and becoming an animator.

She was now claiming ownership of the works. Adams pleaded to the museum: “Mrs Babbitt has suffered enough. We implore you to do the right thing and give her back her paintings.” She died in 2009 without the paintings having been returned.

However, Adams was successful in campaigning for Superman’s creators, Jewish duo Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, winning them credit and renumeration from DC for the superhero in 1975.

Adams also worked for DC arch-rivals Marvel as artist on X-Men and The Avengers. He set up his own shortlived publishing company, Continuity Associates, in the 1980s.
In more recent years, he had returned to DC to draw Batman, Superman and supernatural character Deadman.

Following Adams’s death in New York last Thursday, Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro paid tribute: “R.I.P. Neal Adams- one of the first and great stylists to push USA comics to a new level.”

James Gunn, director of Guardians of The Galaxy and The Suicide Squad called Adams “one of the greats”.

British Jewish comics writer and author Neil Gaiman tweeted: “Neal Adams is gone. He was the reason I drew Batman in every school exercise book. He reinvented the look of comics pages and characters, made me care about comics at the point where I didn’t care any more, and I wish I’d been lucky enough to write a story he drew.”

The Muhammad Ali Center said: “Sending condolences to the family and friends of artist Neal Adams, who passed today at 80. Adams’ Superman vs Muhammad Ali is a beautiful tribute to The Greatest, and we’re proud to house it in our collection.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive