By Jarrod Jones. Neal Adams shares something with me. That film, Gunga Din? Based on the Rudyard Kipling poem? We both really like it. And guess what — we both really like Superman too.
When I found out that Adams, the legendary comic book artist behind Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, had placed hints of Gunga Din into his latest DC Comics mini-series—the outright gonzo Superman: The Coming of the Supermen—I had to jump at the chance to ask him about it. And it didn’t take long before we were talking about Bing Crosby and Bob Hope too. Why? Because I thought his version of Darkseid and Lex Luthor reminded me of Road to Morocco.
“I’m very happy that you made that analogy, though I don’t know where it comes from,” Adams chuckles.
Mr. Adams took time out of his busy schedule — he’s presently working on a new issue of Harley’s Little Black Book, out later in August — to speak with DoomRocket about his plans for the future, the trials of illustrating an incomplete script, and which DC character he’d like to explore next.
Also: make sure to check out our advanced preview of Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #6, found at the end of this interview!
DoomRocket: Congratulations, first of all, on ‘Coming of the Supermen’.
Neal Adams: Thank you so much!
DR: Thank YOU so much! [Laughs] I wanted to talk about ‘The Coming of the Supermen’, which is about to wrap its final sixth issue shortly. It’s a story that deals with Apokolips, the New Gods, Darkseid, etc. All Jack Kirby innovations. Why did you want to tackle those characters specifically?
NA: Well, okay. Let’s start with how much we all love Jack Kirby!
DR: Of course!
NA: Let’s start there. Let’s talk about how Jack Kirby got to jump from Marvel Comics to DC Comics, and got to do New Gods. And let’s talk about the possibility of the Jack Kirby characters. In the movies, in television, and other areas they should be exposed, in my opinion.
NA: You see Superman movies where Darkseid could show up, and he doesn’t show up; I watched the Smallville television show, and Granny Goodness shows up, and I thought, “They’re gonna do it! They’re gonna show all the characters! They’re gonna bring them in!” And then they just do Granny Goodness and that’s the end of that. [Laughs]
So I’m gonna do a Superman story? Why don’t I do it with Jack Kirby’s characters? Why don’t I just do them the way Jack Kirby did them? A lot of people will take other people’s characters and think, “Well, I’ll just turn it this way,” and then it’s not successful, so then, “I’ll change them and do this.” I don’t believe in that. When I started to do Batman, I did him how he was. I did Batman how he ought to be. Maybe it was drawn a little better, and maybe it had a bit more of a realistic edge, but the truth of the matter is, it was Batman. Just the way Batman was when I was a kid.
Now I’m doing Superman. And when I did Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, I did it just how I remembered Superman when I was a kid. Now I get the opportunity to do Jack Kirby characters. Great characters! Jack Kirby didn’t get the chance to flesh them out, nobody paid enough attention to them, nobody threw extra hands at them in order to make them work. But still, at their base? They’re great characters. There are whole worlds of characters. So that’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna volunteer to do a Superman story and use Jack Kirby’s characters! It’s gonna be my story, but it’s gonna be Jack Kirby’s characters doing Jack Kirby stories the way that Jack Kirby did them — by me! That’s it! So that way, maybe people will look at them and go, “Oh, cool! Maybe we should use them some more!” [Laughs]
NA: And that’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping people do use them in those TV shows, I’m hoping they appear in the movies. I’m hoping we get it — finally! So that’s why I did it. I did it — yeah, to get a good story, but I did it to get those Jack Kirby characters out there. And if you look at the characters I used, I didn’t change a thing! Costumes didn’t change, they looked exactly like Jack Kirby created them. Maybe with a bit more anatomy, maybe the teeth aren’t quite so gnarly. [Laughs] But, by golly, they’re Jack Kirby’s characters! Do you know how much fun I had? I live in a world where other creators go, “You got to do Jack Kirby stuff? That’s great! Holy cow, why can’t I do that?” Really, you missed your chance! I’m sorry, I got to do it. You can take a shot at it, but guess what — I got the first shot!
I start with Kalibak jumping from the page, and he’s as big as that page and he’s kicking butt. And all those other characters — Darkseid! Darkseid against Luthor! The confrontation between Darkseid and Luthor, I hope that becomes classic, because you’d think Darkseid would crush Luthor, but Luthor has a hidden agenda. These guys are equal and evil, and it’s just great. Everything about Superman’s enemies is embodied in Luthor, and everything about Jack Kirby’s evil characters is embodied in Darkseid, and they hate each other. And now they’re making deals with each other. It’s like politics. [Laughs]
DR: It’s funny that you bring up Darkseid and Luthor. You’ve compared the three Supermen to Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen in ‘Gunga Din’ — one of my favorite movies — three compatriots who take on crazy odds with a smile on their faces. But when I read issue #5 of ‘Supermen’, Darkseid and Luthor reminded me of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in ‘The Road to Morocco’.
NA: That’s funny, because I’ve spoken to four other people today about that, and each of them picked somebody else! Some think it’s more Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. [Laughs] It’s funny that everyone picks these comedians for this deadly-serious duo — who are complete jackasses — but still control this incredible power! And that’s how people look at them! And I think it’s great. That’s the exact response I’ve been wanting to get.
You want to have these guys together, just throwing bombs at each other. That’s exactly the way you want to see them. I’m very happy that you made that analogy, though I don’t know where it comes from, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby…
DR: I see it like — there’s some megalomania going on there. And if you’ve ever watched those old roasts with Hope and Crosby and Martin, you see that there was a bit of that going on with those guys too.
NA: Exactly. Take the niceties off and just go at each other. That kind of stuff is really terrific and lends itself to the story. And that’s the story I wanted to tell, one that would build and build and build to a payoff. So people would read it and go, “Oh, my god, Neal, you did it. Ohhh…” [Laughs] I want to hear a groan grow from readers across the nation, going, “Neal! What did you do?!” [Laughs] “I certainly didn’t expect that!”
DR: I certainly hope that doesn’t imply something terrible happens.
NA: Of course something’s going to happen, and it’s going to be awful and fun and good and comic book-y. Look, it’s no fun unless you have surprises. And you’ve had surprises along the way. But its like — what’s with that kid? [The young boy, Rafi, in ‘Supermen’] What’s with that dog?
DR: Why the hell is that dog so adorable, is what I want to know.
NA: Yeah, I don’t get it, either. [Laughs] But wait a second. If you’ve got Darkseid, Apokolips, that means you’re gonna eventually get to…?
DR: Erm, uh… New Genesis?
NA: Ah-HAH! [Laughs] You see? You see? It’s all right there waiting for you. You can play the game, or not look for the clues. Or you can look for clues and dig around…
DR: Y’see, now I’m gonna have to go back and dig through these books again looking for hints before issue #6 drops.
NA: I know, I know. I’m sorry. [Laughs] If I made you think, that’s your punishment for reading comic books. [Laughs]
DR: Well, I appreciate that. [Laughs] You told Newsarama that ‘Coming of the Supermen’ was your chance to tell a Superman story “Closer to what feels right.” Is ‘Coming’ your response to the current incarnation of DC Comics characters in all their forms, specifically Superman?
NA: No, I don’t think so… I think that it’s basically Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman. If you put too many people on a character, it gets diluted. And there can be too many incarnations of a character. See, I love Superman. And I know that he can evolve, but he’s still gotta be Superman. But people in comics, there’s experimentation, we try different things. We go in different directions. But then we go, “Oops, that wasn’t such a good direction.” [Laughs] “Let’s redo the entire line and see how that goes.” And I think that’s what’s going on with DC lately. What’s it called?
NA: Rebirth! Exactly. We’re jumping back and we’ll pretend that everything didn’t happen. But I think that sometimes you have to sit back and assess and think, “Hmm… maybe we had it right in the beginning.” The truth is, these characters were created by people who came along at the right time, they did the character… and maybe they deserve to be tested along the way. But I just don’t think the very first superhero, Superman, needs much testing. Batman’s a very similar thing. But I do think that these characters have to evolve.
Batman has to evolve with the times. There’s a lot of firepower out there these days, and Batman wasn’t bulletproof in the beginning. He’s got to be bulletproof now — he just doesn’t have to be so bulky.
DR: But Superman transcends that.
NA: There’s something about Superman, that you could imaging something happening that never happened in the past. Because you’re a part of that science fiction/fantasy audience, and you look at the same world we look at, and go, “Why are there two kinds of aliens? I don’t get it.” Something’s going on here. You have humanoids, and then you have… rolls of tape. [Laughs] They look so weird. They come from planets made from diamond. But then there’s humanoids, and they have fingernails and they spit on you and they cry… they act just like humans, so what’s the deal with that? Maybe there’s a process that we should examine. Maybe… oh, I can’t tell you. [Laughs]
DR: More secrets, huh?
NA: You’ll have to read the last issue.
DR: Have you been reading anything coming out of Rebirth presently?
NA: I’m just noticing other people in the family who are saying, “Oh, they’re doing some nice stuff. This is pretty good.” I’m getting a lot of nice responses from Rebirth. And I hear the sales are pretty good. I’m hearing nothing but good things about Rebirth, and if somebody screws it up, well too bad. But it doesn’t seem like they’re screwing it up.
DR: Something’s clicked. It feels like DC’s hearts are in the right place.
NA: I think so. Look, I’m a part of DC now and I want them to do well. I would like the movies to get better.
DR: Of course. [Laughs]
NA: It’s possible? I think it’s possible. [Laughs] Did you hear that woman playing Harley [Quinn], she said she would play Harley for the rest of her life?
DR: Margot Robbie.
NA: Yeah, she’s cool.
DR: She’s got a stand-alone Harley movie coming up. She’s working with a top-secret writer — no one knows who she is. I have a theory, but we’ll save that for another day. But that brings us to another project you have coming up, an issue of ‘Harley’s Little Black Book’ with Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.
NA: Yes! And it’s based on Superman vs. Muhammad Ali!
DR: One of the better parts of finding this out was looking at the cover. You have President Obama where Jimmy Carter used to be, and I thought that was just amazing. But I have to ask: did Amanda and Jimmy come to you with this story, or was it the other way around?
NA: I don’t know! Editorial came to me and asked, “How would you like to do a Harley Quinn story?” And it was presented to them, [Conner and Palmiotti] and I don’t know if it was through osmosis or what, but [Laughs] they said, “How about we do Superman vs. Muhammad Ali with Harley?” If I was a fly on the wall, I could have heard that conversation, who said what, but you’ll have to ask them!
Now that it’s underway, I can say instead of beginning on a street in Queens, it begins on Coney Island. Harley’s on the beach when some aliens land, and some people hit each other in the head with beach balls.
DR: That definitely sounds like a Harley story.
NA: The thing you got to remember is that I used to do stuff for National Lampoon, and I do comedy pretty well! So it’s fun to me. I’m on, I think, page twenty or something.
DR: So you get to flex those comedic muscles here.
NA: Sure! I have a shot where Harley is punching Superman in the face, and his head spins around and his eyes are crossed. [Laughs] I like that. I like that a lot. That’s funny.
DR: But they’ll shake hands by the end, right? Just like Superman and Ali did back in the day? Everything turns out okay?
NA: Look, I’m doing a thing I’ve never done. You’re gonna think — you’re gonna find it weird. I’ve always criticized other people for doing this, but if you take a page, read it, and then draw it, only to take another page, read it, and then draw it — I’ve always said to artists, “Don’t ever do that. Whatever you do.” Read the whole script, because things can come up, things that are unexpected. Like you drew somebody tall, but they’re supposed to be short. You’re supposed to read the script, but I’m not doing that. Not with this one.
Because I know that they’re tracking Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, so I know what’s going on, but I want to see the twist they put on it. So I’ll draw a page, and then read the next page. It’s the stupidest way to do things.
DR: But it’s Harley Quinn! It should be chaotic, shouldn’t it?
NA: In a way, it should be stupid. [Laughs] So I’m doing it stupid. Why should I take Neal Adams’ advice? The hell with him, I say. The hell with him. [Laughs]
DR: How do you like them apples?
NA: How do you like them apples, buddy. [Laughs]
DR: You’ve been given the freedom to explore the mythos of Superman in ‘Coming of the Superman’, Batman in ‘Batman: Odyssey’…
NA: You know what’s interesting about that? They just released an omnibus of all my Batman stories, and it’s 1100 pages. It weighs eight pounds. Eight pounds! It’s the size of a heavy newborn baby. You can’t read it in the bathroom because it’ll cut off the circulation in your legs. [Laughs] It’s considered a lethal weapon in seven states.
DR: Yeah, I remember reading about that legislation…
NA: You just take it up to the second floor and drop it on them. You couldn’t read it in bed because your wife would kick you out, saying there was another person in bed. It’s that massive. But what’s interesting about that is that DC has reprinted Batman: Odyssey in that same book! That’s the earliest reprinting of a full graphic novel of anything ever in comic books! They did the softcover, they did the hardcover, and within a year and a half, they’re doing this omnibus!
DR: Is there another character in the DC Pantheon you’d like to take a crack at in a similar fashion?
NA: Once I finish Superman, I would do one on Deadman. Because the Deadman story has never really been told. Most people think that the story of Deadman is about the adventures of Deadman, and it’s not. It’s about Deadman. The most tragic superhero there ever was.
DR: Thank you, Mr. Adams! Thank you for your time.
NA: It was a pleasure. Thank you!
Now a preview of ‘Coming of the Supermen’ #6, courtesy of DC Comics!
‘Superman: The Coming of the Supermen’ #6 will be available in stores and comiXology July 6. ‘Harley’s Little Black Book’ #5 drops on August 24.