It is an iconic cover by any definition of that word. The two characters are among the most recognised in DC Comics‘ illustrious stable of superheroes. One of them, Green Lantern, is reciting his famous oath, ‘In brightest day, in blackest night . . .’; the other, Green Arrow, is firing an arrow through Green Lantern‘s power battery.
It is the cover to Green Lantern No. 76, cover date April, 1970, and it was a landmark comic – certainly for DC, arguably for the whole of the mainstream comic world.
Denny O’Neil provided the words and Neal Adams provided the pictures as GL and GA took us on a guided tour of the America that The Man didn’t want us to see. Racism, sexism, religious cults, corporate greed, drug abuse – O’Neil and Adams lifted the carpets to show us the rotten floor boards of the American Dream over fourteen issues of hard-hitting comics that refused to shy away from the harsh realities of the Vietnam-era American landscape.
That single run on Green Lantern, alone, would be enough to guarantee him a place in the comics pantheon, but Adams was far from a one-trick pony. He is still the definitive Deadman artist, and his work on Batman and Detective Comics is as influential a rendering as the character has seen, successfully re-establishing the brooding dark knight detective after years of Adam West-inspired ‘60s camp. Adams co-created R’as al Ghul, who was central to Christopher Nolan‘s vision of Batman, and also co-created the Man-Bat character.
His over-sized special with (again) Denny O’Neil, Superman Vs Muhammed Ali is a masterpiece, the cover featuring dozens of well-known celebrities of the time – including, but not limited to the Beatles, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Sonny & Cher The Jackson 5 – as well as many DC Comics characters (including, in a case of two-places-at-once, Clark Kent!).
But Adams’ most lasting contribution to the field has come from off the page. His tireless work in the cause of artists’ rights revolutionised the business practises of an industry that had been, until quite recently, dominated by the work-for-hire model, meaning writers and artists earned scant reward for popular and long-lasting characters they created. Quite simply: if you’re a comics creator in 2015 who makes a good living from your craft, you owe Neal Adams a debt of thanks.
Happy Birthday, Neal Adams!