Neal Adams, comic book artist for both DC and Marvel, dies at 80

Artist Neal Adams sits behind a desk with pen in hand
Artist Neal Adams attends Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con in 2014.
(Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images)

Neal Adams, one of the most influential comic book artists of all time due to his transformative work on Batman, the Avengers and the X-Men, died Thursday due to complications from sepsis. He was 80.

Adams was one of the few artists who, early in his career, worked at both Marvel and DC Comics, helping chart the visual path for some of the most popular characters in comics. His most lasting influences would be on DC’s Batman, making him a darker character that moved away from the camp of the ‘60s, and on Marvel’s X-Men, which, though it was canceled in 1970 because of weak sales, was thought of as an artistic triumph that led to an ultimate revival, when it would become one of the company’s signature titles.

During his career, Adams co-created the characters Ra’s al Ghul, Man-Bat and John Stewart for DC Comics and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent/hero Mockingbird and villain Sauron for Marvel. In terms of popular storylines, Adams drew Marvel’s ‘70s-era Kree-Skrull War saga and 1978’s “Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali” comic book, one of the last complete stories that Adams drew at DC before opening his own company, Continuity Associates, that focused on creating storyboards for films.

Adams was politically active in and beyond the comics industry and he famously helped lead efforts on behalf of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and their families to receive credit and financial compensation from DC. He was honored with many prestigious awards and inductions into halls of fame such as the Eisner Awards’ Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998, the Harvey Awards’ Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Inkwell Awards’ Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame in 2019.


Adams was born June 15, 1941, on Governors Island, New York City. He grew up in Army bases ranging from Brooklyn to Germany. After high school, he was discouraged when his work was not embraced by DC Comics editor Joe Simon while working at Archie Comics. But he kept at it and was eventually acknowledged, having a panel of his work published in “Adventures of the Fly” #4.

Like many in the 1960s, Adams got paid doing illustrations through comic strips as well, with a debut appearance on Nov. 26, 1962, in a strip for the “Ben Casey” TV show. His early comic book work was through Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror-comics magazines, under editor Archie Goodwin. Adams debuted there as penciler and inker of writer Goodwin’s eight-page anthological story “Curse of the Vampire” in Creepy #14 (April 1967).

In 1967, Adams went to DC Comics where he drew covers for war comics and contributed to “The Adventures of Jerry Lewis” and “The Adventures of Bob Hope.” His big break came one year later when he started drawing Batman, and in 1970, DC editor Julius Schwartz assigned him the Batman comics, alongside writer Dennis O’Neil. The pair also collaborated on a popular Green Lantern series that touched on issues including racism and drug abuse.

Neal Adams doesn’t want Superman to continue in his godlike incarnations, and he’s going to do something about it.

Feb. 23, 2016

“My father is a force,” Josh Adams wrote in a Twitter post. “His life was defined by unparalleled artistry and an unwavering character, which motivated him to continue to fight for his colleagues and those in need.”

Adams brought a touch of realism to super heroes in comics that came through on the page, both physically and in terms of their powers.

Of Batman, he said in a 2016 Times interview: “I want women to fall in love with him, and I want guys to respect him. I want him to look like he works out. That’s what I want to see. I know it seems a little pedantic, but that’s what I wanted.”


On Superman: “For me, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s character was Superman. It got a little fluffy and powdery along the way and got a little godlike at the same time, and I think that we want to get back to being a man that you fall in love with and you like as a buddy. ... I don’t like the magic, you know what I mean?”