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‘Remembering Neal Adams’ by Nick Barrucci, Dynamite Entertainment CEO/Publisher

Guest Post by Nick Barrucci / Image by Gage Skidmore

Neal Adams passed away. I honestly can’t believe it. Neal was always eternally young and energetic each time I saw him, full of life. The impact he has had on me as a reader and lifelong comic fan cannot be stated briefly, but here are some of the ways he affected me.

Neal’s talent is nothing short of incredible. His characters have influenced creators in and outside of comics. His stories had heart. Neal was not shy, and was always blunt. He nurtured many creators in the industry, and pushed others to be their best.

Neal was one of the first superstars of our industry. He paved the way for other creators. In an industry that seemed to be dying, Neal was a light. His style engaged and excited readers.

I’ve said this story before, but man, it’s Neal Adams, so I am repeating.

I first found Neal Adams on covers to comics in the back issue bins with The Flash and more, and at 13, I would be at the comic store, and seeing copies on the wall of Green Lantern #76, #85, #86, #87, and even the other issues priced outside of what I could afford. How lucky I was that a fellow collector, who became my friend, Bruce, and how every time he saw me he would see how I would look at the wall and want those books so bad, for no other reason than the covers stood out, not knowing how great the stories were outside of my friends at the comic store telling me, and how I’d look at the back issues, and go over those issues over and over again really wanting to see them outside of the bags. So one day Bruce said that I could go over his apartment and read the books as long as I was careful. Wow, I couldn’t believe it.

So I got to go over Bruce’s house a few times, and read them all within a month. Bruce was a medical student so would just study while I read. I have to tell you, my 13 year old self was scared, like you wouldn’t believe. And not for any other reason than I was holding comic book gold and I didn’t want to damage the books.

Remembering the first few pages of Green Lantern #76 gives me the chills with Hal thinking he saved the day, and having trash throwing at him and wanting to hit one of the kids on the street. Hal is full of hubris, and blind to his actions and the effects, but more on that in a little bit. Ollie saying to Hal that if he hits the kid, he’ll have to hit Ollie second, and Ollie would hit back, and hard. The surprise in Hal’s face, and determination in Ollie’s, the script and art were just magic. You could feel the emotion and passion on the page. I think that at one point Ollie said something to the effect of going to chase a mad scientist, basically stop acting like saving the day via Hal’s eyes was actually saving the day. Ollie explained the real world situation, and then started showing and walking Green Lantern through the tenament, and explaining how the tenants lived, and how he didn’t understand what it took for them to get through day to day. Ollie tried to open Hal’s eyes.

And then reading those words at the end of that chapter in Green Lantern #76, how the older gentleman asked “I been readin’ about you… How you work for the Blue Skins…and how on a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins, and you done considerable for the purple skins!  Only there’s skins you never bothered with…the Black Skins!  I want to know…how come?!  Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!

And all Hal could say was, “I…can’t…”

And then the rest of the issue Hal worked with Green Arrow to right his wrong and shortcomings by not understanding the world and more importantly, it’s people. And Hal relearned a little about himself and humility to fellow man and himself.

And then in the epilogue, Hal being chastised and about to be punished by the Guardians, and apologizing. And Ollie tells Hal he’s not a hero, not even a man groveling in front of the Guardians, his masters. Ollie then lectures the Guardians and Hal, and tells them to forget the Galaxy, and to help America. A beautiful country that was beautiful, fertile, and terribly sick. He talked about children dying, honest people cowering in fear, and riots on campuses. (On so many levels, this is America today.) He talks about a good Black Man, Martin Luther King, being killed in Memphis, and has it balanced saying that a good white man, Bobby Kennedy, was killed in Los Angeles.

Green Arrow chastises the Guardians for judging humanity without being a part of us. He challenges them to come off their perch to Earth and live among the people to see what they don’t understand. And then one of the Guardians comes to Earth, and offers Hal and Ollie a proposition to understand Earthlings, so they go on a road trip. Hal is ready to fly them around, but Ollie insists that they do it in an old truck.

I can’t begin to express how having those comics in my hand, for the first time, how much of an impact that they had on me. Maybe it’s because I grew up poor and didn’t think I could ever read those stories, or maybe they were just so great, or maybe a little of both. I’d like to take the pity out of this and say it was just because they were great.

I don’t know that anyone would be able to tell this story today, not like this, not from multiple points of view. The world is complicated, but everyone wants to see it as only black and white, and there is black and white, but it is also full of grey. Neal and writer Denny O’Neil created a story that had those greys. They didn’t preach, they walked you through, their goal was to bring awareness to the readers, without talking down to them or trying to force messages. They told comic stories, and that’s why these are considered iconic and classics. They told comic stories with a strong message, not a preached message through comics lacking the full story. And that’s why fans love them.

The stories were complex and meaningful. They had layers.

And remember when I was talking about Hal’s hubris?

Ollie had his own. In issue #85, when he was shot with one of his own arrows, and went after the drug addicts, he found Speedy, and just assumed Speedy was there “undercover” fighting the druggies and drug dealers as well. He never saw what was under him. Speedy was a druggie. I was too young to realize or understand the name worked perfectly for the story.

I’m not going to make this as long as the #76 breakdown, but I’ll hit the high points. When Ollie finds out Speedy is a druggie, he kicks him out of his house, and Speedy goes to look for drugs.

You find out that Speedy felt abandoned by Ollie and turned to drugs. After Speedy leaves, when he’s looking for more drugs, Green Lantern finds Speedy. And Green Lantern realizes he has no experience with anyone who is a drug addict, and flies Roy (Speedy) to Dinah (Black Canary/Ollie’s girlfriend). Along the way, Hal asks Roy why he tried drugs, didn’t he know what they did to people and how dangerous they were? Roy responds by saying that his generation didn’t believe what Hal’s generation said. Roy said that Hal’s generation said “War is good, skin-color is important, a man is worth what’s in his bank account, why would drugs be different?”

Dinah opens the door, and brings Speedy in (though it’s never explained how she went from her hair up like she was going out and a white satin dress, to regular hair down and pant suit in 2 panels).

You see the pain Roy is in, and you then see that Dinah is in more pain being helpless. Roy pushes her away. Dinah holds him as a human caring and helping him go cold turkey. Green Lantern and Green Arrow bust up the drug ring, and then go to Roy’s friend’s funeral who had OD’ed. Roy and Dinah show up as Ollie is telling Hal that when it comes to drugs, sometimes he’s in despair. Roy tells Ollie not to give up. Then Roy rips into Ollie telling him how he went cold turkey even with Ollie kicking him out, and with the help of Ollie’s friends Hal and Dinah, and not Ollie. Then he punches Ollie. And then explains to Ollie that he wanted to have Ollie share a little bit of pain from what kids who feel abandoned, who need help, feel every day. How drug attacks are the symptom, and society attacks the symptom, and not the disease.

And that’s true today still in more ways than can be articulated here. As Roy leaves and tells Dinah to take care of Ollie, Ollie smiles and cries, and has come full circle himself by realizing his shortcomings.

Issue #87 takes GA and GL in two different directions, and adds to the incredible run.

Guy Gardner, the next in line to be Green Lantern, is paralyzed trying to save school children. The Guardians want another human to be able to take over for Hal should something happen to him. Enter John Stewart. You see him standing up to a biased police officer with an inner strength. The kind of strength of a hero has. The other officer holds his partner’s arm and lectures him to back off and that respect has to be earned, and his partner has not earned a nickels worth. Hal talks to John and John says he’ll try out being a Green Lantern, and if he likes it, will do so.

Another great lesson issue. John gets rid of the mask, stating he doesn’t need it. They fly the city, and see a fuel truck about to hit innocent people and a plane. John stops it, but some of the oil hits a racist Senator in the face. John doesn’t care as Hal talks to him about it. Later, the Senator is almost “assassinated” and Hal goes after the shooter, but John doesn’t. Hal doesn’t know why but gets the shooter, and when he comes back, John had captured the real shooter who was trying to create a narrative for the Senator. It opened Hal’s eyes, again.

The second story has Green Arrow thinking he can do more for his city as mayor than as Green Arrow. He asks Bruce’s, Hal’s and Clark’s advice, and all which tell him not to. Ollie is conflicted. Then Ollie is in the midst of a riot, one in which 21 people were hospitalized, and 5 killed, including a child. He goes to Dinah’s, distraught, and in emotional pain, and tells her he’s running for mayor. Another emotionally draining issue.

By the way, can you tell that I read the four on the wall from the comic store first? And then the rest later? (From Bruce’s collection though).

Neal and Denny made Green Lantern one of my two favorite DC characters. I could go down the list of books that Neal was a part of that influenced me from my youth and build the foundation, and I’m sure for many more fans than me and the creators and fans would bring in more fans.

All I can say is, thank you Neal. The comics industry was better having had you in it. Your work and your legacy will live on forever, as it should.

Thank you Neal. Now and Forever.

The 13 year old Italian boy named Nick.

PS – A few months ago I was finally able to buy this Green Lantern/Green Arrow cover from Albert Moy, and find myself very fortunate to have a piece of Neal’s legacy with me.

Below, Nick interviewed Neal during the pandemic to discuss his long career in the industry.

 

Nick Barrucci is the founder and CEO and publisher of Dynamite Entertainment. He is also the founder of Dynamic Forces, the leading force in signed books and collectibles. For the almost twenty years, Dynamite has been a major publisher in the comic book industry, releasing both owned and licensed properties including The Boys, Army of Darkness, Vampirella, Red Sonja, John Wick, Game of Thrones, Elvira, Bettie Page, Chaos!, and James Bond.

 

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