One of the longest-awaited projects in recent superhero comics memory became official this morning as DC Comics announced via their blog The Source that Neal Adams "Batman: Odyssey" series will hit shops in July. While various rumors, images and potential collaborators for the series have been floating about news sites and blogs for the better part of two years, DC confirmed that the book will run 12 issues and be written and drawn by Adams, who will also ink the first two issues. CBR News reached out to the legendary creator for his first word on why he's returning to the Dark Knight he helped revive in the 1970s, what specific skills and collaborators he'll be drawing on to make "Odyssey" a unique experience and why 12 issues might not be enough to fit his whole story in.
"What's happened is that every time I go to a convention or go into a comic book shop is that people drag me off into a corner and beat me up and go, 'When are you going to do Batman again?'" Adams explained with a laugh. The artist said that the story specifics for this Batman tale came from his watching the character develop over the past few decades. "It has occurred to me over the years that little bits and pieces have been dropped along the way as Batman has been done. I've sort of wondered why people haven't dealt with or done too much with these various pieces. So when the opportunity presented itself by my deciding, 'I want to step into the comic book thing again because I'm tired of doing these alternate covers and these little bits and pieces for Marvel and DC that don't amount to a hill of beans. I think I ought to do a project.' I realized that, as usual, there were all these little pieces lying around that I could go vacuum up and turn into a story. And because I like the character and because finally the character out there in the media is in effect becoming 'Neal's Batman' – as the movies and their royalty checks show – I realized that the eggs I laid all those years ago were basically what Batman has finally become. Now, wouldn't it be great if I could go pick up all those pieces I've been gathering up and turn them into a story?"
The story of "Batman: Odyssey" will challenge readers basic assumptions about who Batman is in the modern era through a series of challenges, encounters and journeys. "In a way, Batman has become sort of outdated," said Adams of how he sees the character today. "Even in the movies, they've had to put armor on him and do things to him that have made him stiff and uncomfortable. And they've had to deal with the question of how does Batman – who comes from a time of gangsters and pistols and minimal armament – come into a time where we seem to have the most powerful guns, the most frightful explosive devices...we seem to be in a time where gangsters are armed in a ridiculous manner. There used to be a time where Batman was worried about whether or not a guy doing a mugging had a gun. Today, a guy pulls out a gun as long as his leg and starts firing at Batman.
"There are other questions we have to deal with as well. For example, from the beginning Batman put people in jail. Now, somehow Batman's putting people – and not of his own choice – into Arkham Asylum. 'I've got this criminal who's robbed a bank, Commissioner. He should go to jail.' The Commissioner says, 'I think we're going to put him in Arkham.' Why? Because that's what we do in Gotham: put criminals in Arkham Asylum and almost give them a ticket to get out again so we can have the next story...it's a kind of fantasy world Batman's living in. It doesn't seem like he has to deal with it. It's a more deadly world. How does Batman deal with that more deadly world when his code is so inflexible in that he won't kill anybody or maim anybody? He's not a goody two-shoes, but his whole job is to frighten criminals who are a cowardly lot, and scare the hell out of them. But now these guys themselves are so scary and dangerous that the question is: How does Batman up the game? How does he deal with it on a new level?
"And it occurred to me, if you start throwing this stuff at Batman hard enough and enough of it sticks, he's going to have to reconsider his role. And that's what this story's about. In reconsidering his role, he ought to go someplace. Where does he go? To a bunch of warehouses? To Metropolis? To Paradise Island? After a while, it starts to get silly. So is there a place where for Batman to go to relearn and rediscover himself? That's also what the story is about. It's the story of a place that he can be driven to where the lessons can be learned. And that place is a surprise. And are there people along the way who he's met – like, say, Deadman – who know things about him we don't know? Is there a history behind Batman that he doesn't even know? Are there controlling devices that have allowed him to think...a Joker says it best when he says, 'Have you ever noticed you're surrounded by a bunch of clowns? Are there clowns in Metropolis? Doesn't that strike you as odd, Batman?'"
While early on in the process, Adams had spoken of having Frank Miller doing dialogue for the story, the artist will end up writing "Odyssey" in its final form from start to finish. And while most of his famous comic book work has been done in conjunction with writers riding alongside him, Adams told CBR that "I think there's a misconception going on...I really am more of a storyteller and a writer than an artist. I just happen to be a pretty good artist. It's just that people know me as an artist." From some of his earliest works like "Deadman" and his Marvel Comics oeuvre, Adams has often found himself in the drivers seat story-wise.
"I did the X-Men, and I plotted the stories, and Roy Thomas dialogued them. And that first set of comic books that I did are the plot that the first X-Men movie was taken from where Magneto invents a machine that turns regular humans into mutants. That's my idea. Bringing Magneto back to life was my idea. Bringing Professor X back to life was my idea. All the characters created in the forbidden world and Havok were my idea, my creations, and the stories were my stories. No, I wasn't doing the dialoguing, but I was writing the stories," he noted.
"The idea of thinking of Neal as an artist as opposed to a writer is very odd to me. I think of myself as a storytelling, and one of the reasons why people have held my stuff close to them is because it's one thing to draw pretty pictures, and it's another thing to create a story. That's what I've always done whether it be for advertising clients or commercial clients or comic books. My hand is in there, and I am the storyteller."
However, just because Adams will be finishing out the finer points of the writing process with his new series, that doesn't mean other collaborators won't come along for the ride at different points. Though he'll ink himself on the first few issues of "Odyssey," Adams has already spoken about working with finishers like "PvP's" Scott Kurtz. "I'm bringing people in rather slowly. The process has been a very long process, and what's happening now is that people are being brought in carefully so I don't get criticism from the fans on 'Why'd you do this?' and 'How come you let this guy do that?' I'm trying to ease people into it to make them part of the storytelling. An awful lot of it was done before other people were invited in. It's a delicate situation. There's a lot of fan concern. The true fans will go, 'Don't do it! You should ink the whole thing beginning to end!' but that's a little unrealistic. But I'm trying to do it in such a way that fans will be happy."
The artist also shared his thoughts on the passing of one of his top collaborators in Dick Giordano, saying "It was expected. It's sort of like reading the last chapter of a book. I've loved Dick so much in my lifetime, and he's meant so much to me. He just finished off the last chapter, and I don't love him less. I can't miss him more. But now the book is closed."
However in moving to the next creative chapter of his long career, Adams explained that there was one person with whom working has been occasionally difficult: himself. "The artist Neal Adams is pissed off at the writer Neal Adams, who as he got to the last few books has been writing six, seven and eight panel pages and not giving the artist the freedom to expand and do double page spreads because he's got so much story in there. The writer's got such a big ego that he can't stop writing more and more panels, and the artist would like to find this writer and punch him in the nose. He just keeps jamming more stuff in. You'd think 12 issues would be enough to tell a whole story, but it just seems like he keeps putting more writing in. I'm going to have to break his knuckles," Adams laughed.
Ultimately though, what the artist wants fans to get out of "Batman: Odyssey" is a unique and complete adventure – one that will stand on a shelf as his own statement on what Batman really is. "The long-form story for me began in the X-Men comics I did. Then in 'Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali' you have another long-form story that's going to be reprinted soon," he said. "My view is that comic books are meant to be long-form stories. They're meant to be novels. People are comfortable with novels. And what I people to see is that there's a way to do a long-form story that doesn't break up like crossword puzzle pieces broken out across the table, but it has a distinct and coherent beginning where something will start very slowly. In fact, the first issue starts with Batman describing his first case. If anybody remembers, he carried guns at that time. Then, we look at the result of that mistake and into more modern times where he has to view what is happening from the point of view of whether he's making the right judgements. He starts to realize that maybe he's not as in control as he thought.
"Is he becoming trite? Is he being used? And does he really think about everything that he's about? Is there a place for him to realize it – a place for him to go where he can realize it and come back a better Batman? So I'm hoping this is a story where people will read it, and at the end, they'll look at it and say, 'I think Neal made a better Batman.'"