Friday, March 23, 2012

Pre-Bronze Teen Titans: The Whole Neal Adams Enchilada!

With Today's Reflections, the Bronze Age Babies Surpass 300 Comic Books Reviewed!

Teen Titans
#'s 20-22 (March-August 1969)

"Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho!"
"Citadel of Fear!"
"Halfway to Holocaust"
Neal Adams/Dick Giordano-Adams/Nick Cardy (covers by Cardy)

Doug: Last Friday we had a pretty in-depth discussion on comic book art -- what works, what doesn't, who our faves and foes are, etc. In the midst of the conversation some Neal Adams detractors arose! Gasp! The thought of it -- that it would be heresy to hold such a position as a commenter on this blog was set forth by one of our visitors. Well, today's a day we hope will generate a lot of discussion as well, as we're going to throw the whole Neal Adams hog atcha -- writer, artist, colorist, general tinkerer -- you name it! Using the hardcover DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams, let's have a peek at a 3-parter he created using an inter-dimensional gang of invaders as his antagonists.

Doug: Since this is a 3-issue review, I think I'm going to use a different format than Karen and I usually toss your way. I'll be very honest with you right up front: if you like Silver Age DC's, then you'll like this long tale. If you, like us here at the BAB, prefer your comics from the Silver- and Bronze Age House of Ideas, then you're going to find this yarn lacking. A lot. In fact, as I said last Friday, this is a prime example of a dumb story that still leaves me with pretty pictures. Since Adams wrote and drew this, he has no one to blame but himself for a script that leaves the reader wanting more (more sense, more detail, a better conclusion, some advancements in characterization, etc.). But at the end of the day, at least for my money, Neal Adams' art is still Neal Adams' art and that's OK. So rather than bore you with a long plot summary for a bad story, I think what I'll do is provide several 2-page scans that will allow you to pick this apart yourself. Maybe this will be somewhat of a do-it-yourself critique, with me playing host. What I (we) want is for you to tell us what is good and bad about Adams' storytelling from an artistic point of view. And I guess if you really think you like his script, then you can be an apologist for that.

Doug: As an aside, before you start your criticisms, those not "in the know" may be interested to see the backstory behind the first issue in this series, "Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho". What you are about to see is nowhere close to what was intended. You can check out this article, which originally ran in Comic Book Artist #1. It's pretty interesting, given what we'd see from Dennis O'Neil and Adams just a few short years hence in the pages of Green Lantern.

Doug: Let's lead off with our first example of two consecutive story pages. This first sample is from pages 2-3 of Teen Titans #20. The teens' HQ has been breached by a dude who, to us Bronze Age Marvelites, bears a striking resemblance to Moon Knight! The sidekicks soon learn that this invader doesn't want to be touched!

Doug: After simmering down long enough to talk, Joshua tells the Titans that he's come to enlist their aid. It seems there's a group of teenagers who've fallen under the influence of some ex-cons -- and the baddies are supplying them with guns. As one of the teens was arrested yesterday, the whole group is going to demonstrate... firearms along! Joshua leaves in some souped-up vehicle that resembles the TV Batmobile and the Titans follow (with Wally unexplainedly whipping up an updraft and carrying the other three aloft at a speed to keep up with the car ahead of them. Huh?).

Doug: Below are pages 7-8 from the same issue.

Doug: The brawling continues on the next page, and Joshua rescues the Titans one by one. Once on a rooftop, the young heroes grill their benefactor on exactly what is going down. Joshua insists on remaining mysterious, and bolts. We then cut to the kids from the gang, who are now in the presence of some organized crime-types. The leader, a fella named Fat Cat, muses to himself that the Titans may ruin Operation Jericho, and that he'd better let NG3 know. We then see a bunch of dudes discussing some gibberish and the Titans get a death sentence.

Doug: The above scene is from pages 13-14 of TT #20, and if you look at the link to the article posted above, you'll see that these scenes were at the center of the controversy and a major reason why the story as originally intended was rejected. As Robin says, it's a trap, they do indeed get ambushed, Joshua saves them again, and then the bottom falls out. The kids in the gang start spreading some green paint all over and what do you know? A monster erupts out of it! Yep. Silver Age DC. We did, however, find out that Chuck, the leader of the "bad kids", is really the brother of Joshua -- but we get no explanation of who Joshua is or how he got all of his gadgets and heightened physical prowess. Then we find that there are some aliens from another dimension whose only means of invading our planet was through the organized crime guys. Ahem.

Doug: Hawk and Dove guest-star in TT #21, and join the plot right on the splash page. Below are pages 4-5 from that issue. At this point, let's take an art break. Nick Cardy had penciled the original story that would have run in TT #20; I don't know about this issue's origins, but don't you see Cardy in some of the Titans' faces? Robin for sure. How about the inks, though -- scratchier than you'd assume Cardy would do?

Doug: Below are pages 10-11 from the same issue. I wasn't buying that Wally could create hurricane-force winds by whirling his arm in a circle. Tough on the joints, ya think?

Doug: Here's a scene seemingly ripped from the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #33. Speedy's become trapped under a giant ant-like robot. Hawk and Dove are going to help him get out of the pickle he's in. These are pages 18-19.

Doug: On to our final issue (thank goodness!). In a summary caption box at the top of the splash page, we get the plot synopsis (I'd have liked to have been in the editorial meeting with Adams, Cardy, and Dick Giordano on this one. Hoo-boy!) for the previous two issues. It reads:

"We learned that the creatures from Dimension X controlled an international crime syndicate in order to gain entry to our dimension by utilizing the syndicate's facilities and manpower. Their plans foiled by the interference of the Teen Titans, they captured Robin and Kid Flash in the hopes that they could provide the means of entry into Earth's dimension!"

Below are pages 2-3 from TT #22; this final installment is only a 16-page story.

Doug: Our last sample today comes from pages 11-12 of TT #22.

Doug: So there you have it: A complete story told over three issues, with Neal Adams as the pilot -- scribe, penciler, colorist. Hopefully the means in which we brought you the art today, with two consecutive full pages of story (as opposed to smaller panel samples), will give you enough on which to gauge your opinion. What we'd like to hear from you today are your thoughts on Adams as a visual storyteller. Some commenters on our blog have said that Adams is slick, photo-realistic, all style and no substance, a master, etc. Chime in with your take on Adams as his work would slide across an artists' continuum of effectiveness. And thanks for making the comments section our favorite part of the day!


david_b said...

I'm hot/cold on this 3-issue story. First off, given the fact that the 'hip lingo' Titans weren't taken seriously by readers by this point (were they ever..?), this was a brave departure towards a more serious tone. I miss the corny 'lightness of being', yet hip teen sidekick energy of the series already from reading this saga, but I'll continue.

I agree that this is a bunch of pictures strung together by a trite story, one with much promise but delivering an underwhelming, if even satisfying conclusion. It is hard to follow, as was Avengers 93 at times, but the art does provide some redeeming quality.

It's odd to see arguably the worst Titans cover (ish 21) sandwiched between two covers considered among the best. Also, I didn't see much need for Dove and Hawk, other than to stir things up for Speedy, and yes, save him once.

Robin knowingly having his whole team walk into a trap..? Not leave Wally or Donna to circle around back through a window or something..? Seemingly odd for a kid who hung around Batman for so long, even Speedy should have piped up on that one, since he comes across as the hot-head at the slightest provocation.

I favor the alien invasion story of issue 16 at the highschool far more than this one. Part of the mood change was the departure of Aqualad. I understand it was getting hard to generate stories with water in each issue, but Garth brought a nice sense of innocence to the team, at least until he returned in ish 28 (ANOTHER awesome Cardy cover..), wondering what had become of his teammates.

Frankly, so did I..

Anonymous said...

neal adams draws very pretty, anatomically correct, photorealistic pictures. unfortunately his choices of camera angles and panel layouts are poor, although the v-shaped panel he used where the two sidewalks intersected was clever. most of the time it seems like he just wants to draw something "cool" and sacrifices clear storytelling. in some of those pages i can't tell where people are supposed to be in relation to each other. joshua is squished due to the choice of a horizontal medium shot where a vertical panel would have worked a lot better. sometimes the camera moves wildly to accommodate what the artist wants to draw, even when it means people have to stand in contorted positions, i.e., speedy on page 2 of #22. or speedy's fists reaching out of the panel on page 3. it's judt awkward and emphasizes nothing.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I agree generally with Anonymous above. Adams's obvious talents - the photo-realism of his drawings, the expressiveness of his characters faces, the strong backgrounds - obscures a rather less obvious fact: He just wasn't a very good storyteller. Comics aren't just cool images - the images have to advance from one to another in a way that advances the story clearly.

Every time I read one of Adams's comics I struggle to follow the story because I cannot tell what is going on from panel-to-panel. Too often I find myself asking, who is interacting with who and where they are in relations to one another? This is exacerbated by his tendency to format the panels in odd ways. I never have this problem with a susposed journeyman talent like Sal Buscema.

Also photorealism doesn't really work in superhero comics. It tends to emphasize how silly these people would look if they existed in real life. You need a certain amount of distance to make the fantasy element work. Something like what an artist like - Oh, I don't know - Sal Buscema would do.

I don't for a minute think that Adams is not a great artist, I just think his talents were best suited to doing covers - Which is mostly what he did after the early 70s anyway, right?

Doug said...

Well count me in the minority here, I guess. I just went back and looked at each of the 2-page exhibits that I've offered today. Granted, I've obviously read the story (to be honest, I thought it was so dumb I'm pretty sure I couldn't pass a reading comprehension test if you gave it to me right now, even if it was multiple choice!), but I looked at each of the samples and moved my eyes across the pages without looking at the word balloons. I don't have any trouble inferring what is happening -- in other words, I could probably write a tale myself based just off of Adams' pictures. I also don't care that he breaks the panel boundaries (he's not the only one -- Steranko, Colan...). The odd-shaped panels may be stretching the bounds of conventionality a bit, but I find them more in line with Adams' style than just an attention-getting behavior.

So I guess I'll be the apologist in the room. And that is not at all to denigrate Sal or any other artist -- I'm just saying that I like Neal Adams art (again, you can have the writing and to a lesser extent the recoloring) and it works for me as a mover of my eyes.


Edo Bosnar said...

Actually, Doug, I'm in your camp as well. I agree that Adams is a pretty lousy writer/scripter, but I still think he's a very good visual storyteller. I've never found any of his art confusing or unintelligible, at least not his stuff from the '60s and '70s. And I like his odd panel layouts - I think it was particularly effective in those X-men stories from the late '60s.

Edo Bosnar said...

And speak of the devil: the Groovy Agent's post today is dedicated to Adams (
I think a really good example of his storytelling talents can be found in the story that goes with that last splash-page in the post - "Moon of the Wolf." You can follow much of the story just by looking at the art...

Fred W. Hill said...

Wasn't previously familiar with this story at all. Checking out that scene in which the Dove & the Hawk save Speedy, and judging by the reference to "...spider, man!" I'd surmise Adams was doing a tribute to Ditko's famous scene from Spider-Man #33 using two of his DC creations rather than an outright rip-off. Certainly not as memorable as Ditko's original.
Regarding Adams' art overall, I've never had much of a problem following any of the stories in the comics by him that I've read, although I remember getting his indie output Ms. Mystic, the only one in my collection in which he is the credited writer, and, well, his writing didn't do a whole lot for me. Also I've heard about his very peculiar ideas regarding science which cause me to regard him as a clueless ignoramus on the subject. Ah, well, he does draw some very pretty pictures and I still like his work as long as he's teamed with a reasonbly good writer such as Thomas or O'Neil.

Doug said...

Oh, yeah, Fred -- his ideas of evolution/Pangea/end of the dinosaurs, etc. that have the Earth shrinking. Or was it expanding? As strange a theory as those who say Barry Bonds hat size changed due to steroid use...


Anonymous said...

Man, what the heck is up with that re-coloring? I had those issues when I was a kid, and they looked way better with the original colors. This just looks like dreck now.

These issues represent a transitional period for the Titans. They were going from the super-goofy Bob Haney era to accentuate characterization and relevant themes. Goofiness still abounds, but the injection of an actual personality to Speedy does give the team something to bounce off of, making it seem as if they have more personality too. Interesting to think that Speedy finally developed right around when Green Arrow did. Wonder how he would've looked with a goatee?

I'm with Doug. This is not Adams (or anyone) at his best, but he was a tremendously innovative artist back then. I rarely found fault with his storytelling, myself. And I'm sure I wasn't disappointed if I bought something expecting Don Heck and got Adams instead.

I think the part where H & D save Speedy is the highlight of the whole story. First, Speedy & Hawk have been at each other's throats until then. But Hawk doesn't hesitate to save Speedy's a**. He may be an obnoxious blow-hard most of the time, but he's a true hero when the chips are down. Second, we get to see Hawk & Dove working together, utilizing their powers to the fullest, without Dove having the apologetic thought balloon about using violence. I can't think of another instance where these silly characters were handled better.

As david_b pointed out, these are the same aliens introduced in TT#16. That was a much better story. It was in the goofy-Haneyverse era, but benefited from Haney's typically breakneck plotting. Haney certainly excelled at the done-in-one issues.

James Chatterton

dbutler16 said...

While I liked the humor and comraderie of the Bob Haney issues, overall, I think it was improved by the more serious turn. I liked the story in #16, but I liked this one also. Count me as liking the Adams art.

Garett said...

I like the layouts of all these pages, except for the last 3 which seem awkward. Otherwise, I like his storytelling and unusual angles.

He excels at deep space, like the first page, second panel--something up close, something far away, and a feeling of ZOOOM! between them. There's a tension or excitement in the space itself. Aparo uses the same space in his best work.

The V panel works well here with the streetcorner image. His experimental panels are interesting if not always great--I can see where artists like Buckler mimicked them, but not always as successfully.

I find comics today look more photo-based than this, and Adams outdoes them with his imagination, informed by years of working from photos.

The panels where we see just faces or busts have a nice bubbly movement to the composition. The feet sticking out of the panel in issue 21 catches my eye. I like it.

For finish, it'd be nice to see Giordano's inks.

Anonymous said...

Following up on the comment about the recoloring - I find it to be off-putting as well. All the Adams' DC stuff that has been collected is recolored and it's ruined the collections for me. Bought a few, sold them and never got anymore. Same thing with the Barry Windsor Smith Conan collections from Dark Horse...

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