Classic Comics Cavalcade: Neal Adams’ Lasting Impact With ‘Batman’ #243-244
by Tony Thornley
And we’re back. Welcome to the return of our Classic Comics Cavalcade, spotlight key and underappreciated stories from comics past.
It’s been a tough year for comic book legends. Just this summer we’ve lost four legendary writers and artists, each of whom individually changed the industry for the better. Three of the four had an incredible impact on one character in particular- the Batman. This month in the column, we’re going to take a look at comics from each.
Prior to Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil’s run on Batman, the Caped Crusader had descended into camp. The Adam West Batman series had become the definitive of the character, and it influenced the comic into something incredibly campy and silly. With their run on the character, Batman was redefined, changing him for the better.
One of the lasting impacts of their run, outside pulling Batman back into the role of a dark avenger, was the introduction of one of the greatest villains in Batman’s rogues gallery. Ra’s al Ghul was introduced in Batman #233, and throughout the next year, he was a thorn in Bruce’s side in the story that’s come to be known as The Demon’s Quest. The story reached its conclusion in issues #243 and 244.
O’Neil’s plot is interesting, as these issues introduce several crucial elements to the Batman mythos. This is one of the earliest appearances of Matches Malone, and the introduction of the Lazarus Pit. It’s also a tense chase, as Batman and a trio of allies pursue Ra’s into the Swiss Alps. They discover they’re too late though, as the terrorist has died. But to everyone’s surprise, for Ra’s al Ghul, death is not the end.
The fault in the writing is in the dialogue. It’s conventional for the era- incredibly purple prose and over the top speech. It’s simply not how real people talk at all, but it does include some real gems like “Are you a man or a fiend from hell?!”
Where the story stands out is Adams’ art, with Dick Giordano’s inks. Every moment of the story is full of dynamic layouts, and characters are always moving. Adams was an innovator, and you can see why here. Every character seems to jump out of the panel. He was a master of motion on panel- every character is leaning into each other, their movements are telegraphed through the page.
There are multiple fight scenes through the two parter and each one is a masterpiece. The opening showing Batman sparring with one of his new allies feels like a Bruce Lee kung fu movie, with both characters having a different physicality in the fight choreography. The end of #244 is the infamous duel between Batman and Ra’s and it’s fantastic. It’s practically a storyboard for the later Animated Series adaptation of this story.
These two issues are a perfect example of how Neal Adams pushed his contemporaries into the dynamic and action-packed art that we still see today. The only artist contemporary to him that was this dynamic and engaging was Kirby. His loss is huge, but it’s impossible to quantify the impact he had on comics. We still see artists today that carry his influence prominently.