I’m breaking the rules a little here with the “Classic Run” format, but I feel in this case it’s alright to make an exception. The creative team of Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams has been mythologized in Batman lore as one of the greatest. They’ve been pointed to as the team that brought back to his darker roots after the Batman TV show came and went, and many people often say that the O’Neil/Adams run is the best interpretation of the bat. Like most Myths, however, they aren’t entirely true, though the part about this collaboration between the two being the ultimate take on the character is pretty valid.
Truth is after the 60’s show there was really a group of talent responsible for bringing Batman to his pulp past. Led by Editor Julius Swartz, Writers like Len Wein, Frank Robbins and Denny O’Neil along with artists such as Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, and Neil Adams. This group of creators brought back the Dark Knight and often collaborated with each other of both Batman and Detective Comics it was, however, the collaborations between O’Neil and Adams that seemed to stick with people and it’s easy to see why.
In total the team worked on 11 issues together and created some of the most important and classic Batman stories ever told. Denny O’Neil’s moody scripts and Neil Adam’s fantastic art were a perfect union as the first tale “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” Tells a dark, mysterious, but adventurous tale that would set the tone for the rest of the decade. The Detective Comics issues were fun little mystery stories that shunned more well-known villains for one-off characters. There’s a fun world traveling tale in “Ghost of the Killer Skies” which features DC character Enemy Ace and “A Vow From the Grave” which highlights Batman’s incredible abilities and sense of Justice.
The pair really hit their stride when moving to Batman. With the creation of Ras Al Gaul and his daughter Talia, the team gave Batman a Bond-type villain that would prove to be one of his most popular foes going forward. These stories ushered in the “James Bond in a cape era” which made Batman not only a darker detective character but also made him an adventuring and a man of incredible ability. The stories in which the character is introduced are classics bringing in elements such as the League of Assassins and the Lazarus Pit. These stories would be adapted into episodes of Batman: The Animated Series which were written by O’Neil and the characters also played big parts in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.
Along with the creation of new and important characters, the run also brought back old ones. “Half an Evil” brings Two-Face into the Bronze Age after basically disappearing and he returns as a more unhinged psychological character than he was in the silver age. And of course, there is the return of the Joker in “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” this story would be the pair’s last collaboration and arguably their best. This was the story that brought the Joker back to his homicidal roots and made the character terrifying and interesting for a new generation.
O’Neil’s scripts were pretty solid for the time. It might read a little wordy today and the written is a little overdramatic at times but the stories hold up pretty well. O’Neil’s Batman was very much an obsessed Justice driven hero and a brilliant detective, but he also made Batman a world traveler and adventuring, a hero of incredible ability and wonder that was fun to read. With the creation of Talia, he also brought romance into the books which actually worked very well.
Adam’s art of course incredible. There’s really not much I can say that has not been said already, but this is the man that basically defined Batman for thee not only the Bronze Age but even now. His art was perfect for O’Neil’s moody scripts and Adams was able to capture the scripts well from the exotic James Bond style locations of the Ras Al Gaul stories to the moody grim atmosphere of “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge”. There’s a reason that this guy tops most people’s list is Best Batman artist ever and there’s a case to be made that he may be the most important as well.
Sometimes things that are lauded and hyped fail to live up to it, but there is a reason these stories are so highly regarded. It amazes me that DC hasn’t put together a collection of these guy’s work. Yes, there are the three volumes collected of Neal Adams’ Batman work which includes these stories, back a collection with just issues that these two collaborated on would be great. The writing may be a little stiff to a modern audience but in spite of that the stories are still great and the art is perfect. If you liked the Batman of the animated series these are the stories that influenced it the most. Part Pulp Detective, part Globetrotting adventurer O’Neil and Adam’s Batman is one of the best and there’s no doubt that this run will continue to be talked about for years to come.
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Artist: Neal Adams
Detective Comics 395,397,404,410
Batman 232, 234, 237, 243-245, 251 (1970-1973)