Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Deadman Travesty

Here's something that I've been griping about to anyone I've bumped into in the past week or two, but nobody seems to care but me. Either they don't care enough about comic book art or they think my concern is too out-of-date to matter. The people in the second category have a good point because I am talking about a book published five years ago, but I'm going to present my case to you anyway, and you can let me know if you are as offended as I am, or if I'm just being too picky. Here goes...

In 2001, DC Comics published an extravagant hardcover collection of Neal Adams's famed Deadman run. Deadman was a character who could inhabit the body of a mortal and control that person's actions, but because Deadman was, well, dead, he had no corporeal form himself. His goal was to find out who had killed him. It was like an existential version of "The Fugitive" but with a sorta-superheroic circus performer in the lead role (he was called "Deadman" as a trapeze artist because of his death-defying stunts, and he wore red spandex while performing, and he was murdered in mid-air).

Anyway, the series was most famous because it was the first major work of artist Neal Adams, who would go on to great critical acclaim in a few short years and be regarded as perhaps the greatest comic book artist ever. But the first issue of the series was actually drawn by Silver Age great Carmine Infantino. He had to bow out after only one issue because he was promoted within DC and so Neal Adams took over and continued the series as the main artist. The reason any of this is important is because I just paid about $50 for this fancy Deadman hardcover collection:

So this collection, published in 2001, is supposed to be the definitive collection of the series. The best of the best. The first Neal Adams story (which is the second issue in the collection, Carmine Infantino's being the first) is identified in the table of contents as "newly inked especially for this edition by Neal Adams." Okay. But let's look at some samples of the work. Here's a page from the first issue in the collection, drawn by Carmine Infantino:

Here's one of the "newly inked" pages from the second issue reprinted in the collection:

And here's a page from the third story, drawn by Neal Adams but NOT "newly inked":

These issues were originally published in 1967. Issues 1 and 3 seem like they belong. Issue 2 seems wildly out of place, doesn't it? It wasn't just re-inked! It was redrawn, recolored, and even re-lettered by Neal Adams. It might be better artwork (although I personally don't prefer it), but it's jarringly OUT OF PLACE in this collection. It's so shockingly different than ALL of the other issues in the collection that, for me at least, it ruins the integrity of the entire book. For the record, here's what the second issue looked like in its earlier version BEFORE it was "newly inked," followed by the "newly inked" version to the right so you can compare for yourself and see how extremely different it became:

Which one would flow better with the pages from issues 1 and 3 above? The "newly inked" version is ridiculously different. I wouldn't have liked it if he'd redrawn and recolored the entire book, but at least it would have been consistent. As it is now, it's a horribly uneven looking collection.

I hope DC has learned from this mistake (although, Neal Adams has apparently done something similar with the Batman books reprinting his work). It literally disgusts me. I think it's far, far worse than the modifications George Lucas made to the Star Wars trilogy. Am I wrong? Am I overreacting?

1 comment:

Patrick Joseph said...

I do agree. I just picked this book up a couple of days ago as a sale item for $32.50. I've been considering the book at the $75 price for the five years it has been in print.

Anyway, in all this time, I had never read that the work was overhauled like this. I can understand Adams cringing at his early work, and wishing it had been inked by him. However, to actually redraw it seems like a horrible waste of time, and a little bit insulting to the reader.

Anyone buying this book is, most likely, interested in comics history and accurate archival representation of historical work. I know what Neal's modern work looks like, and was more interested in seeing where he came from.

Thanks for reveiewing the book.