Deadman Changed Everything for DC Comics

Deadman was a massive creative change for DC Comics in the 1960s.

Neal Adams is returning to Deadman for the first time since 1967 in a new series beginning in November. When DC first published Deadman, the character was a uniquely flawed hero. Boston Brand was an arrogant aerialist who was murdered while performing a daring trapeze stunt. Brand was brought back to life as Deadman and used his power of possession to help solve his own murder.

Deadman was a different type of character when compared to DC’s stalwart perfect heroes like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, and the rest of the Silver Age DC pantheon. Deadman was more monster than hero and existed in a tragic unlife. When Neal Adams took over the character for the dead hero’s second appearance, Deadman became even more darkly flawed. Deadman was a far cry from the groovy heroes and super pets DC usually presented in the late 1960s, and would have been right at home at Marvel Comics, a company that made its mark in the fan world by presenting deeply flawed heroes that were, in some cases, essentially altruistic monsters. We talked to Adams about the Marvel influence on Deadman and the philosophies of DC and Marvel in the Silver Age.

“You have to understand,” Adams said. “It was Jack Kirby and Stan Lee that allowed the era of the imperfect hero to happen. They essentially said, ‘Here’s the gauntlet, pick it up.’”

As far as DC’s internal reaction to Deadman, Adams remembers, “Julie Schwartz was one of the first to see the difference between DC and Marvel.” Schwartz was a legendary editor at DC who spearheaded the revival of characters like Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman and also edited the Batman books during the Silver Age. In addition, Schwartz was a literary agent to some of the greatest names in science fiction and responsible for most of the DC greatness of the ’50, ’60s, ’70s, and beyond.

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“Julie was no fool…DC Comics had characters that always were goody two shoes,” Adams informs. “They were good before they became heroes, they were good after they became heroes. The Flash worked in a police lab. They were starched shirt nice guys.”

“Over at Marvel,” Adams continues. “They weren’t doing super heroes, they were doing Stan’s five plots like Mogog the GogGog who ended up being tiny…stuff like that. Fin Fang Foom with the diaper. He would do little short stories and magician stories.”

That changed with the arrival of Jack Kirby.

“Jack took Stan’s monsters and turned them into heroes,” Adams says. “Even Spider-Man let his uncle die before he became a hero. Doctor Strange was exactly as described. [they] weren’t only flawed, they were bad guys. Turning them into heroes seemed impossible, but Jack and guys like Steve Ditko did it. Essentially, all the Marvel guys were flawed while all the DC guys were shiny heroes. So someone like Deadman… Julie [Schwartz] spearheaded all that and Deadman was part of all that. With Julie, DC evolved.”

It’s always amazing to hear stories like this from guys like Adams who were at the ground floor of comic book history. Indeed, characters like Deadman and later characters like Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing broke the DC model and set the foundations for the Bronze Age and beyond.

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Deadman #1 arrives on November 1st.

Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!