Dennis O’Neil, Legendary Batman Writer and Editor, Has Died

Dennis O’Neil, the  legendary writer and editor of the Batman line of comics at DC Comics has died at the age of 81. The family says that he died peacefully at home of natural causes. Virtually all of the aspects of the Dark Knight  that we know from contemporary pop-culture and films can be attributed to O’Neil.

O’Neil’s stewardship of the Batman books in the 70s and 80s steered the character away from the campy characteristics that were a vestige of the hugely popular1960s  Batman ABC TV Show.

DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer & Publisher, Jim Lee, said in a Tweet, “RIP Denny O’ Neil—one of visionary architects of DC Comics who helped revive Batman in the 1970’s and remains my favorite Green Lantern writer to date. Through his editing and writing, Denny was one of the earliest writers whose work and focus on social issues pushed comics.”

Legendary comics writer Chris Claremont (The Uncanny X-Men) wrote on Facebook: “OMG😢 Denny O’Neil has passed. Talk about a gut-punch. Not sure I can think about this right now, need time to…well, think. I don’t want it to be true, any more than I did Stan’s passing. To say I’ll miss him, that I enjoyed his work, that I learned from him-such complete cliches. But true nonetheless. Thanks to him & Neil, to me as a young reader-writer, the Bat became great. Rest well, my friend. You helped set standards I’ll always try to meet, and reader will always enjoy!”

Superstar comics writer Brian Michael Bendis reminded us that O’Neil wrote the definitive DC Comics book on comic-book writing, called naturally, The DC Comics Guide to Comic Writing, on FB saying, “#ripdennyoneil he literally wrote the book @dccomics @thedcnation.”

 

According to Games Radar, “O’Neil was best known for his work on Batman, which included writing Batman, Detective Comics, and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, as well as editing DC’s Batman titles from 1986 to 2000. He, editor Julius Schwartz, and artist Neal Adams are credited for guiding the Dark Knight back to his darker roots after a period of campiness brought on by the success of the 1960s Batman TV series. During his time on Batman, he created/co-created Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, Leslie Thompkins, Azrael, and Richard Dragon; he was also involved in the revitalization of the Joker and Two-Face as modern DC villains, and oversaw the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin.”

 

Along with Neal Adams, O’Neil’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow series paired “them up as best friends and “hard-traveling heroes” who ventured the country righting wrongs while exploring complex issues of politics and social justice – one of the first comic book runs to do so in a nuanced way.”

He also made Green Arrow’s sidekick Roy Harper/Speedy a junky.

Greg Guggenhiem who co-created and was a show runner on The CW hit that launched the DC/CW universe Arrow didn’t mince words calling O’Neil “a titan among titans,” in an interview with ComicBook.com.  He also said  that he sees the late writer and editor’s legacy in virtually every DC and Marvel comic published. And, yes, he acknowledged the profound effect that O’Neil’s take on characters like Batman and Green Arrow had on Arrow. “2020 just keeps taking from us. Today, it’s the man who created the modern day incarnation of Batman. A legendary writer. A titan among titans. It’s impossible to overstate his contributions to comics, and it’s equally impossible not to see their effects in every page DC and Marvel publish. And, of course, it goes without saying that there is no Arrow if there were no Denny O’Neil. Rest in peace.”

O’Neil and Adams’ contributions to the Green Arrow mythology have been acknowledged by Guggenheim and others involved in the show repeatedly since it launched. Green Lantern/Green Arrow helped establish Oliver Queen as a political firebrand, a characteristic that ultimately led to the story in Arrow where Ollie briefly became the mayor of Star City. He also helped reshape Batman in the ’70s, bringing the character back from the campy, silly version seen in the Adam West show and setting the stage for the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films whose aesthetic helped shape the look and feel of Arrow‘s world.

Industry legend Jim Salicrup wrote, “Very sorry to hear that Denny O’Neil has died. I can’t help thinking that whenever such similar comicbook greats have passed away over the last couple of decades that one of the most eloquent speakers at the various memorials reading very well-written remembrances, was Denny. It’s too bad he can’t speak at his own memorial. RIP, Mr. O’Neil. (Photo, from left to right, me, Denny, and Jack C. Harris.).”

But perhaps the most moving social media post came from former DC Comics president, Editor-in-Chief, and longtime fan Paul Levitz who wrote:

Denny’s gone, brought social conscience to comics. He was a journalist at heart, and knew his obit would have Batman in the lede, but I think he’d have been prouder of this way of looking at his life. Not that he was the first, much less the only one, but damn it he was the loudest. Not personally, he wasn’t a shouter. But the stories he told and edited screamed for justice for the causes that mattered to him. From GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW to SEDUCTION OF THE GUN, and in subtle moments as well as the loud ones, he set the standard for giving a damn.

He was a teacher, maybe the best of his generation teaching writing and editing in comics. He taught me copy editing, and how to parse my dialogue for comics to be effective. His disciples filled the field.

He was the most economical of writers, communicating with his collaborators in the briefest of art directions but getting great work from them, offering tight dialogue that was precisely on point.

He was a philosopher, searching for ways to make the world better…even exploring how a new religion might be necessary for a time when it was no longer about man mastering the Earth, but learning to live in harmony with it.

And having buried the lede, he made Batman what he is, writing the stories and editing others that set the tone for the post-camp Dark Knight on through everything that Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan leaned on.

Denny got a second lease on life from his marriage to MariFran, and they shared amazing years until her passing. Once she was gone, it was only a matter of time until he followed.

This is the second of my poker buddies to cash in their chips in about a month. He lived a full life, was shocked at the recognition he achieved, and leaves behind his son Larry, with whom he shared many personal and professional joys.

But most of all, and ever so relevant at a moment like this, he taught us that we could…no, we should…damn it, we must use our podiums as writers, editors and teachers to push the world to become a better, more just place.

 

Rest in peace good sir.