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Denny O’Neil at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival {photo credit Luigi Novo}

Bad news, Bat-Fans: Denny O’Neil, one of the major writers of modern comics, passed away Thursday at the age of 81. Dennis J. O’Neil was born May 3, 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. He died June 11, 2020 . In between he wrote a LOT of stories, and won several awards, although not as many as he deserved.

O’Neil was best known for his work on Batman, but over the course of a long career career as a comic book writer and editor, he worked on a variety of projects, including Green Arrow, Rawhide Kid, Millie the Model, Dr. Strange, and Wonder Woman. He wrote comic book adventures, TV scripts (including the final episode of Logan’s Run), newspaper columns, and novels.

O’Neil created or co-created many characters for DC and Marvel: Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, Leslie Thompkins, Azrael, Richard Dragon, Obadiah Stane, Lady Deathstroke, and Madame Web. He was responsible for drastic changes to other characters, including Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and Speedy.

{image via DC}

It was O’Neill, working with editor Julie Schwartz and artist Neal Adams, who restored Batman to being the Dark Knight of Gotham after the campiness of the Sixties TV show. He also introduced a grittiness into other characters, while turning the story lines away from the abstract threat of superpowered bad guys and toward rampant social injustice., The effort to make superheros more relevant offered O’Neill the opportunity to do stories like the one where he made Speedy, Green Arrow’s youthful ward and sidekick, a drug addict, thus forcing Green Arrow and his friend Green Lantern to go up against the drug problem plaguing the United States instead costumed supervillains.

O’Neil wasn’t shy about deconstructing the superheros he wrote for. O’Neil pushed Tony Stark off the wagon so that Stark’s friend and personal pilot, Jim Rhodes, was obliged to put on Iron Man’s armor and replace him as a superhero, It was also O’Neil who robbed Wonder Woman of her powers and uniform, and shoved both her and J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, out of the Justice League. By pushing the characters out of their safe spaces, he made his characters – and comic books in general – more human and accessible.

He was graduated from St. Louis University, and served honorably in the U.S. Navy before becoming one of the most important comic book writers of the late 20th century,

We offer our condolences to his widow, Marifran O’Neil, and his son Lawrence O’Neil. If you would like to share some memories of Denny O’Neil or his work, we invite you to do so in the comments below.

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Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.

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