Growing up in the 1970’s, starting out young, I would thrill to the old 1960’s Batman TV show. I’m pretty sure that Yvonne de Carlo’s Batgirl was my first ever TV crush, just barely before Lynda Carter showed up on Wonder Woman. Around that same time, though, mid to late 1970’s, I was (re)introduced to Batman in a wholly different way. An oversized collection titled “Batman’s Strangest Cases” that my parents bought for me brought stories like “The Demon of Gothos Mansion”, “A Vow from the Grave”, and “Red Water, Crimson Death”, amongst others, to my attention for the first time. I was astounded by the art, the stories, how dark it all was. They were scary and intense, and Batman was a badass! No puns, no quips, an amazing detective with off-the-chart physical capabilities. Those stories, while drawn by different artists, had one person in common: Denny O’Neil. I didn’t realize that until much later on, when I returned to comic books after a sabbatical of being “too grown up” for that sort of thing. That’s when I started paying attention to creators more than characters.
As I became more aware of creators, I found that Denny had been the one that had revolutionized Batman in many ways, steering him away from the camp and getting him back to the mystery man, world’s greatest detective, and dark roots of his creation. It was Denny O’Neil, also, who helped get Frank Miller brought on to DC, Frank Miller who would also re-revolutionize Batman with Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Denny wasn’t just confined to Batman, though. He changed the comics industry forever with Green Lantern / Green Arrow, especially with Issue # 85 where Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy was revealed to be a drug addict. Denny also created John Stewart, one of the greats of the Green Lantern Corps, the villain Ra’s al Ghul, his daughter Talia, and Jean-Paul Valley a/k/a Azrael, the man that would replace Bruce Wayne temporarily as Batman following the events of Knightfall, arguably the second most attended-to comics event of the 1990’s (after the Death of Superman, natch).
Still, you can find most all of that and more out in a Wikipedia entry. Here’s what really brings me here today. Just a few weeks ago, after concluding Tom King’s run on Batman, I asked a couple of comic-reading friends who they thought was the writer for the greatest Batman run of all time. Not just a story or even an arc, but who really had a crack at the Bat and made it his or her own. A few names were bandied about, but the first and the one ultimately agreed upon was Denny O’Neil.
Fast-backward, Baltimore Comic Con several years ago, I got the chance to meet Mr. O’Neil and get a few books signed. I, unintentionally, interrupted his lunch at his table. He was incredibly gracious and didn’t seem to mind at all. Amongst the books I got signed that day was his novelization of the aforementioned “Knightfall” story. It sits on my bookshelf, here, directly across from my office chair, and is one of my more prize possessions.
Denny O’Neil died a couple of days ago. On behalf of all of here at Beautiful, Silly, & Terrible Things, including myself, thank you Mr. O’Neil for sharing your vision, your creativity, and your amazing heart through your characters and stories, for being one of if not the best Batman writer of all time, and for being one of the truly nicest people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.
Rest in peace, sir.