Dennis (Denny) O’Neil (1939~2020)

“Make me laugh. Make me cry. Tell me my place in the world. Lift me out of my skin and place me in another. Show me places I have never visited and carry me to the ends of time and space.”
–Dennis O’Neil

Dennis O’Neil pictured with his ‘DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics’

I was very sad to hear the news today of the passing of Dennis (Denny) O’Neil. I got to know his work back in the late 1980s when I started buying comic books. At that time, O’Neil was editor of the two main Batman titles: Batman and Detective Comics. I used to buy them regularly. I remember being excited to hear that a new Batman title was going to launch in November 1989. That title was Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. Denny O’Neil wrote the opening five-part story: Shaman.

Holy time-slip, Batman! This story was published just over thirty years ago and I can still remember parts of it. It features a young Bruce Wayne mountain climbing in Alaska. He suffers a fall and is rescued by a native American shaman. The shaman looks after Bruce and tells him a story about how the bat got its wings. It is set before Bruce takes on the mantle of the bat and starts fighting crime. I wish I still had my physical copies, but what can you do.

In Legends of the Dark Knight #50 (September 1993), Denny O’Neil and artist Bret Blevins present a story of Batman’s earliest encounter with the Joker. According to the DC page, this is a loose adaptation of some of the events from the very first issue of Batman. It also alludes to Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke. I picked up a digital copy of the issue and enjoyed reading it again; the first time in 27 years! I love this panel below showing Batman bursting through a mirror to confront the Joker.

“Images” by Dennis O’Neil, Legends of the Dark Knight #50

If I were to recommend some of Denny O’Neil’s work, I would highlight his run on Batman and Detective Comics from the 1970s. Especially the stories he did with Neal Adams drawing the Dark Knight. The O’Neil and Adams run on Batman is still talked about today.

Batman: Tales of the Demon (1991) collects the earliest stories featuring Ra’s al Ghul, the villainous creation of Denny O’Neil. These stories are pulp adventure classics with a real 1970s feel. They introduce Ra’s al Ghul’s beautiful daughter Talia, as well as shed some light on the mysterious Lazarus Pit. In “The Demon Lives Again” story (Batman #244), there is an iconic scene of a masked, bare-chested Batman sword fighting with Ra’s al Ghul in the desert. Brilliant stuff!

Below are a couple of volumes of black-and-white reprints of some of the best 1970s Batman stories. I bought these editions back in 1989. They were published in the UK by Titan Books around the same time Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was being released on the silver screen. If you can find a copy of them anywhere, I urge you to pick them up.

I hope this brief post on the late, great Dennis O’Neil inspires you to read some of his comic book writing. I’ve heard great things about his run on the DC Comics title The Question from 1986 to 1990. Also, his twelve-issue run on The Shadow from the early 1970s.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Dennis (Denny) O’Neil (1939~2020)

  1. Oh man, what a huge loss. Shaman was actually one of the first Batman stories that I read before becoming a full-on comic book reader too. I was amazed by the scope of the story, how it wasn’t some silly story with POW and PING and BANG like in the Adam West era. It really changed my view on comics in general quite instantly. There’s still plenty of great stories by him that I have yet to read though, e.g. the Shadow story you mention here. I even read a Batman/The Shadow crossover at some point in the past years too. No wonder he worked on both characters! Thanks for sharing, Graham.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I want to read the Batman/The Shadow crossover, too. It’s cool that you’ve read Shaman before. I’ve heard that DC are going to release collected editions of the original Legends of the Dark Knight series. It would be nice to see O’Neil’s Shaman reprinted in high quality. Plus his Batman “Venom” story–another classic. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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