Denny O'Neil has passed away. A superb writer, masterful editor, and one of the smartest people in the business, Denny was also a truly good guy.
When I started in comics, there were certain editors who had my respect the instant I walked in the room, simply because of who they were, what they'd accomplished. Denny O'Neil was one of those editors. He was among the first editors I worked with at Marvel and, despite the fact that I was still very much a newbie, always treated me with respect, as an equal. (Even though I was far from that at the time!) How fortunate I was to learn from one of the very best.
Although I can't claim close friendship, I continued to work with Denny, on multiple projects, over the years (I even got to be his editor on a Flash Gordon anthology I put together for the short-lived Ardden Entertinment line), and I admired him both as a creative force, who had a massive impact on the world of comic books, and a human being.
A tremendous loss. Safe travels, Denny.
I was fortunate enough to meet Denny O'Neil twice, once at the Baltimore Comic Con and once at the East Coast Comic Con. Each time he had long lines of fans, and even though he was well into his 70's, he took the time to speak to the fans and share stories about the comics they were bringing for him to get signed.ReplyDelete
The last time I met him was May 2019. Before I stopped in his line, I got the chance to meet Ann Nocenti (my 2nd all-time favorite writer on Daredevil behind only Frank Miller). I gave her a copy of Bizarre Adventures #32 to sign, and she told me that the issue was her first published work, and it was Denny O'Neil who gave her the chance to write a story.
Batman existed before Denny O'Neil, but he wasn't the character I know and love until Denny O'Neil got the chance to work on him.
Daredevil existed before Denny O'Neil, but he wasn't the character I know and love until Denny O'Neil got the chance to work on him.
Green Arrow existed before Denny O'Neil, but he wasn't the character I know and love until Denny O'Neil got the chance to work on him.
Green Lantern existed before Denny O'Neil, but he wasn't the character I know and love until Denny O'Neil got the chance to work on him.
I will miss seeing him at shows...I will miss his influence on creative talent..I will miss his eye for new talent...but I will always be grateful for his contributions.
Thank you Denny!
And thank you, George, for sharing your memories of Denny and his work.Delete
Jeez, how many comic legends are gonna leave us?ReplyDelete
When I was in my teens and early 20s, I was absolutely enamored with the 70s in comics, and the creators there in. Naturally, you get to Denny O'Neil.
Don't forget his seminal run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow began almost 15 years before I was even born. Still, I loved those comics. They weren't dated. Okay... the slang was, but not the stories or characters.
In a very real way, I think he was the true successor to Stan Lee. Not only in being able to so skillfully craft stories and edit talent, but how they wrote.
Yes, O'Neil scripted and Stan had the Marvel method, but they met in the most important place, they wrote people. They wrote characters that felt like people, starting at the people and building everything up from there.
Like Stan on Captain America, when it came to Batman and Green Arrow he didn't create them, but he may as well have. All three were so drastically altered from what had come before, it was some thing new... and that stuck as teh default.
Green Arrow under O'Neil's pen stopped being a Batman ripoff in Robin Hood's clothes, and became his own unique character. A character that stood out and was unlike anything before. A template it feels weird if he isn't written in O.Neils mold.
He made the Batman a MAN. Starting in the 70s, the character didn't feel like a symbol, but a person. He wasnlt a campy joke. He wasn't a Shadow rip-off. He wanlt an attempt to ply off some of Superman's popularity. HE was a man who lived and loved, and felt.
As editor he kept that going until he stepped down. I don't think it was a coincidence that as soon as he stepped down Batman became a symbol again... and often a little crazy.
I don't think that it comes our of nowhere, I think it comes from from his job before comics as a reporter. I think that colored a lot of his life in comics was colored by this.
Most people would probably look to his habit of commenting on social issues as a sign, and... sure. However, there is an unwritten rule of journalism, that people like reading about people. I think that prepped him.
Side note - He was the first writer to move Ben Urich over to Spider-man's cast. A character I love, and I wonder if may have been inspired by O'Neil.
I mean, one of his best scenes of a Batman comic was in the 90s, and didn't include Batman. In the story VENOM in Legends of the Dark Knight, a small scene has always resonated with me, and with people I talked to who read it years earlier than I.
In it, the general developing the drug is ashamed of his son for being a gentle soul. The son goes down to the beach and begins to innocently flirt and talk to a local girl. They devlop feelings for each other. Then his father tests the drug on his son, who gets to rough and kills the girl.
The horror isn't that he killed someone, it is that this character we saw being belittled by his father for being kind, who we saw have his kindness then rewarded by a member of a people his father looked down on,... a potential happiness and breaking of a cycle. Then, he was turned into what his father wanted, and angry rough man who destroyed what he held dear.
This was a minor character. IN an era where every type of media's fiction knows the tropes but doesn't want to put in the character work, that was O'Neil's specialty. Remember him for that.
Some of the character work I will always remember is the Question, A fascinating take on the character that did not last. People forget that was one of DC's 10 pm drama books, that was aimed for a more mature audience. O'Neil did not buckle either, he took the challenge and succeeded, all through examining the character.ReplyDelete
Yet, I think the best symbolism for O'Neil;s work came from his Daredevil run, something people forget he even did. First, he wrote some of my favorite stories of the character.
One that stands out is the Death of Heather Glenn. It is... amazing. It is atmospheric and tragic, and just painfully human.
However, somehow that loss is forgotten whenever lists the tragedies of Matt Murdock. A tragedy that was masterfully written calling on Matt's own failings, himself not believing her calls for help before she kills herself.
You mention the story, fans remember, but it is never brought up. It is rarely if ever addressed again. people remember O'Neil for a few milestones, but forget how consistently great he was.
Only Denny O'Neil could write one of the most acclaimed runs in history, and create the last iconic Batman villain, and STILL be underappreciated.
Batman the Animated Series and Batman Begins both owe what they were to O'Neil, BTAS especially was his Batman. But he never got to get the credit
He had a very unique relationship with Batman, the most popular superhero in this country. His last statement on the character was Detective Comics #1000, and it could not have been a better one.ReplyDelete
It is a retelling of the first Leslie Tompkins story, one of teh best Batman stories ever, but Batman just beats the holy hell out of a mugger. Leslie tears into him, just really laying into the guy.
This was controversial, but it was saying, "this is what Batman seems to have become at times, and it isn't good. He needs a heart and a soul." A message I hope Batman writers across genres take to heart.
Speaking of Denny and the Bats, I remember a story he told in an interview once. He talked about how at one point in the 70s he was really battling alcoholism, and could only get sober enough every month to write Batman.
First, he should be commended as a man for overcoming an addiction. That is not any easy thing.
Second, that he was so professional that even when he was knee-deep battling his demons he still met every deadline.
Third, He loved comics so much that he find clarity.
FOurth, he overcame an addiction and pushed forward to help shape a generation of writers.
and... Oh yeah, HE CREATED DC'S BLACK SUPERHERO, John Stewart. He didn't just pull DC to the present with writing style, but with diversity.
While we are on the subject, can we stop saying he just wrote John as an "angry Black Man."?' Literally the second time we see John written by O'Neil the character has settled into the role of hero. No grand speeches.
Is it really so bad that a Black man in 1971, dealing with a racist Senator who was trying to fake an assassination attempt to pass racist laws, with a white superhero second guessing him every five minutes isn't just a stereotype for being angry. Especially since there was only one issue that had to have Green Arrow get some pages, to do it in?
Interestingly, I recently gave my mother my trade collecting the whole of O'Neil's first GL/GA run. When the run began in 1970 she was in her Sophomore or Junior of college. She lived through the times. Was involved in the protests of Vietnam. She read Superman as a kid, but not these issues while an adult, so there was no nostalgia. I was curious to hear her thoughts.
She finished it literally the day before O'Neil died. She also really enjoyed it. Giving the the things I pointed out, and my mother does not sugar coat things, so that is a pretty ringing endorsement for O'Neil. Especially since she had quite a bit to say about the stories.
It is awful that O'Neil died. However, maybe the timing made some strange cosmic sense. With all the Black Lives Matter protests, with people of all colors, it seems like he got to see people waking up and realizing the reality he wrote about 50 years ago was still around and living the reality he wanted.
I like to think that made Denny O'Neils last days, and I have know idea what they were like, at least a little happy.
R.I.P. Mr. O'Neil. If you can know anything, know your work meant something to me at least, and I wish I could have talked to you.
Thanks for the great stories... and using your platform both responsibly AND entertainingly.
A beautiful tribute, Jack. Thank you.Delete
Feel free to go through those three postsand let me know if any of it doesn't make any sense. I was kind of on a roll.Delete
If you don't mind I would like to ad something.
I saw in an interview once that when he redid Wonder Woman to be powerless and living int he city many feminists got angry. According to O'Neil, they said that they took the only truly powerful woman in comics and took it all away.
What was his response? That he absolutely understood what they were talking about. IN a time hen everyone is so reactionary about these kinds of things, lets remember a man who took the criticism and understood it.
Also, word on the street is that Denny O'Neil was an old Lefty. I don't know if that is true... but his writing gives dome credit to the claims.
Keeping that in mind, when he was writing Green Lantern/Green Arrow he didn't automatically make G.A. right. Sometimes he was shown to be too reactionary, even if right-headed. In the case of Roy Harper's addiction... outright wrong in his behavior.
Again... understanding character. However, also how to get a point across.
Oh, and also a forgotten Denny O'Neil contribution, he was the first to write the "Private Life of Clark Kent: feature in the Superman books.ReplyDelete
Again showing his understanding of character, and what was making Marvel work.
As someone who is a bigger Clark Kent fan than Superman, I really appreciate that addition to the mythos.
He also wrote some Dr. Strange comics after Stan Lee left and created a long forgotten character for Charlton called The Prankster. Probably his first creation., it was a one off character in a world that was a mix of Fahrenheit 451 and PKD's The Man who Japed.
Denny was a man of intelligence and integrity, as your Wonder Woman example makes clear.Delete
And I remember those Doc Strange stories! He was working over Ditko's plots, right? Imagine stepping into those shoes!
Great insights as always, Jack. Really enjoy your posts.Delete
Very cool that you had just shown your mother O'Neil's GL/GA work. Funny how the universe just falls into place like that sometimes. I had actually been thinking about O'Neil a bit myself lately. Recently read his entire ASM run for the first time and I've been re-reading KNIGHTFALL.
I started reading the Batman books regularly during the era with O'Neil as editor and I can't express how brilliantly he did his work there. There were so many books to choose from, each with their own distinct voice but forming a cohesive universe. And the Batman crossovers were some of the best the business has ever seen.
As far as the ASM run goes, it's interesting. For the most part I feel like Spider-Man is a character he didn't quite gel with. His ASM run isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination--I don't know if he's capable of writing badly--it just feels like he didn't have quite the same connection to Peter Parker as he did with other characters. Nothing wrong with that, sometimes the chemistry is just slightly off.
Now, all that said, there is a truly brilliant, haunting note Denny ended his run on. There was a running gag through most of his run (a pretty funny one, too) where Peter has a neighbor who keeps him up late at night with his awful country-western singing. Peter suspects it's the tall blonde guy who dresses the part, but it turns out to be a shy, Jewish man named Joseph Pincus.
In the final issue of O'Neil's run, Pincus gets a gig at a country-western bar and invites Peter to come. It goes about as well as you'd expect given what we already know of Mr. Pincus' singing. But when a nefarious and forgettable villain poisons the bar's liquor supply, everyone who drank it goes nuts and they're going to die within the hour. So the bartender begs Pincus to play some more music to calm the savage crowd.
And that's where things get really interesting. In the heat of the moment, Mr. Pincus (or Lonesome Pinky as he calls himself) sheds his country-western ambitions and finds a song that's deeply personal. The blues. He sings for nearly the entire hour, his voice going hoarse, which only makes his music more poignant.
The Spider-Man stuff is pretty standard, forgettable superhero fare. He finds the bad guy, takes him out, and gets the cure to the bar patrons.
But that's not the note O'Neil leaves on. His final ASM panel spotlights Mr. Pincus, traumatized by his experience, wondering if this was the best night of his life or the worst.
So this is all speculation, but like I said, I feel like O'Neil never quite connected with Peter Parker is in his writing. The supehero stuff is mostly standard fare and wrapped up neatly. But I think he does connect with the character of Mr. Pincus, the tortured artist who doesn't find his song until he abandons the kind of music he thinks he wants--the superficial trappings, if you will--and finds the rawness and vulnerability at his core.
And even though Mr. Pincus isn't Peter Parker, that's a very Peter Parker-ish quality. It's like O'Neil transferred that loneliness, loss and vulnerability onto the artist instead of the superhero. He found what meant the most to him and put it all out there and it works.
At least that's my take on it.
Never read that story, David. Thanks for filling us in.Delete
The first thing I ever worked with Denny on was Spider-related. I'd just started at Marvel, Denny was editing MARVEL TEAM-UP (his assistant was Mark Gruenwald) and I did an issue for him. As noted in the post above, just walking into the room with Denny O'Neil was pretty humbling. It was like working with Len Wein for the first time. You KNOW how brilliant this guy is and you want to shut your mouth and listen to what he has to say.
But Denny, as noted, always treated me as an equal, with respect, even when I was totally wet behind the ears. That alone speaks volumes about the man.
I'm glad you got the opportunity to work with O'Neil...clearly listening to him paid off!Delete
What an impressive legacy on every level.
I finally got a chance to pick up my comics this week, and one of them was Green Lantern 80th anniversary, which contained Denny O'Neil's final story.ReplyDelete
It is pretty good, and a very good closing to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories he had told.
I won't spoil, but it was a story where Hal helps Ollie with some issues. In 8 pages he created a story that acts as a rhyme to his first, and showed them as true friendship.
I would recommend.
Also, I have a theory that he may have accidentally been responsible for the creation of Luke Cage.
So, teh first African American superhero was Falcon, right.after his first story it was about half a year after he showed up again. Then about the same length until he returned again, and shared billing with Cap(tain America.
He was created in 1969. he got billing in 1972. After Green Lantern/Green Arrow was created.
I believe this paring for Cap was to create a similar idea as GL/GA. It wasn't quite the same thing, since Cap wasn't quite of the same sociological view as Hal, and didn't require coaxing on mankind's ability to do evil things. But still, it was the streetwise character joining the more traditional hero.
But, what does that have to do with Luke Cage?
Well, in 1970 O'Neil's run started. In 1971, Falcon joined Cap. In 1972 Stan Lee tells Archie Goodwin that Marvel needs a Black superhero to headline a book.
I posit the theory that Falcon was originally supposed to become a solo character in his own book, but in his rush to do something similar to O'Neil's run in the book he was writing.
So, to fill the plan Stan already had, to have the first Black Superhero have their own book he pushed the creation of a new hero to take the spot intended for the Falcon.
A fascinating theory. I wonder if there's anyone still alive that can confirm it...?Delete
Roy THomas... maybe. Fact is, only Stan may have ever known, and even before he died, he had a notabvly spotty memory.Delete
So, let us try to put things together ourselves.
First, no matter what, it is clear Stan was on the road to that one way or another.
By 1970 Stan had already co-created the Black Panther, an ally to the F.F. and brilliant scientist and superhero.
In his most popular book, he created Joe Robertson, a sober newsman, sort of mentor to Peter. Also, Prowler, who acted as a which was a sympathetic "villain" and abandoned his life of crime. Also, Jameson backed a candidate, until finding out he was a racist, and dropped his support immediately.
In daredevil there was Willie Lincoln, a vet blinded in Vietnam. HE became a sort of recurring character.
And of course... Falcon in Captain America.
It is important to note, at the time, these were three of Marvel's four most popular books. And Daredevil. Not to mention Al Harper in Silver Surfer #5. The first human who trusted the Surfer, and even said the prejudice he faced may have made him that way. Also ended up saving the word at the cost of his own life,
Now, we know Stan said Marvel needed a Black headlining character, but why not Black Panther? Well, he became the star of Jungle Action the next year, but he was primed to go in '72.
I believe,i t is because Stan knew that an African AMERICAN had to occupy the roll.
We don;t know how much guidance Stan gave to Goodwin, but Luke does have a few things in common.
Both are shown to be more community minded than many superheroes, looking to the people on the streets.
In both cases they opted for less fantastical. Remember, Falcon didn't even have wings at first, just a bird he hung out with. I assume... people did that a lot in the late 60s/early 70s...?
Perhaps the strangest element is that Stan ordered it,but didn't write the origin. He wrote the first story of Captain Marvel, and that was just to get the name. He wrote the first issue of She-hulk, and that was just for legal reasons.
It isn't like Stan wasn't writing either, he was just ending his Spider-man run. With the Marvel method, he clearly could have easily at least fleshed out an origin.
There was a clear turn around that was faster than expected. Possibly caused by John Stewart's creation, a little over six months earlier. Did he fear that the role he had staked out for Marvel would be usurped? Maybe.
IN the first two Falcon stories he notably did not stay with Cap, and preferred to find his pwn way in nth world. Not dissimilar to Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four, a decision that had just come to fruition as an ongoing in '69.
I think Stan's original plan was to get people asking for more Falcon, and then give his own series in 71 or so. However, the pairing with Cap, dine to have their own team of conventional and street-level, became too popular.
But, here is the real question, did Cap and Falc inspire O'Neil? The issue after Falcon's first story wrapped up, Cap went to a college campus, and refused to shut down protests, and drew a line between peaceful protestors and villains taking advantage.
Two issues after that started with Cap spending five pages lamenting about being out of place and the friction between the two generations, feeling kinship for both.
The question becomes, is it all cyclical. Did those issues inspire O'Neil to push for GL/GA. That in turn causing Stan to partner Cap with Falcon (shutting down his true plan?). Meanwhile O'Neil creates DC's first Black superhero, John Stewart, which makes Stan think a role he planned for Marvel as going to be usurped byt eh competition, so he quickly gave the order to create Luke Cage.
As I said before: fascinating.ReplyDelete
I wonder how all this history would have played out if Stan and Jack had spun the Panther off into his own book in 1968 when the Marvel line went through its big expansion?
Well, Lee and Kirby both clearly supported a more diverse comic book universe, but went about it in different ways. Lee was more aggressive in trying to put in Black characters who were interesting and/or contributions to what already was.Delete
Kirby's efforts with the likes of Black Vykin, Black Racer, and Flipper Dipper were a bit less... natural. His 70s Captain America also had some issues with how he wrote the Falcon. Not racist in any way, but still kind of awkward... and maybe a bit ignorant.
That could have been a difficult rope to walk, especially when you consider some of Kirby's views at the time involving Lee changing his ideas.... and they were frequently changes for the better.
There is also the social aspect of the time...
The Black Panther's had just recently become a thing, with a lot of wrong information about them swirling around. And having the character be African instead of African AMERICAN could have bee read as a "Separate but equal argument" or a :go back to Africa statement" I mean, there were no other foreign Marvel heroes. Or Black Panthers assuming it was calling them racial separatists.
I'm not saying they would be, because everything else the two did on the subject points away from those things, but that they could be seen that way.
However, one thing I DO KNOW would have happened is that some Gen Xers and Millennials would look back on it out of context and say it was "good intentioned, but ultimately racist," like has been done with John Stewart's first appearance, Lois Lane #106 (by the name WEIRD reference for a comic's title to make), and even the whole of Luke Cage at times. So... that would be fun.
The fact is, race in comics was and is an odd subject in comics, especially when looking back.
For example, Marvel and DC's first African America superheroes, John Stewart and Falcon respectfully, were both changed to have served military backgrounds when first adapted for wider audience (DCAU and MCU).
They even retconned it into John's history in the comics. So, now of the five best known African American superheroes (Black Panther isn't American)three are soldiers (War Machine was in the comics as well), one is on an adult oriented show and a framed for a crime (Luke Cage), and the other is known for being persecuted in allegories about prejudice (Storm). Not exactly expanding out here.
Seriously, why did John have to become a Marine? Did Bruce Timm just not think architects can be heroic?
Also kind of changed his personality to being a more typical military man.
I don't think anything sinister is intended, but its weird... right?
"The fact is, race in comics was and is an odd subject in comics, especially when looking back." I think we can modify that to say that "The fact is, race in AMERICA was and is an eternally difficult subject..." But I truly believe things will change. I think they are changing, right before our eyes.Delete
Interesting reflection re: the Black Panther. I never saw him in that way. And the movie made clear that most people of color see Wakanda not as a some "separate but equal" fantasy, but as something incredibly empowering. Which was clearly Stan and Jack's intention. They deserve so much credit for bringing T'challa to life.
I never thought of Wakanda that way either, I am just saying that people could read it that way. Keep in mind that was a recent movie. We are talking about if the book came out in 1966, that is only a decade after Brown V. Bored of Ed and two years after the Civil Rights Amendment.Delete
How people would react in volatile times to things is not always predictable. Or in non-volital times. In an issue of Dreadstar there is a letter that complains about the book being anti-catholic, and being part of a trend involving Moonshadow as antisemitic.
I wouldn't say America is the only place where race is complicated.
IN canada alone there i a lot of issues. Canada's Black population is only 3% of the population, but make up 9% of police fatalities. Black drivers are twice as likely to be stopped.
In Toronto they are 20 times more likely to be shot by the police. In Halifax six time more likely to be carded,
The Mounties were created to displace Indians, and to this day 1/3 of shootings of the organization.
If we want to go back in time, two Providences wanted to join the U.S., but didn't because they were reminded they would become opened up to the country's larger black population. There were also laws in Alberta to disadvantage Black homesteaders.
Like the U.S. there were schools to un-Indian Native American children, but UNLIKE the U.S. their students... well I won't type it here, but it is bad.
Europe is full of antisemitism, anti-Arab, and anti-Roma sentiment. There is still a lot of issues with Black and Asian populations in England.
That isn't even getting into how much they hate other groups of White people on the same continent. Okay... I guess it was getting into it a little with anti-Jewish
And lest you think it is only in White majority countries, 1 in 7 foreigners living in South Korea experience some form of racism.
Japan's Korean, but especially Brazillian population are treated terribly.
And of course, China and Japan also can have some issues with Black people... but U.S. influence has lessened that in Japan.
I think the truth is, in a lot of ways culturally we have advanced a lot than, say... the 60s. You know, like the day to day. Which is probably the more important, but the structural issues are what kind of got overlooked.
But that is just with people I know.
The U.S. is just known for throwing are scandals and sins in the front window to face... as Canadian columnist Gordon Sinclair wrote. SO, other country's issues tend to get overlooked.
But comics have a uniquely weird history with race... as well as the way other things are portrayed in the books.
Didn't think that take on Wakanda was how you felt, just that you were shining a light on how some people might interpret it. And of course racism is a global problem. I was just focusing on our country.Delete
Maybe comics have a uniquely weird history with EVERYTHING, since comics ARE uniquely weird!