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SYFY WIRE obituary

Denny O'Neil, legendary Batman writer and editor, dies at 81

By Matthew Jackson
Batman 241 cover

Denny O'Neil, the legendary writer and editor best known for his revitalizing run on Batman comics in the 1970s, died at his home on Thursday at the age of 81. O'Neil's family confirmed his passing to Newsarama.

Though his career actually began at Marvel Comics in the 1960s after he impressed Stan Lee with a writer's test, O'Neil's biggest impact on comics storytelling came when he landed at DC Comics in the late 1960s. After early work on books like Steve Ditko's new title Beware the Creeper, Justice League of America, and Wonder Woman, O'Neil began writing what would become a series of landmark stories for Batman in the early 1970s.

In the pages of both Batman and Detective Comics, O'Neil co-created new characters, revived old ones, and set a darker tone for the Dark Knight that's still credited today with moving the public image of the character away from the campy tone set by the 1960s Batman TV series. He co-created the iconic villain Ra's al Ghul alongside artist Neal Adams — who would become one of his most important collaborators — and breathed new life into supervillains like Two-Face and The Joker. To this day, tales like "Daughter of the Demon" and "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" rank among the most acclaimed and influential Batman stories of all time, and fans of the Caped Crusader still count O'Neil and Adams among the character's greatest creative forces.

But O'Neil's major contributions didn't stop with Batman. Together with Adams, he also worked to revitalize Green Lantern and Green Arrow, reinventing them as "hard-traveling heroes" who journeyed around the United States, where their conflicting political ideologies were free to clash over everything from racism to drug addiction. Though they don't necessarily carry the same impact today, O'Neil and Adams' efforts to infuse their superhero stories with real-world issues were a major step for mainstream comics at the time, and remain landmark issues in DC history.

But even that's not enough to sum up O'Neil's decades of contributions to superhero comics. During his time at DC he also wrote the now-classic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali story, then moved to Marvel to work on titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and serve as editor for a then-unknown Frank Miller's now-legendary Daredevil run. He eventually went back to DC and became the company's Batman editor, where he remained a key figure for more than a decade, overseeing stories like A Death in the Family and Knightfall. He wrote novels, scripted episodes of Superboy and Logan's Run, brought some of his own characters to life onscreen via Batman: The Animated Series, wrote The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, taught comics writing, and even became a supervillain himself, appearing in caricatured form as "The Perfesser" in the Batman: TAS comic book series The Batman Adventures. Just days ago, a story he wrote with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez appeared in DC's Joker 80th Anniversary 100 Page Super Spectacular.

Denny O'Neil was a creative force in comics for more than 50 years, and he leaves behind an immense and immensely influential body of work. He will be missed, and we will always remember him through his stories.