Legendary ‘Batman’ Writer And DC Comics Editor Denny O'Neil Dead At 81

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Jeremy Blum
·5 min read
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Denny O’Neil, a legend in the comic book industry who worked for both DC Comics and Marvel as an editor and writer, died Thursday at the age of 81 from natural causes.

O’Neil was born in 1939 and previously worked as a reporter in Missouri before penning a series of articles about the comic book industry in the mid-1960s that led to a career at Marvel and then at DC.

Over the course of more than three decades, O’Neil worked at both publishers, writing and overseeing stories starring a wide range of superheroes, from Superman to Doctor Strange.

O’Neil’s most famous comic contributions, however, arguably came in the 1970s, when his work with artist Neal Adams revived Batman as a grim and brooding detective. O’Neil’s take ignored the character’s then-popular campy image as defined by the 1966 “Batman” television show starring Adam West in favor of a vibe that “channeled the zeitgeist of the times and brought to life a darker, more evocative yet grounded take on Batman,” Jim Lee, DC Comics’ chief creative officer and publisher, said in a statement Friday.

O'Neil was widely regarded as a revolutionary writer within the comic book medium. (Photo: DC Comics)
O'Neil was widely regarded as a revolutionary writer within the comic book medium. (Photo: DC Comics)

In addition to Batman, O’Neil and Adams redefined the superheroes Green Arrow and Green Lantern in the 1970s, pairing the two in a series that dealt with “topics that were formerly taboo in comics, including drug addiction, racism, and other social ills,” according to DC’s statement.

O’Neil and Adams were also responsible for the character of John Stewart, an alternate Green Lantern widely regarded as DC Comics’ first Black superhero.

O’Neil retired in 2001, though he would occasionally take on projects involving the characters he had shaped for more than 30 years, including the novelization of the 2006 film “Batman Begins.”

Tributes to O’Neil poured in across social media Friday as news of his death went public. Comic collaborators called him everything from a “visionary architect” to a man who had a “luminous career.”

Many ardent comic readers also took to social platforms to share their own memories of the stories that O’Neil had given them.

Particular appreciation was shown for O’Neil’s willingness to tackle race relations in comics, as evidenced by a widely shared series of panels from 1970′s “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” issue 76, in which a Black man confronts Green Lantern — an intergalactic space cop — and accuses him of saving all skin colors across the universe except for Black ones.

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