Getting Reality Right, by Dennis O’Neil

Dennis O'Neil

Dennis O'Neil was born in 1939, the same year that Batman first appeared in Detective Comics. It was thus perhaps fated that he would be so closely associated with the character, writing and editing the Dark Knight for more than 30 years. He's been an editor at Marvel and DC Comics. In addition to Batman, he's worked on Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the Question, The Shadow and more. O'Neil has won every major award in the industry. His prose novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Denny lives in Rockland County with his wife, Marifran.

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6 Responses

  1. Russ Rogers says:

    It’s my understanding that certain drugs create physiological changes, especially in the brain. So, whereas initially using or experimenting with a drug might be a consequence of Nature versus Nurtrue (and we can debate until the cows come home how much of a persons personality flaws can be attributed to which), a DRUG ADDICT has to deal with real physical and mental shifts brought on by the drug. Withdrawal symptoms aren’t just psychosomatic. Dependencies are real. Drugs can be insidious.

    It’s unrealistic to ask people who have been physically altered and have an altered mind-state to "just say no." In many cases, without some outside intervention, they just can’t. They aren’t physically or mentally capable. At a certain point it’s not a failing of genetics but the success of the drug. We’ve built the drug too well.

    Yes, some people are affected by drugs more than others. Some people have predispositions toward certain addictions. Big deal. We don’t tell people who have allergies that they should just get over sneezing. Or that their allergies are some defect in their personality or genetics. The fact is, you aren’t allergic to something until you get what is called a "precipitating dose" of the allergen. You can go through life with a predisposition toward a shellfish allergy, but if you never eat a shrimp, you will never get allergic.

    I remember reading "Snowbirds Don’t Fly" when I was a kid. I borrowed the comics from a friend. It’s been more than thirty years since I read those issues of Green Lantern and Green Arrow. There a certain scenes, images and bits of that story that stand out vividly in my head. It made an impact.

    Did that story keep me from experimenting with drugs and messing up my life? No. But that story kept me from experimenting with heroin! So kudos to you, Denny.

    Should our super-heroes exemplify what is BEST in all of us. Yes. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have flaws, failings or even genetic predispositions toward allergies or addiction. Frankly, it’s Bruce Wayne’s torment over the death of his parents that makes him interesting and believable. Only a tortured soul could be that driven. It’s how characters deal with problems that make them heroes.

    I can think of three times that a hero has been portrayed as an addict. I’m sure there are many more. But only three stand out in my head. Speedy was a heroin junkie. (Not a speed addict as his name implies.) Tony Stark is an alcoholic. And Batman has been addicted to Venom (which I’ve always imagined as a combination of speed and performance enhancing drugs like steroids).

    Why haven’t there been more superhero stories about steroids and performance enhancing drugs? I would think that somebody as insecure as Guy Gardner would have wrecked his liver or have arthritis or something from all the stuff I assume he’s injected to maintain an edge.

    Fictional stories can’t portray perfectly or accurately all the nuances and complexities of drug addiction. But that doesn’t mean the stories should be avoided.

    In "Snowbirds Don’t Fly," Speedy overcomes his addiction. This is his triumph. It’s part of what makes him a hero. But as I recall, the real hero of that story was Black Canary, who just used her compassion to save one lost soul, when the rest of the world, including the boy’s mentor, had turned away. She sets the example.

  2. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    The speed of light is a fact, or as close to a fact as science can get. So too the measurement of gravity acceleration as defined by "g", the formula for the area of a circle and the adhesive properties of Mary-Ann's pancake syrup. (ok, the last one's still under debate)But the proper treatment of addiction? Now we're straying from fact and into the realm of "educated opinion". It's a challenge to get the "facts" right. Also, as soon as you try to do a story about Hot Topic X, you run the risk of upsetting people who disagree with your chosen position, and just plain turning off people who are sick of hearing about said topic.Here's a part of an interview I did with Jim Shooter some years back. The question was initially about the apocryphal "There are no gays in the Marvel Universe" quote, but turned into Shooter's philosophy on how to tell "topical" stories in comics. A brief snippet: "I used to just tell guys, if you do a good story, and inherent in that story is any point about the human condition, that's good. That's called "Content", I like it. But if you set out to do a story that's really about your political point of view, I don't want it. "I don't feel the need to have "real life issues" in my superhero comics, if only because I consider them to be "escapist literature". Personally, "Very Special" issues and episodes initially turn me off, unless the writer has proven to me that they can entertain me first, and educate me second. Michael Moore usedto be able to do that; he's since become far too full of himself the remember that he's an entertainer and not a preacher. Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier work their political beliefs into Groo with a sledgehammer, but the book is so entertaining I don't mind the parable. I think the single best weavers of "educational tales that entertain first" working today are the folks at Big Idea, creators of Veggie Tales. Say what you will about the Bible and its teachings, these guys manage time after time to deliver screamingly funny material that perfectly delivers the messages they're trying to get across. The Jonah movie is magnificent, and it's a more accurate and detailed adaptation of the Jonah story than any I've ever seen, even with the catastrophic irrational fixation on cheese curls. And their second film, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, doesn't mention Christ ONCE…just like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe never did.I hasten to add, I've never had issue with either your topical work, or that of our own Mr. Ostrander; you've both been weaving the difficult stuff into your work expertly, and without crossing the line to preaching. But AFAIC, if a creator never bothered to touch on Topics Of Importance once in their career, and just kept it to entertainment, I wouldn't mind at all.

    • Lord Snooty says:

      Can I ask what are "Real life issues" ??? as I remember a comic from DC called Hawkworld where Hawkwoman/girl dated a person of a differant colour and thought nothing of it until two months later when the letter page lighted up !!! and never understood why !!! so was Mr Ostrander playing with "real life issues" ?? or was it just small minded people unwilling to think ??

      • John Ostrander says:

        Hawkwoman WOULD date a person of a different color and not think anything of it because she was from a different planet. They had their own issues but color wasn't one. It doesn't mean it wouldn't be an issue in our society especially at the time the story was published. For some, it still would be. That's a "real life issue".

    • Osbo says:

      Just to update you, there have been a few marvel-side. Morrison's run on "X-Men" dealt with "Kick" (though not nearly as sensitively as O'Neal dealt with Speedy), "Ultimate X-Men" introduced steroid dependency in its version of Collossus, "Young Avengers" has a character who'd been addicted to MGH – a fictional steroid in the Marvel universe – which unfortunately was dealt with in a quick fashion, and I'd like to see if he still goes through withdrawal and struggles with it all.

  3. Vinnie Bartilucci says:

    It was the different mindset of the Thanagarians that made Hawkworld so interesting. I recall an issue where Katar Hol casually mentioned to two Earth ladies he was dining with that he was a virgin. Totally unembarassed about it, since it wasn't a taboo subject to him. The two ladies, of course, saw him as upspoiled territory (and in those just exposed to AIDS days, a "safe lay") and were instantly attracted. And he didn't catch on to it at all.I commented on it on the Compuserve boards, and the writer of the series asked me to write in to the comic wth the comment, as he thought it rather cogent. This started my bright but short career as a letterhack.As for the writer, well, god only knows where he ended up…