Author: 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.

Dennis O’Neil: Invisible Comic Books!

So look: we’re all part of the same whole, right? I mean, we can all trace our origins to the same big bang, between 13,000,000 and 14,000,000 million years ago, give or take a few calendar pages, so I shouldn’t have to perform mental/verbal gymnastics to convince you that radio drama has a relationship with comic book scripting, beyond the obvious, that both are what Stephen King calls story delivery systems.

But there may be a few gnarlys lurking in the crannies of bandwidth who present themselves as doubters. We shall let them continue gnawing on fish bones when I sweep you back some 68 (again giving or taking some of those pesky calendar pages — but much smaller calendar pages this time).

It’s me, there in the kitchen, standing on a chair so I can reach Mom’s white plastic radio which lived atop the refrigerator, also white and sometimes called the “icebox.” I was listening to – I was heeding – my programs. Superman. (Of course, Superman!) Captain Midnight. Buck Rogers. Tom Mix. (He was a cowboy, and of course we made room for cowboys.) These, and others I may be forgetting were after school shows, broadcast on weekdays between four and six.

I heeded them. Oh, yeah.

The radio stuff wasn’t all that was in my post-toddler portfolio. There were also the comic books and some weeks I got only one, largesse from Dad who picked it up along with milk for the family after Sunday Mass. Some weeks, though, I had a lot more than a single paltry comic to read. Every once in a while, often on a sunny afternoon, I collected my used comics, put them in a wagon and visited the homes of the other kid-comics readers in the neighborhood and, sitting on somebody’s porch, we’d trade: their used and maybe slightly torn comics for mine. Our books were never doomed to Mylar bags, to be hoarded like the contents of Uncle Scrooge’s vault. Our comics were only getting started! They were destined to extend their gifts of enchantment and delight into the future, to porches we had never seen and maybe even city blocks that would be new to us.

So, yes, I was a comics nerd before there were such things. But… except for the days when I went a’trading, I had only one new comic in a week. Pretty sparse diet of high adventure. But radio – Monday through Friday, exciting stories – and a bunch of them. Sure, they were continued but I didn’t mind that, and I didn’t know what the characters looked like (unless they also appeared in comics) but that was okay, too.

Better than okay. Not seeing the humans who belonged to the voices, I visualized them – you know, made them up in my head – and while I was at it, I imagined cars and planes and buildings and lots more. I imagined a world.

Pretty good training for a kid who would grow up to be a comic book writer.

Dennis O’Neil: The Big Fall Flick

Somewhere in the curly-edged annals of ComicMix – surely such annals must exist! – there must exist a piece I wrote…well, ya know, I’m not really sure when, exactly, I wrote it. A while ago, okay? My subject, or what I’ll assume was a crisp fall day, was how Labor Day has, gradually, over time, assumed the weight and character of what I think of as a real holiday – one that exists because it fulfills a need.

Christmas is a good example: light and fire and feasting combine to celebrate the return of the light after winter’s long gloom. Similarly, Easter: the return of planting season. Thanksgiving and the various fall harvest festivals: cutting and storing enough foodstuff to see the community through the forthcoming cold. All of these occasions and more are tied to nature’s rhythms and marked by change.

So how does Labor Day fit into all this? Well. A U.S. President named Grover Cleveland decided that we as a nation ought to take notice of the contributions of the American working men the blue-collar Joes who created “the new world.” First Monday in September. From now on – Labor Day!” Thus declareth the Prez!

The Prez’s timing was good. Early September: the kids who worked on farms where pretty much done with the summer’s chores. Any family that could afford vacations had probably taken them by the time the leaves began to change. And there were the Big Holidays to brace for. (Where the hell did we store those tree lights?)

Those of us who got graduation documents – that’d be most of us – has busy Septembers. New classes and, ergo, new schoolmates, some of whom just might be cute. New teachers. New clothes. New sports. Streets spangled with decorations. Maybe some sliding and skating and all that other stuff.

And oh, let me not forget the television and the movies – the really honkin’ big films that seem to materialize in the hottest of summer and coldest of winter. Last year, the one we anticipated was Batman vs Superman and when I saw the name “Bill Finger” early in the credits, I thought this won’t be a complete waste of time. I’ll get some satisfaction from seeing Bill finally, after decades, get some of the credit due him. Then I watched the film.

This fall, I guess the Big Flick is Justice League. The story would seem to have some of the same narrative problems that beset Batman vs Superman. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, there’s some superhero stuff debuting/returning to the nation’s flat screened living room pals and that should suffice to keep us geeks from having withdrawal woes.

Dennis O’Neil: This Week

So there I was, rummaging through computerland seeking whatever might be interesting or amusing, and a news piece on Yahoo very briefly snagged my attention. Something about shooting and Las Vegas. Well, I didn’t have to read it because, even with such minimal information, I pretty much knew what it would tell me and I could get back to it later, which I did. Somebody with guns had massacred his fellow Americans.

Yep. Same old same old.

In the past, I’ve used this space to fulminate on the gun problem and I have really nothing to add. You could probably whip out your own fulmination, if you had a mind to. But don’t bother.

I did what a lot of you probably did, went about my day and eventually looked at the news channels and then the late-night talk shows and got as much lowdown on this particular atrocity as I’ll ever need. More, actually.

I found that what found most pertinent. Colbert pleaded with our lawmakers to do something… background checks, gun show licensing – something!

Meyers was edgier. He wants us to just stop kidding ourselves and tell the truth. A pattern has emerged from all the citizen gunplay. Somebody gets firearms and kills people. Then there’s a big fuss which wanes in a few news cycles and the gun lobby tells us that it’s too soon after the killings to discuss the matter and then somebody with a gun he or she shouldn’t have started firing… Same old. Meyers asks our politicians to please stop pretending that they’ll ever take meaningful action. It will always be too early to discuss guns and slaughters, so we should accept that this is the way things are and… I don’t know – go cry in a corner?

This is a scandalously short column and for that, I apologize. Next week we’ll get back to comics and maybe by then, I’ll actually feel like writing.

Dennis O’Neil: Who’s Reality Is This?

Look, over there – isn’t that Charlie Brown’s pal Linus, belly crawling through the pumpkin patch? No, not Linus, but somebody who’s awfully familiar. Let’s get closer and… Rats! Do you believe that?

It’s me, looking the way I look in photographs Mom used to keep in a chest of drawers – that is, like a skinny eight-year-old. And now I’m getting up, rising from the pumpkin patch like some pagan deity.

The question is, where will I be when I’m finally on my feet? Oh, the suspense is killing us! Okay, okay, maybe not killing us, but… I don’t know. Making us feel queasy?

Table that for now and have a look around. I’ve been here before, but when?

And suddenly I’m gobsmacked! Because I’m in the small store Dad and I stopped at after Sunday Mass that sold bread and milk and stuff like that and comic books and –  omygosh!, isn’t Superman #96? That’ll be worth a pretty penny on the collectors’ market.

Except that it won’t. In this reality, there are no collectors and so in this realty Supes 96 is worth the dime that is the asking price of most comics and… just exactly what is going on here?

The faithful among you may recall that some weeks back I mentioned “browsing” and sort of half-suggested that I might revisit the subject. Welcome to Revisitation Junction. And here we find young Dennis in progress, reaching for a copy of The Sub-Mariner and a cosmic page is turned – a cosmic reality that would be and our young time traveler

Is not so young and he’s still reaching for the Superman, but now the location is different; this store is very large and filled with all kinds of merchandise and the comic books are displayed on a wire rack that revolves and let us now pause and bow to the wondrous wire racks of my youth.

Brace for the turning of a cosmic page and –

Dennis doesn’t like where he is: what must be a bus depot in a large city. He’s wearing a Navy uniform (isn’t that a surprise!) The air stinks of cigarette smoke, the floor is encrusted with something black and probably lethal, and the comics in front of him are displayed in another wire rack, this one wide and flat, pushed against a wall. The whole scene is dirty and cold and depressing.

Join me in the turning of a cosmic page and –

Big contrast to the last destination. A very nice shop. Clean and well-lighted. Pleasant and comfortable. And full of comic books, some in foreign languages, and almost nothing else.

So. A shop that sells only comics. Has he somehow stumbled into some kind of science fiction?

What the heck! Maybe the best move is to go back to where it all started. Maybe this time he’ll run into Linus.

Dennis O’Neil: Weather Woes

Hurricane Irma is pretty much done wreaking havoc, but the worst of it is very bad. And it’s not over. Much of the hurricane season is yet to come and the weather might still have some nasty surprises for us.

And, of course, there’s always next year.

So let’s have a show of hands (lots and lots of hands): all who agree that Superman be confirmed as our official patron superhero? The more recollective among you may remember that I have mentioned this patron superhero stuff earlier: I can’t say exactly when, but sometime. If you are a practicing pagan, please pause on your way to hell while I define “patron saint.” According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, a patron saint is a person, having already transcended to the metaphysical, (is) able to intercede for the needs of their special charges.

Now, I don’t have a formal definition for “patron superhero,” but there’s no reason not to make one up if we have a mind to. After all, we can always change it later. Okay, a patron superhero is one whose life, persona and/or deeds can be identified with certain sort of problems and dangers to the common good. So maybe Captain Marvel – the one who changes from an overachieving youngster to a big dude in a red suit when he says “Shazam!” is the patron superhero of storms because a lightning bolt and a thunderclap accompanies the transformation. (The details of that transformation raise more questions than they answer. But back in his heyday, the post-war 40s, apparently nobody asked questions like that. At least nobody I knew.)

My suggestion that Superman be pronounced our patron superhero is not prompted by what Supes does – bend steel in his bare hands, change the course of mighty rivers, those riffs – but his identity. His true identity.

Surely you know the story. Kal-El is a scientist who insists that his home planet, Krypton, is about to blow up. Nobody believes him, and that nobody includes the savants and solons – the local authorities. Kal-El just manages to get his infant son into a spacecraft and into the sky when ka-BLOOEY! No more Krypton! But the kid makes it to Earth where he crash lands in the American Midwest, where the virtuous folk live. Stuff happens and eventually, the kid goes to a big city where he falls in with the executive of a printing company ad becomes a brand.

Here and now: we have had two category five hurricanes in the last month. Every weather-related catastrophe that has happened recently was predicted by scientists who warned us about Global Warming. And still, we hear from those who refuse to believe the evidence.

They should shut up.

Dennis O’Neil: The Killer Frost

Poor unfortunate Caitlin Snow – not only was The Flash favorite transformed into super-villain Killer Frost but now her latest love interest has gone and vanished.

Actress Danielle Panabaker said: “Here’s the one thing I will say about Caitlin’s relationship with Julian last year – I think he was more into her than she was into him. She was dealing with so much personal stuff, so much turmoil, as she was learning about her powers. So I think it’s a loss for the show and for Team Flash, but I don’t know that Caitlin feels Julian’s absence as deeply as she felt, for example, [her late fiancé] Ronnie’s absence.

The above I plucked, more or less at random, from a computer news column. If you didn’t happen you see this particular item, or you did see it and decided it wasn’t worth any time or effort (and I’ve been meaning to speak to you about your attitude, young man!) but even if this item missed you, you’ve certainly read stuff like it, especially if you’ve ever taken and English Lit. Class (and who among us hasn’t?)

Allow me to elucidate.

The paragraph I quoted reports on an interview with Danielle Panabaker, a charming young actress who portrays a scientist on a television series based on a long run of printed comic books titled – some of you may have guessed this – The Flash.

Allow me a digression. I once had a friendly dispute with a book editor over the proper usage of an article in proper nouns. Since, in this and similar cases, (The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger etc.) the article – “the” – is a part of the character’s name and not just a minor element of a sentence, it merits – nay, demands – the same treatment – courtesy? – as the bulkier sections of the character’s name. It’s all part of the same thing, really.

That is, it is part of a signifier for a person who has never really existed. This “Julian” is a construct fabricated from several people’s imagination – primarily actors and writers – plus computers and ink and, since we’re talking television here, bandwidth and assorted electronic voodoo hoodoo and such. So, when Ms. Parabaker opines that “I don’t know that Caitlin feels Julian’s absence as deeply” as she felt another character’s absence… well, lovely Ms. Panabaker, no she doesn’t. Because neither she nor Julian exist, not the way you and I and Washington politicians exist: you know – flesh and blood and tax bills and all that kind of good stuff. Any thoughts and/or feelings not present on a script, placed there by a member of the Writers Guild (who is, no doubt, a master of exposition) just… isn’t – not so far as the fabrications we’re blathering about are concerned.

We can’t blame the television folk. I think he tends to treat fictional beings as fact goes back a long way – maybe a long, long way.

Any harm? I don’t know, but there is, I think, just maybe, this behavior encourages us to accept on faith what we’re told without knowing that we’re accepting or questioning anything. We’re generally unaware of the air we breathe.

And didn’t I mention politicians a few paragraphs back?

Dennis O’Neil: Browsing Around

I’m guessing that comics began edging into my toddling into our flat when I was somewhere just north of infancy: five, six, somewhere in there. Paperbacks, though – different story. The first modern paperbacks weren’t published until 1935, just four years before I burst, noisily, into my parents’ existence. So, the publishing venue and I arrived at approximately the same time and we’ve both been around ever since. Mass market comics, the kind that printed original material, joined the party in 1938, a year before I did and lo and behold, there we are, comics, paperbacks and me, all growing old together.

Later, after I’d moved to a metropolis that hosted a relatively large number of bookstores, I would browse: enter the shop and just patrol the aisles, maybe lingering a bit in the science fiction and detective sections. (There were no comics sold in regular book stores – not yet. And the comic shops, the kind we know and love, we as yet unborn.) Sometimes I would even – o thrill! – buy something.

Then: something new, a new place for browsing – video stores. I’d been aware of them, these new browsing sites, pretty early on, I guess. I lived in a hip neighborhood and the nearest video renter gave discounts to writers and artists and if you think that Scrooge O’Neil would ever pass up that kind of sweet deal, well… Then a friend introduced me to some really big video places in Brooklyn – I’m taking seriously bigand there I was again, on the browsing trail.

End of story?

You know better than that!

We weren’t done with browsing, we children of the war, but our technique evolved. We began to do it, some of it anyway, with no wear and tear on our sneakers. Oh, don’t put it past me to half-kneel and check the titles on the lower shelves, but these days I’m more likely to have entered the store in search of the coffee counter than to buy books, which are more likely to arrive via electronics. So, yeah, we shop from the couch, in front of a computer screen like the one you’re looking at.

All done?

Not yet. One more venue should be acknowledged. It does not allow you to own something you want, it allows you to rent movies and television shows and maybe sports. It dwells somewhere in the vast cosmos of television land and I reach it by using something called a Firestick, though you may employ another modern miracle to do the job. And after Mari retires for the night, I sometimes sink into the couch and, yes, browse the hundreds of entertainment and information listings Firestick makes available.

Maybe next week we’ll say something about the content of those listings. No promises, though.

Dennis O’Neil: Team-Ups!

So it’s a ball boiler inside the Manhattan office building because although I’m pretty sure air conditioning existed it did not become ubiquitous until after the war that the good ol’ US of A was sliding into. What we’re looking at is an open window on an upper floor and somehow (are we pigeons?) we get inside and behold! Three middle-aged men, suit jackets draped over chairs, ties loosened, discussing the comic books they edit. They have had solid successes with characters a couple of young guys named Bill Everett and Carl Burgos brought in. The topic under discussion: more! More of Burgos’s Human Torch, of Everett’s Sub-Mariner: and yes, of course, more profits, and maybe this year’s Christmas bonus will be worth more than a subway token. Then one of the three (wise men?) has The Idea: Combine ‘em! Put them in the same issue…no, put ‘em in the same story.

And so they did, and a few months later your grandpa (great grandpa?) was sitting on a porch swing with his best gal reading about the meeting of Subby and The Torch, and being scolded by Best Gal for wasting time and money on those stupid funny books! (Okay, skeptics, can you prove that this stuff didn’t happen? Go ahead, Mr. Philosophy Dude, let’s see you prove a negative.)

Whatever the particulars, regardless of what did or did not actually occur, the Torch-Sub-Mariner stories went on sale and the few readable copies left are very early examples of what would later be a comic book staple, the team-up.

And then, the passing of years and The Justice Society of America, the Marvel Family, and a plethora of other costumed teams, until the arrival of the X-Men just abut the time when comics as a whole were getting a mighty, second wind and emerging from a decade-long obscurity, victims of the Eisenhower era witch hunts.

Comics were back!

And movies were following the trail they blazed. After a few single-hero flicks, the movies found the X-Men and a billion dollar franchise was born. Hold it! – not exactly born: rather, evolved from earlier existence as comic book characters. Fortunes were, and are, being made. More of them to come.

And the fossil who goes by my name can kick back and realize that the Netflix video enterprise, a first cousin to the movies mentioned above, is a super-group comprised entirely of character I’ve worked on. Yep, The Defenders, starring Iron Fist and Power Man, who were partners in their comic book home, and Daredevil and Patsy Walker.


Patsy made the giant leap from comics about post-teens to grim superheroic private eye Jessica Jones. Patsy’s light and bright escapades were closely related to other Marvel stuff like Millie the Model and if you didn’t know that, well, now you do.

As of this writing, I’ve only seen two of the Defenders programs and so have not earned the right to have an opinion about the whole series.

Catch me next week. Maybe by then I’ll have earned the aforementioned figured out the subject of the preceding 517 words.

Dennis O’Neil: The Nibbles Of Monsters

Hours and hours and hours phone talking with customer service for whatever’s gone wrong this time and the wrong gets righted — for a while. Then more and more and more. And things never stay fixed.  And my soul (where/what ever that is) grows weary.

As a chap I once shared an office with — that would be our own Mike Gold — can testify, O’Neil is not a technology dude.  Not big on toys, either. I just want the Whatever to do whatever task I need done and I don’t require a foot rub to accompany said task. Just, please, do the job and then, please, stop existing until I need you again.

Some of the niggly chores that have been eating my lunch are part of the process of publishing a novel in paperback.  I thought I was finished working on that book, but…What!  Amazon wants more information?  I wonder if Mark Twain had these problems! (Actually, he probably did have a nineteenth century version of them.  He did lose a fortune on a typesetting machine that never did work properly.  Early instance of Malevolent Technology.  One Missouri scrivener to another: I feel for you, brother.)

As of right now, what you’re reading is…I don’t know…48 hours overdue?  Very late, anyway. If it struggles into print it won’t have given the editor time to do his job properly and that is an industrial strength no-no.

(The bottom of the page is rising slowly, slowly.)

I suppose that I should mention comic books somewhere in here.  Not too long ago I was reminded that ComicMix is a comic book site. Problem is, what to say?  A lot of you guys probably know more about the current comics scene than I do.  And I don’t want to become one of those duffers who beatifies days of old. (When I was a boy, we had decent funny books!)  And anyway, the superhero action seems to be concentrated in theaters, not bookstores.  Big movie mojo.  Finally, the long-awaited and gossiped-about Justice League flick is scheduled.  (Some of us will tiptoe past the box office because we are not optimistic and we don’t want anyone to know we’re there.)  Other comics-derived films are on the way, including the one I’m most curious about.  I’ll heed the film folk’s example and call it Shazam, but you and I both know that it’s real title is Captain Marvel.

Have I done my duty?  To comics?  To what’s on the news?

No, not to the news.  I considered writing about the domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, but I have nothing to add to what’s already been said.

Dennis O’Neil: Deadlines and Ducks

My old friend Danny Fingeroth has nothing to do with the subject of this column, at least I don’t think he has, but we are at the beginning and, you never know maybe some absolutely brilliant idea will occur any second now, an idea with Danny’s name graven on it in fiery letters as big as the cosmos, in which case, I guess, that’s what’d I’d write about.

Hey idea, I’m waiting.

Okay, to hell with you, idea.

And onward. I wanted to get in touch with Mr. Fingeroth because he often knows things I don’t and I wanted to fact-check myself on an assignment that I blew (I think) but I don’t care to scramble names/dates and such. We are, by thunder, in the truth telling business here, citizens (and therefore are not qualified for a job in politics. We’ll live with it.) The immediate problem here is, I want to telephone Danny and people don’t always instantly answer emails and so communication by computer is iffy, leaving the alternative of the phone. But I’ve misplaced Danny’s Rolodex card. Just like me!

Do we have a topic yet, or are we just blathering?

Okay, if the cupboard is bare open the pantry.

What I was hoping to get confirmed by the encyclopedic Mr. F was an article being prepared by another magazine, the ancient kind made of paper and ink (though I do think it has a web presence and don’t I wish that Dan was here to confirm that?!) The editor of this publication was seeking anecdotal information about deadlines and, having been dueling with deadlines on and off since I was a wet-behind-the-ears journalist back in southeast Missouri I thought, sure, I can knock out volumes of copy – both pro and con – about deadlines, so clear the way to the computer!

But I didn’t. One reason might be that, as a general policy, we don’t sling mud in this venue and the ripest of my deadline tales would entail doing just that. Sure, I could and would omit proper nouns or use pseudonyms but my readers are extremely astute and would effortlessly see through such a paltry stratagem and probably think less of me for trying to perpetrate it. And the most egregious deadline flaunters, well…I’m sure others have stories, too, and don’t need mine.

Not that I myself am completely innocent in this matter. I once thought I was and mentioned this in a conversation with the late and beloved Archie Goodwin who was my editor at the time. Archie gently rectified me. I was, indeed, a chronic deadline misser. I always got assignments done in time to keep their dates with the presses, but I was not as prompt as, living in a fool’s paradise, I believed I was. I was, in short, a dumb cluck.

And here we are almost 500 words into whatever this is and still no topic. Feh! And cluck cluck cluck!