Author: Dennis O'Neil

Dennis O’Neil: Comics. The Other Kind.

Now as I was young and fuzzy, mired in what we were assured was a university education, just beginning to pull my head out of my… Okay, look – no need for vulgarity here. Let’s leave it at this: I was pulling my head from the sand and becoming aware of kinds of culture other than what I was being fed to us by radio and movies (that Bob Hope! What a stitch!) and that alien entity in the living room we called “the teevee” or “the television” or simply “the set.”

(No need for further elaboration: we had only two sets, the one in the living room and the one Mom kept tucked away somewhere and that we saw only on the most festive of occasions, such as Christmas and the like, Oh, and full disclosure; I’m not sure we ever really had a holiday meal on the family set. Mostly we did our holidaying at relatives’ places.)

Did I mention that Bob Hope was also on the (living room) set where, I guess, he continued stitching? Or that I was once in a one-act play with his daughter Linda, but never spoke to her? (Could that be why I didn’t get a Christmas card from the Hopes?)

But this isn’t about Bob and his show-biz peers – Bing Crosby, Eddie Cantor, Edgar Bergen, Jimmy Durante, those guys, oldish performers many of whom began in vaudeville. No, this is about the newish laugh-makers: Woody Allen, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the Smothers Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl… closer to Mark Twain than Bozo the Clown. And Dick Gregory. Especially Dick Gregory. (Mother-in-law jokes not welcome.) Their humor was well-observed, hip, topical, and sometimes about pain. You wouldn’t catch their acts on the broadcast networks, but you could enjoy them, sometimes, at live shows of various kinds.

Then the world’s change accelerated, humor along with everything else, and humor and news intermingled and, lo and behold, on Sunday nights we can now see the newest kind of new comedian, the comedian-activist. The program is called Last Week Tonight and it stars a Brit named John Oliver. Oliver delivers a brief news item – about 10 minutes long – and then a longer piece, loaded with irreverence and disrespect and gags and facts. You may not always get facts from the non-comedic news venues (though some seem to be cozy with “alternate facts.”) But Oliver always delivers the real deal.

This week, he upped his game. After presenting a detailed story concerning certain politicians’ ongoing efforts to revoke the legal protections laws that guarantee internet neutrality, he suggested that we pro-neutrality fight back by communicating with our senators. Then he told us how. Use that internet to contact your senator by visiting this address: The screen will tell you how to proceed from there.

Marifran did it. I did it. Your turn.

Dennis O’Neil: George Pérez and his Big Balloon


None of us know what made us what we are, and when we have to say something, we make up a good story • Steven Pinker

Long drive to and from Secaucus. It was a convention-filled weekend and, judging by the contents of the jar that accepts donations, a profitable one for The Hero Initiative. That organization is mostly the reason I attend conventions these days and a noble reason it is.

Two rough spots: as I was leaving a stage after blathering for an hour, I stumbled and fell – whomp! No harm done – no kidding, none – except maybe to my ego.

That slapstick was the first rough spot. The second was much grimmer. Sometime Sunday afternoon someone said that George Pérez wasn’t in attendance because he’d been taken to the hospital. Later we learned that George had suffered a heart attack. Had been given angioplasty and was resting comfortably. Heart attacks are never a laughing matter, but some are worse than others and, apparently, George’s was not as serious as it might have been. Don’t uncross your fingers yet but there’s reason for optimism.

Little (medical) digression: The “angioplasty” that George underwent involves an empty balloon being threaded through a blood vessel in the groin area up into a blocked artery and inflated. This crushes the obstruction against the artery wall and opens the passage. A live X-ray machine lets the surgical team see exactly what’s happening in the patient’s body, and when I had my angioplasty some 46 years ago, give or take, the X-ray screen was positioned where I could see it. So, lightly sedated, I lay there and watched my heart beat. Pretty cool, actually.

Abrupt Change of Subject!

I’m not a diary-keepin’ kind of dude, but sometimes I wish I were. Last week, I mentioned (and please visualize me blushing here) that I’d published a book and, apart from not knowing how to promote it – apparently hype spinning is part of the job – I thought my book-related problems were over. Ha.

What you have to understand is that it took about six years to get this thing to the printer and not much of that time was spent writing. So whence the stretched chronology? There were a lot of snafus, all kinds of snafus and I can’t remember what they were. I just know that they weren’t related – they weren’t the same kinds of snafus that are often unintentionally caused by people who aren’t acquainted. This would be a much better story if I could be precise, if I could tell tales and allow you to share my frustration. But I don’t recall particulars. And I don’t have any kind of written record. So zilch.

A written record of what? Why, sir, of the composition of a novel someone has titled The Perils of Captain Mighty and the Redemption of Danny the Kid.

Thanks for asking.



Dennis O’Neil: The Perils of Captain Mighty

Okay, let’s get this out of the way at the beginning: Yesterday I published a novel. The title is The Perils of Captain Mighty and the Redemption of Danny the Kid. I’ll add one more fact: The original title was The Perils of Captain Power and the Redemption of Danny the Kid, but there were a couple of still active copyrights for “Captain Power” and although these copyrights weren’t likely to cause any problems, they could, and so Power becomes Mighty and we proceed to the next paragraph.

Are you expecting a little chest-beating here? Not happening. Not that I have anything against some self-congratulation and some of the writers I most admire were not above it. To cite three, a trio of my favorite Nineteenth Century scribblers: Charles Dickens (who, according to one source “thrived in the spotlight”); Mark Twain (who, according to another, had a “flair self-promotion”); and Walt Whitman, who sought praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson and got it (“I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” the sage of Concord wrote in a five-page letter Whitman later used to promote his Leaves of Grass.) In my own time, I might cite Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer as writers unburdened by crippling modesty. (Anyone with absolutely nothing better to do might list a few more, but let’s hope you’re not that desperate for amusement.)

Indeed, the “book tour” has become a regular part of publishing in which a writer stumbles into a camera’s lens finder or audiences of bibliophiles and, perhaps, if luck is near, scintillates, and then goes to airports.

Ah, but what if the writer is modest? What if that person were taught, perhaps with the emphasis of a branding iron, that gentlefolk do not speak of themselves and never, ever indulge in self-praise. I guess he or she emulates another nineteenth-century New Englander and echoes Emily Dickenson: “I’m nobody.” Or the person does as an adopted New Englander named J.D. Salinger did, buys isolated lodging and hides for a few decades.

A question: Why are the people I’ve mentioned, and others, reclusive? What, exactly, is modesty/humility, anyway? Do such things even exist? I suspect that in my case they’re other words for fear though I doubt that I’ll ever be able to confirm that. We may not always call what happens to us intimidation, we shy ones, and we may not be aware that it’s there. And nobody in particular is doing the intimidating.

Meanwhile, I’ve published a book and I’d feel better if I knew that, if you read it, you won’t hate me for writing it. But it’s not your fault that you’re intimidating me.

Dennis O’Neil: Marvel’s Blame Game

The first time you ever ate a Yummy-Lump candy bar – second grade, wasn’t it? – you were sure you’d never tasted anything so good and you couldn’t wait to taste another. You didn’t have to wait long. Your aunt – the one who lived upstairs and always smelled like wet laundry – loved Yummy Lumps and when she learned that you, too, favored that sugary delight she took it upon herself to be certain that you were never without it. Nice aunty!

Day after day, year after year as soon as you passed through the front door your aunt hit you with the candy and, dutifully, you unwrapped and bit and chewed because aunty was nice and besides your mother seemed to be afraid of aunty and told you that you’d best not offend her sister and so you didn’t. The candy made you want to puke, but so what? You ate it and ate it and ate it…

All this has exactly what to do with the nominal subject of these comments, comic books?

A while back, in what has become a reliable supplier of comics news, and I refer to nothing less than the August New York Times, the paper ran a story headlined Dont Blame These Heroes for Slumping Sales. The adjacent story told the world that, as the headline proclaimed, Marvel Comics was off its game in the money-making department. That’s disconcerting, but far from catastrophic, but the situation got worse when a Marvel executive blamed the faltering sales on the company’s diversity.

Time was, not so long ago, that Marvel’s primary product was superhero stories featuring costumed good-guy vigilantes who went around having double identities and kicking heinous ass. These stalwarts were, with few exceptions, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. (Okay, I’m not sure about the “Protestant” part. Matter of fact, these folk didn’t seem to have religions. Did this disqualify them from seeking elected office?)

Now, though superheroes come in diverse sizes, shapes, genders, ethnicities, orientations. (Of course, you know all this.) The Marvel exec apparently blamed limping sales on the diversity of revamps of familiar characters. The story mentions a female Thor, an Asian Hulk and a black Captain America.

But a respected comic shop owner in San Francisco, Brian Hibbs, disagreed. Mr. Hibbs blames Marvel’s woes on the plethora of series reboots with a Number 1 on the cover. (Number ones can be marketed as collectors’ items and so hobbyists may decide to buy extra copies; the flood of new series (more collectors’ items and the satisfaction of being there from the beginning) andt he promise of significant changes in storylines where, it turns out, there are none.

Questionable marketing tactics, unfulfilled promises and maybe just too much of the same stuff… In olden days these special issues were rare and maybe appeared when someone had a story idea that demanded special handling, and not one that existed just to sweeten profits.

There is, of course, no reason why a comic continuity can’t do both, but maybe it’s not a good idea to do them both every day.

Yummy-Lumps aren’t always yummy.

Dennis O’Neil: Invisible!

I was in what must have been a vast desert. I pivoted in the sand and looked in every direction. Nothing but sand – sand and overhead a brutal, merciless sun. Was I lost or stranded? And how did I get here?

“Hi, handsome,” a throaty female voice said from behind my left shoulder, I turned and stared and… sand. An endless vista of shimmering yellow sand.

“You gonna stand there and stare all day?” the voice said, and now I recognized it.

Aunt Scarlet?” I rasped.


“Granny told me that sometimes you turned invisible”

“Whenever I feel like it”

“You’ve come to rescue me?”

“Not really. But as long as I’m in the neighborhood… hop in.”

“Hop in what?”

 “I”ve borrowed Wonder Woman’s invisible plane, silly.”

And here we take our leave of the story above, which shouldn’t disappoint you too much, since it doesn’t have an ending anyway. “Silly” is probably its last word, one you’ll have to admit is appropriate, unless someone decides to continue it. Ask me if I care.

Now ask me why I’m expending bandwidth on a comic strip character who first appeared in the nation’s newspapers in 1940 and ended her run in 1956. Is a last name that’s identical to mine enough? That’s for you guys to argue. We’ll offer a kinda-sorta answer soon. Meanwhile, let’s take a brief look at…invisibility. (Yeah, I did that deliberately. Sue me.)

Invisibility has been a trope in both mythology and fiction for a long time – at least since the Greeks. You doubt? Then Google the Grecian helm (or cap) of invisibility and the brothers Grimm’s tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” In the market for something a bit fresher? Well, there’s H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man and The Hollow Man, a movie starring Kevin Bacon. Then, in no particular order… a television series, comics’s Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl (later Woman) and… golly, what am I forgetting? Oh, sure. Harry Potter! You may recall that in one of the novels/movies, the boy wizard dons a cloak of invisibility and…I dunno – skulks?

There are more.

But for now, we come to the gent who is arguably the best known (and maybe just the best) invisibiler, The Shadow, of course. He began fighting crime on the radio in the mid-30’s and ended his broadcast career in 1954. While he was active he appeared in virtually every mass medium: radio, film, novels, newspaper strips. On the novels, films and comics, he wasn’t exactly invisible. He used a technique similar to that of Batman and your friendly neighborhood ninja, using dark clothing to blend into the – yes! – shadows.

In the early comic books and on the radio he was really, truly invisible.

He was an approximate contemporary of Scarlet O’Neil’s and if you’ve sampled any of the Shadow reprints, hey, maybe you’ d like to sample some of The Shadow’s comrade in invisibility.

So good news. Your comics retailer should be able to sell you a copy of Invisible Scarlet O’Neil: The Official History of America’s First Female Superheroine. And coming soon: Invisible Scarlet O’Neil Returns, an original graphic novel.


Dennis O’Neil: The Ethereal Being and The Invisible Woman

Before we mention Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, let’s expend a few words on an ethereal being – maybe that should be Ethereal Being – who dwells in some vast realm beyond the clouds: Zion. The Ethereal Being I refer to is called an editor and he is a veritable creature of Gold. Last year, when Americans were in a colossal fuss over who was to be elected to their presidency, the EB told us, my colleagues and I, that maybe we should take it easy on the political stuff because this – this, what you’re reading – is not a site devoted to politics but, rather, to pop culture. Being made of gold, the EB must be obeyed and so he was and is, even as I type.

I did mention Invisible Scarlet O’Neil somewhere up there, didn’t I? The snarkier among you might ask why I mentioned her in the first line and then ignored her for the rest of the paragraph. Snark not and instead ask yourself this: Doesn’t every column have to have a first line? The answer? A resounding yes! (Trust me on this; it’s a rule.)

And is there any reason Invisible Scarlet shouldn’t be mentioned?

I don’t know how or when I learned of her, but I can probably guess pretty accurately. When: sometime around 1945, when I was six. Where: Well, my parents rented a flat in St. Louis and I didn’t go anywhere much – certainly not out of the city – so that’s where Scarlet and I encountered each other.

And the how? That’s a bit of a puzzler. Invisible Scarlet O’Neil was a newspaper strip and that’s where and how I must have become aware of her, by looking at what we then called “the funny side” in St. Louis’s morning paper, The Globe-Democrat. Problem here is, my family read the afternoon paper, still publishing, The Post-Dispatch, and never, in my memory, ever picked up the Globe. Okay… seeing my family name in print would have certainly given me pause and maybe prompted me to investigate further. But I was also aware of two other strips carried by the Globe, Dick Tracy and Smilin’ Jack. No familiar names there.

I also went to the movies, usually a small theater, The Pauline, a couple of blocks away, but sometimes pretty far astray, to shows I had to reach by riding the bus! (By myself!) I saw things that never made it to the Pauline. Same kind of entertainment – cowboys, Three Stooges, detectives, the occasional cartoon – but with different stars. Somehow I knew about these pictures and was curious enough to cadge bus fare from my mother and trek into alien precincts.

How? How did I know about the pictures and about the comic strips? And yes, it’s a question not to be avoided: how did I know about Invisible Scarlet O’Neil?

Dennis O’Neil: Iron Fist and the Costume Unseen

In peril, poor Polly Pearlwhite plunges from the pinnacle… And I, a superhero, really should fly up and save her and so I shall as soon as I change into my hero garb and… But what is this? I don’t seem to have worn the cape and tights under my Brooks Brothers suit and how could I forget such a thing? Well, come to think of it, I didn’t have my morning coffee and I’ve been Mr. Cottonbrain all day and… Never mind. Sorry, Polly.

So there I was – this is me taking now and not the fictitious person in the previous paragraph – and I’m about to reveal that early this morning, at about one, I finished watching the Iron Fist television serial and can report general satisfaction with it. But during the final minutes of superhero action I wondered if the film makers were going to give Mr. Fist a costume. He had one in the comic books where he first came to life and back when I was editing his monthly biography I regarded him as another one of Marvel Comics’s costumed dogooders, in the same area code as Moon Knight, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Hulk, et cetera: not as popular as some of Marvel’s output, but clearly of the same ilk.

The show I was watching earlier today ended – mild spoiler-alert, one you needn’t pay much attention to – with Mr. Fist and a companion climbing to the top of a mountain and finding… not what they expected but rather things that must certainly have ruined their day and, not incidentally, provided a hook into another story. That, we will probably be seeing soon. Mr. Fist was wearing clothing appropriate to climbing snow-covered peaks, but it was just clothing, not a costume.

Marvel’s last adaptation of one of the company’s characters to television went costumeless too. This was Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man, who, in the comics I worked on, was Iron Fist’s partner. Coincidence? Probably. But might it not also be the harbinger of a trend?

The costume trope has been a part of the superhero narratives ever since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced it with Superman in 1938. But they didn’t give us the first costumed hero. That honor goes to Lee Falk who began syndicating a newspaper strip titled The Phantom a couple of years before Superman appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1. The Phantom wore a skin-tight costume and a pair of holstered automatics. He lived and operated in the deep jungle, which makes the costume a bit puzzling: it doesn’t seem appropriate. But we won’t be foolish enough to quarrel with success.

Back to Mr. Fist. There’s no reason why action folk have to wear odd suits and a reason or two for them not to. The reasons usually provided are, well… as much excuses as reasons and I don’t completely buy them. It might be that they’ve outlived their time.

Certainly, Iron Fist did just fine in something he could have gotten at a mall.


Dennis O’Neil: Authority Figures Are Often Full Of…

Pay attention now. There’s a lesson to be learned here today and you should believe what I’m about to write, but we’ll get to that later… after we produce some evidence.

Here’s the lesson – in italics to emphasize its importance: Authority figures are often full of shit.

I’m not saying all authority figures are wicked per se. They are, after all, a gift of evolution and anything that evolution offers has a reason for being. But keep your skepticism at the ready when visiting the experts, especially if they’re speaking outside of their specialties.

You might want to heed a brain surgeon’s recommendation regarding your gray matter, but pass on his political opinions.

And about those specialties: be at least a tad skeptical there, too. A few months a medical specialist with the white jacket and the framed certificates on the wall – the whole package – gave Marifran a pretty alarming diagnosis. She accepted it – he’s the doctor – and we got on with our lives. Then the lovely Perri Pivovar suggested we visit a university-affiliated clinic that specializes in the kind of illness Mari allegedly had. But she didn’t. A thorough examination revealed no trace of the illness, just some residual damage from a stroke Mari had seven or so years ago, eminently treatable.

Now, that evidence. But first: by some criteria I’m an authority. No kidding. Not a claim I’d make for myself, but over the years I’ve occasionally worked as an editor and a college professor, and those are authority-type jobs. So here is what this “authority” wrote last week:

“The best of them was Master of Kung Fu for which Roy Thomas had the bright idea of making his hero the son of Fu Manchu, a master

The only problem here is, Roy did not create Master of Kung Fu. That chore was handled in 1972 by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. It was published by Marvel Comics, of which you may have heard. Roy and Gil Kane created another martial artist hero: Iron Fist, a.k.a. Danny Rand, who first appeared in 1974 and was the subject of last week’s column and of a television series that may be streaming on a TV set near you if you’re a Netflix subscriber.

Now, I’m willing to affirm that everything in the preceding three paragraphs is true and the only reason you may have to doubt it is that it comes from someone who has admitted to being an authority and we have agreed, have we not, that authorities are inherently untrustworthy. What to do?

Perhaps you could join a cult? Scientology may have a few openings.

Dennis O’Neil: Of Fists and Dragons

Spring already? Well, okay, but I look out the window and see ten inches of snow. (And you may now imagine me sniffing and grumbling.) But, alas, just because I may not happen to like it, this spring bushwa, doesn’t mean anything surprising is about to happen. I can’t help noticing that the universe seldom alters its plan to accommodate my preferences. Rotten, but there you are,

So I guess we make the best of it, which is what we grumbling homo saps have always done, more or less, when we’ve gotten our grumbling out of the way. (First things first.) Okay, anything interesting on the immediate agenda? Ummmm – nope. But before I offer a tepid correction to that last sentence (if sentence is what it was) let me call your attention to an entertainment that lurks in the shadows of Thursday night. You might as well call it Iron Fist since that’s what its presenters are calling it and before them, what the creators who produced the Iron Fist comic book called it.

There haven’t been many martial arts comics, which is maybe mildly surprising since action/adventure are the very stuff of martial arts melodrama and, for a brief, shining moment in the sixties and seventies, pop culture as a whole seemed to be paying attention to it. You’ve heard of Bruce Lee? The TV show Kung-Fu?

Then the moment passed. Oh, martial arts excitement is still available, as something a good guy does or a bad guy does, and occasionally as a full-out big screen motion picture, usually with an Asian origin. (They don’t seem to be booked in theaters since the Chinatown screens have gone away. But Amazon will still sell you some and maybe they’re available elsewhere, too.) The best of them was Master of Kung Fu for which Roy Thomas had the bright idea of making his hero the son of Fu Manchu, a master villain created for the pulp magazines much popular in the 1930s.

There may have been a couple-three other comic book kung-fuers – someone is whispering the name “Richard Dragon,” but not very loudly. The next member of the club was today’s subject, the aforementioned Iron Fist, who made his Marvel Comics debut in 1977, looking maybe a bit more like your garden variety superhero than Bruce Lee. Soon, he joined another Marvel Luke Cage: Hero For Hire in issue #48.

Could the mighty television be far behind? Luke Cage had his time before the camera last year in a maxiseries that ran on Netflix and that I thought was pretty good. This Luke Cage was a street guy. To hell with mad scientists and wannabe world conquerors – our man wanted only to protect the citizens of Harlem. Will he re-partner with Fist? Will they be a good pair? Or will the universe gobsmack me with a surprise?

Here’s hoping.

Dennis O’Neil, Will Eisner and The Spirit

So here we are on the verge of spring again and it is time for Will Eisner Week, our annual recognition of comic book excellence, one I’m always happy to participate in. Anyone unfamiliar with Will’s stuff should remedy that post haste, either at your local comics shop or – I’m afraid this is virtually unavoidable – by aiming your computer at the, yes, folks at Amazon.

My personal, and much valued, acquaintance with Will began when friends stopped by my SoHo pig sty of a bachelor pad – the styness was my fault, not the apartment’s – on the way to hear him lecture in nearby TriBeCa. I knew who he was, of course: it would have been hard to be in the comic book biz back then, in, I’m guessing, the 80s, and not be aware of Will’s signature creation, The Spirit.

I first met The Spirit – and isn’t that a splendid first name? – when I was much, much younger, living with my parents in St. Louis, and, during summer afternoons with other future bibliophiles, trading comics. I probably remember The Spirit mostly because I didn’t quite get him, not the way I got Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the legion of costumed good guys in the comics before educators and editorialists and just possibly the odd psychiatrist or two convinced large portions of the citizenry that these colorful vilenesses were shoveling our innocent youth into hell.

That unhappy time was still in the future. My problems with The Spirit were of a different nature. They had to do with Denny Colt himself. He bopped around a city fighting crime, but he wasn’t a policeman and he wasn’t exactly anything else. He didn’t have a costume (which was somehow, in comics, a license to engage evil) like Batman and others; he had a mask, sure, and gloves, but the rest of his clothing? A suit, a hat and – this galls me – a tie. His garb was a lot like that of – this galls me more – our current president. And he had no special powers like Superman (though I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of a Denny Colt punch.)  So what was with him? Didn’t know. Back to Batman – him I got, at least kind of.

Flash forward to 1966, and join me in a gungy tenement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side reading the Sunday Herald Tribune. What I’m looking at is something special – a new Spirit story, the first in 14 years, written and illustrated for the Trib by Will Eisner. I am being knocked out and when I drop the paper I am a Spirit fan, thereafter on the lookout for any Spirit reprints I’m lucky enough to find. (There began to be a lot of them about then.

Jump ahead another few years and I’m doing a cabe tv show with Eisner, who I now know… a little. While I’m blathering, Marifran is standing off-camera with Will, whom she is meeting for the first time. When I join them, my gracious wife tells me that Mr. Eisner is coming to dinner. He does and Will and I spend an evening talking and Mari’s cooking convinces our guest that vegetarian food can be pretty tasty, When, at evening’s end Will gets into a cab and we have a new friend.

I am very proud of that.