Dennis Joseph “Denny” O’Neil, the writer and editor who redefined the Batman, the Joker, Green Arrow, the Shadow, and the Question for the modern era; created or co-created R’as al Ghul, OPtimus Prime, Azrael, Leslie Tompkins, Madame Web, Richard Dragon, and Lady Shiva; and was a beloved contributor to ComicMix, has passed away at the age of 81.
He started his career in comics almost by accident, when Roy Thomas suggested that O’Neil take the Marvel writer’s test, which involved adding dialogue to a wordless four-page excerpt of a Fantastic Four comic. O’Neil’s entry resulted in Lee offering O’Neil a job. O’Neil had never considered writing for comics, and later said he’d done the test “kind of as a joke. I had a couple of hours on a Tuesday afternoon, so instead of doing crossword puzzles, I did the writer’s test.” He started with Millie The Model and Patsy Walker, but soon found himself writing Doctor Strange and Daredevil. He also started freelancing for Charlton Comics under the name Sergius O’Shaughnessy, and when editor Dick Giordano went over to DC Comics he brought Denny along, where he wrote the Creeper, Wonder Woman, Justice League of America, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, Batman, Superman, and the revivals of the Shadow, the Avenger, and Captain Marvel, now retitled to Shazam!
In the 80’s, he returned to Marvel for a spell, where he wrote Iron Man and put Jim Rhodes into the suit of armor, contributed to the creation of the Transformers, and edited Frank Miller on his two runs of Daredevil as well as writing the issues in between them, among many other things.
He returned to DC in 1986 to become the group editor of the Batman titles, as well as write The Question.
He didn’t limit his writing to comics, also writing at various times for Coronet, Show, Gentleman’s Quarterly, Ono, the Village Voice, News Front, Amazing Stories, High Times, Viva, Penthouse, Publisher’s Weekly, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fantastic, Generation One, Fantasy and Science Fiction,Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock, and Haunt of Horror; as well as television, both live-action (Superboy, Logan’s Run) and animated (Batman: The Animated Series); and various novels, including the exemplary Helltown.
He was widely honored by fans and pros alike, including Shazam Awards for Best Continuing Feature for Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Best Individual Story for “No Evil Shall Escape My Sight” in Green Lantern #76 (with Neal Adams), for Best Writer (Dramatic Division) in 1970 for Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, and other titles, and Best Individual Story for “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” in Green Lantern #85 (with Neal Adams) in 1971. He also won the Comics Buyer’s Guide Award for Favorite Editor in 1986, 1988, 1989, and 1996; a Goethe Award in 1971 for “Favorite Pro Writer” and was a nominee for the same award in 1973, received an Inkpot Award in 1981, and won a Haxtur Award in 1998.
He gave of his time to help teach the next generation of comics creators, teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, writing The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, and writing for ComicMix. He also sat on the board of directors of the charity The Hero Initiative, an organization devoted to helping comic creators in need, and served on its Disbursement Committee.
He was married to the lovely former Marifran McFarland, who passed away in 2017. He is survived by his son, Lawrence, and the industry which he forever changed.
Taking our cue from him, our Recommended Reading List for today is Denny’s columns. We’ll miss him.
In the 1960s, the Black Panthers were the number one target of the FBI. They were viewed as terrorists and J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime leader of the most powerful police force in the world, was hell bent on getting rid of them by hook or by crook.
Yep, hook or crook.
It’s no secret the United States Government from time to time will ignore the law. It’s fair to say it goes on often and as far as we know it goes on all the time. When caught, those who swore to uphold the constitution offer apologies for actions that dismissed the law like Trump denies any negative press.
But it’s all bullshit.
If not caught these people may have stopped breaking the law, but it’s doubtful they would have been sorry. I gather few are sorry for wrongdoing that benefits them. How many people have you seen come forward to admit how sorry they are for gaming the system when they have no incentive to do so?
The FBI broke all sorts of laws to accomplish their Black Panther agenda. As always, don’t take my word for it. Google that bitch. Unless you’re blind to the truth backed up with a few court rulings the war on the Panthers was a one-sided American tragedy fueled by a lie and driven home by a liar by the name of J. Edgar do I look fat in this dress Hoover.
Yeah, I can talk a lot of shit from my cozy little home in suburban Los Angeles. I can talk smack because I’m secure in the knowledge I’m protected by:
First Amendment Right Freedom of Speech
What I wrote about the F.B.I is true.
I’m just not that important, and neither is ComicMix nor Bleeding Cool to anyone in power that may object to my point of view.
I’m not as naïve as the above list would suggest. I’m fully aware my rights are subject to the will of the arresting officer and temperament of the D.A. regardless of my innocence if arrested for a crime I didn’t commit.
Been there had that done to me. Twice.
My circumstances notwithstanding in 2017 there exists a reasonable chance that someone may be believed if they claim police brutally or unjust treatment.
In 1966 the odds of a black person being believed were slim. I would wager a Jewish person would face the same type of incredulity and, given what happened to the three Civil Rights workers in Mississippi June 1964, the same dangers.
In June 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, three civil rights workers were abducted and murdered in an act of racial violence. The victims were Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, and James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi.
All three were associated with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its member organization the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They had been working with the “Freedom Summer” campaign by attempting to register African-Americans in the southern states to vote.
This registration effort was a part of contesting over 70 years of laws and practices that supported a systematic policy of disenfranchisement of potential black voters by several Southern states that began in 1890.
The three men had been arrested following a traffic stop in Meridian for speeding, escorted to the local jail and held for a number of hours. As the three left town in their car, they were followed by law enforcement and others. Before leaving Neshoba County their car was pulled over and all three were abducted, driven to another location, and shot at close range. The three men’s bodies were then transported to an earthen dam where they were buried.
Two of the three men killed for trying to do the right thing were Jewish.
In the 50s and 60s, certain parts of the deep south were deadly. Those who sided with black people were treated as if they were black people often that meant death. It’s one thing to risk your life for your rights; it’s another thing indeed to do so for somebody else’s.
In my mind, that’s the textbook definition of noble. That takes a whole other level of balls. It’s gangsta with a capital G.
In 1966 the F.B.I was on a mission to destroy the Black Panther Party and woe be on to those who got in their way.
Marvel Comics was all the rage on college campuses in the 60s. Stan The Man Lee was the captain of one of the hottest pop culture ships to set sail in the ever changing 60s sea. His first mate Jack King Kirby navigated just as much of the Marvel boat as Stan and together they ruled comics, campuses and cool.
Stan wasn’t content to just cruise. He continuously looked to change the comic book landscape he had already transformed. DC wasn’t without some cool stuff, Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, Adams and O’Neil’s Green Lantern / Green Arrow those books along with others were DC’s stellar addition to the cool that Stan ushered in. Alas, those came in the late 60s early 70s.
DC held its own in sales, but in the ‘cool’ department they were outclassed at just about every port. Seen by most as still just for kids DC may have sold as much or more, but Marvel was – to use 60s slang – where it’s at.
The age of sex, drugs and rock and roll embraced Marvel. although they featured none of the above. Neither did DC.
The difference was a bit like the shower scene in Psycho. People swore they saw the knife plunge into Janet Leigh. There was no sex drugs or rock and roll in Marvel books, but fans thought there was.
Over at DC you didn’t have to be in collage to know Lois Lane may have had the title “Superman’s girlfriend” but everyone knew Clark wasn’t hitting that.
Put another way… DC was the Good Ship Lollipop and Marvel was the ever lovin’ Starship Enterprise.
Like another ship, the Titanic, once people heard about Marvel they couldn’t wait to jump on board. Likewise, the Titanic, Stan and Jack faced an Iceberg.
Unlike the doomed ship they looked for that potential death dealer on purpose. Those two Jewish guys were about to take a stand and strike a blow for civil rights. Not for themselves – for African Americans and doing so, whether they knew it or not, chuck a serious fuck you to Hoover and his crew.
A Black Panther with a serious attitude showed up in New York and preceded to win over the masses with his message. If J. Edgar won’t wear white after Labor Day, Hoover wanted to do something he couldn’t just bum rush the place he knew the Panther would be.
That’s because this Black Panther wasn’t real. Stan and Jack made him up out of thin air. Or did they? In 2017 it’s hard to imagine meeting someone who had not heard of Donald Trump’s:
Take your pick.
The Black Panther Party was a regular item in print and broadcast news. The year was 1966 what you read in the newspaper or watched on TV was damn near (for many it was) gospel.
Ya think Lee and Kirby just happened to create a character with the same name as the most wanted radical group this side of the Weather Underground with no knowledge that group existed?
That’s as likely as a character called The Birther showing up out of thin air.
Name: The Birther!
Tag Line: He Came Out of Thin Not American Air!
Mission: Kill Grandma!
Stan was as tuned in to what American college kids were doing as anyone over 30 could be. He spoke at many universities, and Marvel’s mail was an endless stream of hip American youth feedback.
The question is, did Stan, and Jack create the Black Panther to make a buck or a difference? Did they risk aliening some fans becoming an FBI file and possible violence?
I’m sure a lot of you think you know the answers but I most certainly do. Mine came straight from the man himself.
Geriatric Boy Editor here. Denny O’Neil, not so much. Here’s what happened.
Denny was working on this week’s column. He was about half-way through when his screen blanked out. Generally speaking, this is not a good sign. Subsequent events gave Denny the impression that he might be the victim of an online scam. People who watch a lot of porn online are familiar with this – or so I’m told – but Mr. O’Neil is as pure as the driven snow… depending, of course, upon where you’re driving said snow.
So our Thursday morning columnist has taken his tubes and wires to an electronic exorcist for diagnosis (“Second opinion? OK. You’re ugly, too!”). He’ll be back here next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel.
… appear to have the same problem: fercackta computers. The trouble is, Denny’s wandering around Indiana in a post-convention haze with his wife (that’s a major upside), while Mike’s stuck in his home office writing about himself in the third person.
So. What we’re going to do is… Mike will be in Denny’s column’s space Thursday, same Bat-time, same Bat-url. He will be there even if he has to break into a computer store or, more lawfully, go to the library. Denny will be back here next Thursday, teaching us all a good lesson, as usual.
Look, it makes sense. Trust me. Don’t think too hard about it; save your brain cells.
Ye Ed here. Denny’s words will not appear in this space this week.
Remember all that ice and snow and stuff? You might have some of your own. So does Denny. It’s possible you may have slipped on the ice at some time during your ventures around the sun; well, so has our erstwhile columnist.
Marifran tells me he hurt his back. That’s great – Denny didn’t break anything and hopefully will be back at the Mighty Wurlitzer before too long.
So now we’ve got most of the Suicide Squad movie cast – Tom Hardy as Rick Flagg (who probably won’t be turning into Bane), Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Cara Delevingne as Enchantress, Jared Leto as The Joker and maybe – just maybe – Oprah Winfrey as Amanda Waller. Jai Courtney will be playing Captain Boomerang, not to be confused with Nick Tarabay, who plays the part on the Arrow and Flash teevee series.
Warner Bros’ dedication to the complete separation of television and movies is why they’ve been the go-to studio for such great superhero movies as Catwoman, all but the first two Superman movies (and only half of the second), the third and fourth Batman movies, Steel, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, and, oh yeah, the theatrical version of Constantine. Maybe Tarabay’s Boomerang will take a vacation from the Flash and Arrow shows (et al) around the time of the Suicide Squad movie, but the actorectomy will still annoy the faithful… as will the different Flash and Green (or not) Arrow performers. It is the faithful who now drive the bus. Our hyper-excited word-of-mouth makes for nine figure opening weekends.
They can change Amanda Waller performers all they want. They’ll never run out of black actors, and thus far they’ve employed so many in the role they can fill all the empty seats at New York Jets games.
In fact, I’m very pleased to see the Suicide Squad getting the big-budget treatment. It’s a good concept, one that came out of the Legends series I named and edited. This version was created by ComicMix columnist and massively talented writer John Ostrander, who also created the aforementioned Ms. Waller. And for the record, ComicMix reviewer Bob Greenberger edited that book. So expect to see the ComicMix crew at the mandatory night-before screenings.
I’m not the only person who has raised the question of how much is too much. I can’t fault Hollywood for Hulking-out on a fad: that is what Hollywood does. Can the market support all this? Even if the “product” is uniformly great – and good luck with that – there’s only so much of one thing to go around. I just hope we get excellent Wonder Woman and Doctor Strange flicks.
Warner Bros. must learn the lesson that has worked so well, so fantastically well, for Disney’s Marvel Studios. They must respect the source material and they must show that respect on the screen at all times. It’s not good enough to simply have wonderful CG – we get that on Doctor Who. It’s not good enough to have name actors. You have to play the material for the faithful – establish your characters and treat them sympathetically.
Of course they’re creating their own reality. We do that all the time. But to quote another ComicMix columnist, Dennis O’Neil, “sure it’s phony science – but it’s our phony science.”
When it comes to writing from the sense of wonder, truer words were never spoken.
Our pal and faithful columnist Dennis O’Neil is taking some well-deserved time off. We really don’t think he’s fishing out by the pond; Denny’s a vegetarian and fish doesn’t grow on trees. Well, not yet.
This aside, Denny will be back in short order. Until then, track down this comic book (pictured to your left) and enjoy.
Glenn and Mike gave me two issues of Strong Female Protagonist to read. Since they are the bosses of this particular sandbox, the ones who pay me the big bucks to do my thing here, I interpreted this action to be a strong suggestion, not a gift.
The series, available on the web at the link above (and in print) has a lot of elements that I like. Here’s the description from the website:
“SFP follows the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice.”
Super-powers and social justice? I am so there.
It’s not easy to combine comic book storytelling and a political perspective. Let me amend that: It’s not easy to do unless that is the stated starting point. Underground comics were usually overtly anti-establishment, anti-war and pro-drugs. Wimmen’s Comix also big, big fun. It’s probably no coincidence that both were usually comical comics, not episodic stories.
The gang at World War 3 Illustrated carries on this fine tradition, although their emphasis is less on humor and more on inciting activism.
In superhero comics, the most successful (in my opinion, obviously) is the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run on Green Lantern.
There have been overtly political comics created by people first known to American readers (or, at least, me) from superhero comics. The most successful, for me, are from Alan Moore. There’s a reason the Occupy movement appropriated the most powerful image from V for Vendetta, and that, even though it isn’t nearly as good as the book, the movie still sucks me in when I find it on television.
Another great book of his, written with Joyce Brabner, is Brought to Light, a non-fiction book about, among other things, American support for dictatorships and how many people have to bleed out to fill a swimming pool.
Moore’s stories work because, first and foremost, the reader (or me, anyway) cares about the characters. The minute the reader feels the action is out of character, the political position is exposed and therefore weakened. For me, this is most noticeable with Jamie Delano. I love his work on Hellblazer and in his creator-owned books. However, he lost me on his run of Animal Man even as I agreed more and more with what he said.
Strong Female Protagonist wears its heart on its sleeve, as its title character struggles to be part of the people’s struggle, not an isolated hero. It’s an interesting take on one of our modern dilemmas.
Or at least it is for those of us who care about such things.
Every artist has their influences. The ones who came before that make an impression on you. They blow your mind, they lift your heart, they power your imagination, they open your soul; you want to be like them and influence others as they have influenced you. The influences come from everywhere – real life, film, media, other artists – but ultimately you filter them through your own consciousness. You borrow from them but you make it your own. For myself, part of the reason I wanted to become a writer is because of the joy I got as a reader. I wanted to return that energy that I had gotten from my reading.
By the time I was ten, I had read all the Sherlock Holmes stories by A. Conan Doyle. The puzzles fascinated me, yes, as did the characters of Watson and Holmes but what I took away perhaps more than anything else was the setting and the time – the fog-shrouded street, the hansom cabs, the gaslight, the apartment, the back alleys. London of the late 1800s. When I think of that era, I think of the Homes stories. My takeaway was the importance of place in a story and it shows up most in my work with Cynosure in GrimJack. The city is the most important supporting character in the series; it has defined GrimJack and there is no relationship in the stories more important than the one between GrimJack and Cynosure.
Chicago has also influenced Cynosure as well. It is a city of neighborhoods and the ethnic culture changes from one area to the next. That’s how I understood the various dimensions that make up Cynosure; it was my experience of Chicago.
Robert E. Howard also was a major influence on me, especially the Conan stories. My takeaway here was the pell-mell sense of storytelling, the breathless sense of excitement and action. In a similar fashion, Peter O’Donnell also influenced me with his Modesty Blaise comic strip. He might spend some time setting up a given story but he never wasted a panel or a word. It all drove the story, the characters, the action forward like a juggernaut.
Shakespeare showed me how to marry theme to the plot. Yes, there are the great soliloquies, the great speeches addressing deep philosophical questions but they are all tied to the specific moment in the plot. When Hamlet launches into his “To be or not to be. . .” speech, it’s not an idle musing. This is a guy who is contemplating killing himself. It’s a debate, it’s an argument with himself. It’s actually full of suspense. His life is at stake. The language used, the questions raised, all advance the character and the plot.
Our own Dennis O’Neil in his classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow series with Neal Adams showed me how comics could marry the important topics of the day with superheroes. Without those stories, without Denny, I would not have written the Suicide Squad or the Spectre as I did.
There are many many others in all fields – in movies, in TV, in music (Aaron Copland! Beethoven! The Blue Nile! Kate Bush!) – that have had a bearing on me, on who I am, and thus into my work. Others have told me I have an influence on them (which I sometimes have trouble dealing with) but we all have to be open to outside influences if, ultimately, we are to realize our own voice. We come from others, we give to others. That’s part of the wonder of it all.
“Don’t you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don’t even have to be true!” – Dave Barry
Some thoughts this week reflecting upon my fellow ComicMix columnists’ opinions…
Last week Martha Thomases felt compelled to once again write about the bullshit practice of attacking women who “o-pine” (as Bill O’Reilly says) and dare to speak “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert puts it, in her column, Criticizing Criticism. Toward the end of the piece Martha wrote about a panel at Washington, D.C.’s Awesome Con (held just this past weekend) that she was planning on attending. The name of the panel was “Part-Time Writer, Full Time World.” All the panelists were women, and apparently they were going to “O-pine” and “speak truthiness” about balancing the demands of a full time job, of being a parent, of having a part-time job – with these women, the “part-time” job is writing – with having time for your personal life, all while keeping a sane thought in your head. She made an excellent point when she pointed out that there were no men on the panel.
To (mostly) quote myself in the “comments” section of Martha’s column:
“As far as the full-time job/parenting/writing/hobby balance thing, it’s not a question of whether or not men don’t do any parenting. I think a lot of men are extremely involved in their kids’ lives these days.
“But what I think what Martha is pointing out is the assumption by the con runners, or at least those who set up this particular panel, that it’s only women who are dealing with this conundrum. Or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just wanted to do a “Women in Comics” panel and thought this would be an interesting twist on the subject. Either way, it does seem somewhat sexist–against both sexes for a change!
“The answer, btw – and I feel that I am qualified to answer this conundrum because I was a single parent, and also because I’m now watching Alix and Jeff juggle parenthood, work, and school – is, paraphrasing a certain global sports apparel company:
“‘You just do it’…
“While seeking plenty of help from family, friends, babysitters – and sometimes, if you’re really lucky, an understanding boss or editor.
“And then, when the kids are all grown up and have families of their own, you have the luxury of being a grandmother, and you can just love and spoil the kid and then hand him back when you’re tired or he get’s cranky or it’s just time for you to have some
“And be proud of yourself, because you just ‘did’ it.”
Denny’s and Marc’s columns made me think once again of how Marvel is doing everything right, and how DC is doing everything wrong. As I indicated in last week’s column, Marvel’s creation of a “telefilmverse” has been just brilliant in its adaptation of its comic universe’s history, in its invigoration of old concepts and old heroes, and in the excitement and joy its inventiveness is creating in both old and new fans.
I grew up a total DC geek in its Silver Age. I loved The Legion Of Super-Heroes, Superboy, Green Lantern, Supergirl, and the “Imaginary Stories” of Julie Schwartz’s Superman. In the 80s and early 90s I was hooked on all things Vertigo (Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, to name just a few), Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans, George’s Wonder Woman (even before I co-wrote it), Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s Legion Of Super-Heroes (before I was involved), Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Ernie Colon’s Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld (ditto), Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland’s Camelot 3000 (ditto) and many more. Back then DC was a groundbreaker, an innovator, “Bold” and “Brave.”
Today when I think of DC I think of words like moribund, and mired, and morose.
Today, like Marc Alan Fishman, I say, “Make Mine Marvel!”
John Ostrander: Happy, happy, happiest of birthdays! I left you a comment, but I don’t know where it went, because it’s not there now. Just know that I wish you everything you talk about in the column – to live even longer than your paternal grandfather and his continue to bang out comic series and a new novel on a regular basis. I can’t wait to read the new GrimJack series, and that brilliant novel that resides on the New York Times Bestseller list for longer than Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games ever did. I want to see Peter David green with envy (just teasing, Peter!) with your success. Hell, I want to see me turn green with envy and choleric with bitterness about your success! And I want you to remember, bro, in the words of that old poet-hipster, James Taylor…