Today we have lost a titan. Legendary writer Dennis On’Neil passed away yesterday (June 11th) at the age of 81. His contributions to the comic book industry are too numerous to count. From new characters that he helped create to the revolutionary stories he told along side some of the finest artists in the industry, it’s safe to say that comics as we know them now all bear the indelible imprint of the work that Denny gave us during his time. Perhaps best known for his work as both a writer and editor on the Batman books for D.C. Comics, he co-created several new characters over his nearly 25 year tenure there including Azrael, Ra’s Al Ghul & Talia Al Ghul. He also helped reshape Green Arrow into the character that fans know him as today and completely revitalized the Green Lantern comic by teaming him up with The Emerald Archer and telling more politically driven stories including one in which Green Arrow’s ward Roy Harper wrestles with drug addiction. He also introduced my personal favorite Green Lantern – John Stewart.
Denny also worked at both Charlton Comics and Marvel Comics during his career. While at Marvel he wrote on titles such as Strange Tales, X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil and Iron Man. O’Neil is credited for many Marvel ideas such as co-creating the characters of Madame Webb, Hydro-Man & Lady Deathstrike, turning James Rhodes into Iron Man as well as helping Bob Budiansky with the concepts for Marvel’s Transformers series and even naming Optimus Prime! Perhaps his greatest contribution was making Frank Miller the lead writer on Daredevil; a move which Marvel’s editor-in-chief Jim Shooter said probably saved the book from being canceled!
On a personal note, I’m very sad that I never had the chance to meet nor to interview Dennis O’Neil. I always thought it was cool that he was born right here in my home town of St. Louis, MO and I was always such a fan of his stories growing up as a kid when I was reading comics before I was old enough to pay attention to things like “Who wrote this comic?” or “Who drew that issue?” This is just one of the many reasons I love meeting and speaking with creators who helped shape my childhood and, in many respects, who helped me look at the world through a different set of eyes. It’s certainly worth noting that Denny received numerous prestigious awards and accolades for his groundbreaking work and he also went on to teach writing in his later years. Few men can honestly claim that their writing or their work shaped an entire genre or helped to change minds as they simultaneously entertained. Of Dennis On’Neil, no truer words can be spoken.