Denny O’Neil – Comic Writer for Social Awareness

Writer for Batman & Iron-man

We have lose a voice for social issues in comics as longtime comic book writer and editor Dennis O’Neil has taken his Final Taxi.

The world will remember O’Neil’s writing for DC Comics’ “Batman” from 1986 to 2000 where he took a prankster villain “Joker” and turn him into a darker, twisted soul. Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix borrowed heavily from O’Neil’s version for their film portrayal of this complicated individual.   O’Neil introduced the villain Ra’s Al Ghul who would be seen later in the Batman movies as well as the ‘Arrow’ TV series.  While working with DC Comics he also wrote and created, along with artist Steve Ditko, the bizarre hero ‘The Creeper’ who has remained one of my favorite characters.

O’Neil also worked at Marvel Comics on such series as “Spider-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” “X-Men” and “Iron Man”. On “Iron Man” he had the hero (Tony Stark) relapse into alcoholism. Much of O’Neil’s work on this plot thread was based on experiences with alcoholics he knew personally.green-lantern-76-4-1093

One of O’Neil most award winning and note worthy writing endeavors was  his run on “Green Lantern-Green Arrow.”  During this time Green Arrow became a vocal leftist, criticizing the “law and order over all” attitudes of his fellow superheroes. The two heroes of the book take to the road looking for social justice instead of fighting ‘super-villains.’  The ‘ Hard-Traveling Heroes’ raised issues that had rarely been touched on in mainstream comics.  Long before the Black Live Matter movement  is a memorable moment in which a Black man confronts Green Lantern, asking why he cares more for the plight of aliens than that of his fellow Americans, especially those who are black.

Another famous plotline was when it was revealed that Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy had become addicted to heroin. This was strong stuff for comic of the early 1970’s.2869520-the_question_poster

It was Dennis O’Neil’s writing for DC Comic’s ‘The Question’ that was my favorite book by him. ‘The Question’ was created by artist Steve Ditko, who also created Spider-Man, and is based on his political anti-hero “Mr. A”.  O’Neil took the character back to those political roots.  The Question is a reporter in Hub City, which has become corrupt. Street gangs and the mob rule the city and the government is run by them, resulting in complete lawlessness.  He is a man with a faceless skin mask, with no powers and no heroes to help him clean up this city.

O’Neil’s run tackled many social issues and injustices rarely addressed in comics.

Dennis O’Neil retired in 2000, after garnering numerous industry awards, and leaving a legacy of some of the greatest heroes and villains of all time. He was 81.

Jeff Burson – Writer
Lesa Rosato Burson – Editor

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