Dennis J. ‘Denny’ O’Neil’s career in comics spanned five decades, but he will be best remembered for his work on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, two long-running DC properties which he revitalized in the 1970s.
Commencing his career at Marvel Comics in the 1960s, he began on the non-hero titles, scripting for Millie the Model and Rawhide Kid among others; he progressed to X-Men, then, when work dried up at Marvel, moved first to Charlton – under the pseudonym of ‘Sergius O’Shaugnessy’, where he wrote the Fantastic Four derivative series ‘The Sentinels’ in Thunderbolt – and then to DC.
Together with editor Julius Schwartz and artist Neal Adams, O’Neil is regarded as instrumental in restoring the Batman to his noir origins, following a creative doldrum in the wake of the 1960s Batman television series. O’Neil created or co-created Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia, the League of Assassins, John Stewart, Leslie Thompkins and Azrael, among myriad other enduring characters; he also reinvented the Joker and Two-Face as major Batman adversaries.
In conjunction again with Neal Adams, O’Neil took on the faltering Green Lantern title in 1970, with issue #76, teaming the science-fiction hero with the newly-impoverished Ace Archer and sending them on a ‘journey across America’, introducing themes such as pollution, racism, overpopulation, drug addiction and other pressing social issues. Although never a huge commercial success, being cancelled with #89, Green Lantern/Green Arrow drew massive critical attention, multiple awards, and a great deal of controversy for its confrontational stance. O’Neil’s best-selling work from this period, however, was probably the Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali tabloid one-shot, again illustrated by Adams.
He returned to Marvel as both writer and editor, and in the latter capacity hired then-neophyte Frank Miller to take over the Daredevil title. He also wrote for television, including Batman: The Animated Series, GI Joe, Superboy and Logan’s Run.
In 2019, he was honoured by the city of Phoenix, Arizona, which designated May 25th that year ‘Dennis O’Neil Day’, to acknowledge his impact on the comics industry and in wider media.