Today is Dennis O’Neil’s 77th Birthday! 77 years? Isn’t that how long Batman has been around? Indeed. As a matter of fact, both Dennis and Batman came into this world in May of 1939. It’s almost as if Dennis was destined to be one of the most influential people in Batman’s history.
When Dennis first started working on Batman, it was 1970. At the time, the comics had been following the lead set forth by the 1966 television show. Dennis and Neal Adams (his often paired with counterpart) were tasked with bringing the character back to his dark and mysterious roots. When most people talk about Batman history, they usually cite the late 1980s as the point in time when the Dark Knight began to delve back into the darkness that typifies the character to this day. But the truth is, O’Neil started us on that path almost 2 decades earlier.
Don’t get me wrong. By no means do I wish to diminish the accomplishments of the writers from the 80s. They definitely continued to evolve the character into what he is today. But those writers were building on the foundations that O’Neil placed for them. I simply wish to shed light on O’Neil’s highly influential benchmark in the annals of Batman lore.
After his stint as a writer on Batman, Dennis left DC to pursue other interests, only to return in 1986 as the lead editor for all the Batman titles up till 2000. While he didn’t write all the stories coming out of this era, it was obvious to me that he was instrumental in crafting the overall direction that the stories were following during his tenure. Legends of the Dark Knight, Knightfall, Contagion, Legacy, Cataclysm, and No Man’s Land were all major stories that sprung forth from his leadership.
I met Dennis O’Neil when I was 14. Somehow, my local comic shop managed to get him as a guest! Even at that age, I knew O’Neil was a big deal, so I was keen on spending as much time with the man as possible. Any one patron wasn’t supposed to monopolize him, so I ended up going back and forth between my home and the comic shop in order to cart more stuff back and forth for him to sign, and to give other fans a chance to talk to him in the interim. As the day went on, I noticed that there weren’t that many people showing up anymore, so I just stuck around and talked with him for a couple of hours.
I’ll never forget the conversations we had, specifically the one about a Batman story he wrote in 1978 called “The Tomb of the White Bat”. I think that I genuinely impressed/surprised him. I was, after-all, a little kid talking intelligently about a story that he had published 15 years ago when I was but a baby. (Yes, I was a crazy Batman fan right from the start)
For the next two years, I kept up our correspondence through the letter column. For younger readers that aren’t aware of what I am referring to, before the Internet, comic readers would actually send physical letters to DC and certain ones would get published along with a response from the editor on the last page of the comic book. If you have any back issues from the early 90s, some of my stuff actually got printed back then. I never knew if he realized that I was the same person he had met in the comic shop that day, but I liked to think that he did.
Happy Birthday Dennis. You, like your stories, are the stuff of legends.
Must read Dennis O’Neil stories:
- “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” Detective Comics #395
- “Half an Evil” Batman #234
- “Night of the Reaper” Batman #237
- “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” Batman #251
- “There is No Hope in Crime Alley” Detective Comics #457
- “The Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul” Batman #232, 235, 240, 242-244
- Batman: Birth of the Demon
Really, you can’t go wrong with an O’Neil story, but you have to start somewhere.