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Dennis O'Neil, Famed 'Batman' Writer and Editor, Dies at 81

He had lengthy stints at Marvel and DC. Hired by Stan Lee, he in turn hired Frank Miller.
Dennis O'Neil was also known for his groundbreaking work on 'Green Lantern.'   |   Neal Adams/DC Comics
He had lengthy stints at Marvel and DC. Hired by Stan Lee, he in turn hired Frank Miller.

Dennis "Denny" O’Neil, the acclaimed comic book writer and editor known for his iconic work on Batman, The Question and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, has died. He was 81.

"Denny was one of the earliest writers whose work and focus on social issues pushed comics to wider respectability & acceptance as an art form," Jim Lee, DC CCO and publisher, wrote Friday on Twitter.

For a veteran with lengthy stints at Marvel and DC, it might be a surprise to learn that O’Neil started in comics “kind of as a joke,” as he put it in the 1980s. He received a job offer from Stan Lee to write for Marvel while working as a journalist, then went on to work for Charlton Comics and DC (occasionally under his recurring pseudonym “Sergius O’Shaugnessy”) as he moved more concretely into the industry.

During O’Neil’s first stint at DC, he worked on projects that have subsequently become touchstones for the characters moving forward, including teaming Green Lantern and Green Arrow for a series of stories that saw them traveling the U.S. and dealing with contemporary social issues and taking Batman back to his darker roots after the success (and subsequent cancellation) of the brighter 1960s Adam West ABC series. Both of these projects were co-created with artist Neal Adams. Outside of that collaboration, he also worked on revamps of Superman and Wonder Woman.

Returning to Marvel, O’Neil wrote for titles including The Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man, the latter of which saw him replace Tony Stark with James Rhodes as a result of Stark’s alcoholism — a problem O’Neil himself dealt with. Perhaps his most important move at Marvel saw him hiring Frank Miller to write Daredevil in addition to drawing it, setting Miller on a career path that would lead to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and more.

O’Neil followed Miller to DC and indeed edited him on Batman: Year One, the 1987 reboot written by Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. In addition to years spent as Batman editor — including editing the controversial issues in which Robin is killed following a phone poll of readers in 1988 — he also wrote two longform series during his second DC stint: Azrael and The Question, both of which saw him wrestle with and redefine superhero genre tropes.

O’Neil also wrote episodes of TV shows including G.I. Joe and Superboy as well as novels, both under his own name and the pen name Jim Dennis. He taught at the Manhattan School of Visual Arts as well.

O’Neil died of natural causes at his home, according to his family.

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