Dennis O'Neil, Comic Book Legend, Dies at 81

One of the most well regarded comic book writers and editors of all time, Dennis O'Neil died last night, of natural causes, at the age of 81.

Born in 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri, he graduated from St. Louis University with a degree centred on English literature, creative writing, and philosophy. From there he joined the US Navy just in time to participate in the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After leaving the Navy, O'Neil moved on to a job with a newspaper in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. O'Neil wrote bi-weekly columns for the youth page, and during the slow summer months he filled the space with a series on the revival of the comics industry.

This attracted the attention of Roy Thomas who had left DC Comics to work for Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. He suggested that O'Neil take the Marvel writer's test, which involved adding dialogue to a wordless four-page excerpt of a Fantastic Four comic. O'Neil's entry resulted in Lee offering O'Neil a job. O'Neil had never considered writing for comics, and later said he'd done the test "kind of as a joke. I had a couple of hours on a Tuesday afternoon, so instead of doing crossword puzzles, I did the writer's test." Together O'Neil and artist Neal Adams revived the Professor X character in X-Men #65 in one of the creative team's earliest collaborations.

He joined DC as an editor in the late 60s, and he is best known for his work writing and editing Batman titles, the modern-day non-campy version of Batman that inspired the films as well as the modern version of the comics is credited to him, Julie Schwartz and Neal Adams, with O'Neil writing the comic in the seventies and editing it from the mid-eighties to the end of the nineties. At DC Comics he also co-created Ra's al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, Azrael, and more. He's also much credited with Neal Adams for teaming up Green Arrow and Green Lantern and introducing more political storylines to the comics.

As well as writing Justice League, The Shadow with Michael Kaluta, The Question with Denys Cowan and Armageddon 2001 for DC, he also worked at Marvel Comics as writer and editor on Spider-Man as well as the Transformers comic – where he came up with the name Optimus Prime.

Dennis also sat on the board of directors of the charity The Hero Initiative and served on its Disbursement Committee. and received many honours for his comic book work and impact. He was also a comic book teacher at the Manhattan School of Visual Arts. It was in this capacity that he also became a regular Bleeding Cool columnist where he shared his notes for his comic book classes with all of our readers as the column How To Write Comics And Graphic Novels by Dennis O'Neil. You can revisit them here.

Dennis is survived by his son, the film writer/director/producer Lawrence O'Neil. 

Dennis Neil, photo by Ed Catto for Bleeding Cool.
Dennis Neil, photo by Ed Catto for Bleeding Cool.


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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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