RIP Denny O’Neil, My Hero at Writing Heroes

Walt remembers one of his great comic book writing influences, and shares a treasured Green Lantern script gifted by Denny himself.

RIP Denny O’Neil, St. Louis native, comic book writer and editor extraordinaire, and my hero at writing heroes. His work on any series elevated it – in resonance, lyricism and good old-fashioned entertainment. His participation in the Silver Age re-inventions of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow sent pop culture shockwaves still felt today. More broadly, his body of work has inspired me since I was (checks watch) 14 years old.

I was that gawky age when I met Denny. He was already a busy working pro for DC and Marvel, and was temporarily back home visiting a meeting of the local St. Louis comic book club, Grafan. As one of its younger and more wide-eyed members, I wasn’t above asking Denny if he had a script this aspiring writer could study. From a big, brown satchel, he handed me an original, already-published script for Green Lantern #63, “This is The Way the World Ends” (September, 1968.)

I blinked in amazement.

He smiled and said, “Keep it.” I asked him to autograph it; he did.

The pounded-out-on-typing-paper script has handwritten corrections and rewrites in pencil by editor Julius Schwartz on almost every line. (Editors edited back then!) But Denny’s words and ideas shine through.

The script is one of the top treasures in my collection of comic book inspiration, which includes at least some version of almost every Batman story Denny wrote. (Thanks, Showcase Presents!) Just recently I was thinking of his Batman story, “There is No Hope in Crime Alley,” which re-imagined the place where Bruce Wayne and others would later come to patrol; it instantly became part of the Gotham City cannon.

His characters were driven by duty, by passion, but also by kindness – and by so doing, demonstrate a theme contrary to that story tile. I think Denny’s body of work says, “There IS hope in Crime Alley.”

And maybe for us all


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