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RIP to Denny O’Neil, Who Reinvented Batman as We Know Him

Dennis “Denny” O’Neil, the acclaimed comic book writer who did as much as just about anyone to transform the genre into more serious, grownup literature that took on important social issues of the day, has passed away. As a writer for titles like Daredevil and The Amazing Spider-Man, he was responsible for some exciting superhero capers. But it was over at DC Comics where his legacy was truly cemented, through groundbreaking work on characters like the Green Lantern, the Green Arrow and, especially, Batman.

In the 1970s, Batman was best known as the campy, comical “BAM! POW!” character of the 1960s TV show. But then O’Neil turned the whole thing around, rejecting the television depiction for a grittier, more noir-influenced vibe. It was O’Neil who reimagined Batman as a shadowy Caped Crusader who prowled the streets of Gotham, striking fear into the hearts of evil-doers. Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman, but when you think of the character today, it’s O’Neil’s influence you’re thinking of.

His work on Green Lantern and Green Arrow was nearly as influential. He wrote them as a staunch conservative and a radical liberal, respectively, who are forced to work together. Lantern and Arrow dealt with actual social issues of the day like racism, economic inequality and substance abuse. Before O’Neil, superhero comics usually tackled current events in a roundabout way, through veiled metaphors. O’Neil put his characters firmly in the real world, and they dealt with the same social upheavals their readers were. Between today’s profoundly grim-faced Batman and the preponderance of superhero media that is deeply influenced by current events, it’s difficult to overstate O’Neil’s influence on pop culture.

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He was 81 years old and passed away at home of natural causes, according to his family.

 

 

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