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The Greatest Denny O’Neil Stories Ever Told!

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Every day in April we will reveal the greatest stories ever told starring a particular character or written/drawn by a particular creator (and throughout the month, you’ll get daily chances to vote for NEXT week’s lists). These lists are voted on by YOU, the reader!

Here is the list of characters/creators featured so far (along with the rules on how to vote).

Today’s list is the Greatest Denny O’Neil Stories Ever Told!

Enjoy!

10. Birth of the Demon OGN

O’Neil and artist Norm Breyfogle (who painted his pages) gives us a fascinating insight into the history of Ra’s Al Ghul as Batman tries to stop Al Ghul from uncovering a new Lazarus Pit.

9. “A Dream of Rorschach” The Question #16-18

The Question’s search for two rogue criminals who attacked one of Question’s friends leads the Question on a journey across the country. The middle issue is noteworthy because in it O’Neil has the Question read Watchmen and has him compare himself to Rorschach. It is fascinating stuff. I did a piece on it awhile back. Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar did the artwork.

8. “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley!” Detective Comics #457

O’Neil and Dick Giordano introduce us to Dr. Leslie Thompkins in this re-examination of the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

7. “Zen and Violence” The Question #1-5

In this opening arc of O’Neil’s run on Question, along with artists Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, O’Neil introduces the peculiar (and awesome) corrupt world of Hub City and O’Neil’s own particular take on the Question, replacing Ditko’s Objectivism with Zen philosophy.

6. “Night of the Reaper” Batman #237

O’Neil wrote this chilling tale of how revenge can warp one’s mind in this Halloween issue that was one of the many comic books that used the real life Halloween celebration in Rutland, VT (along with its organizer, the late Tom Fagan) as its inspiration. Neal Adams and Dick Giordano did the art for this issue.

The top five is on the next page!

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32 Comments

I don’t really care for O’Neil’s authorial voice, and I really hated what he did with the Question. For my money, O’Neil’s best skill was his Stan Lee impersonation, so my own number 1 would be his Creeper stuff with Ditko.

I was a late convert to Denny O’Neil as I was a Marvel only guy and remember being pretty disappointed with his runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Iron Man. So, I’m a bit surprised to see Iron Man sitting at #5 – although thinking back I do remember the run picking up towards the end (and I guess it gets support as the basis for the movie). Once I started reading his earlier DC stuff, my feelings changed and #1-4 on this list are really good stuff!

Sad to see none of his Daredevil run made the list.

Daredevil #196-200 was #11 on the list, if that makes you feel any better!

I love, love, love Denny O’Neil. He has written some of the greatest Batman stories and his reinvention of The Question was nothing short of brilliant.

“Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” is my favorite single issue of any comic. The way O’Neil writes Joker’s madness makes him at once frightening and compelling. And the original “Demon Saga” introduces awesome new elements into the franchise that still hold up today. I love the team Batman puts together to go after Ra’s and the classic fight in the desert.

It’s too bad my other favorite of O’Neil’s, “Climax”, the finale of the Knightfall (specifically, KnightsEnd) arc, wasn’t on the list. Another classic, where Bruce’s strategy for defeating Jean Paul Valley is more psychological than physical. A great conclusion to one of my favorite story arcs.

However, the list above is nevertheless excellent.

I think it’s a bit of a cheat to lump in ALL of “Hard-Travelin’ Heroes.” Because some of it’s brilliant– “Snowbirds Don’t Fly!” — and some of it, like, say, the sirens issue with Sinestro, is pretty bad. I understand not wanting the top six to be GL/GA, but even so…

Also, I’m kind of surprised not to see “A Vow From The Grave!” since that was O’Neil’s OWN pick for his favorite Batman story.

Damn – The Joker’s Five Way Revenge was robbed of its rightful #1 spot. I loved The Question too.

Penguintruth – Denny O’Neil’s climax of Knightfall was excellent – but it was just the final part in an otherwise not particularly good story.

Brian Cronin

May 1, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Also, I’m kind of surprised not to see “A Vow From The Grave!” since that was O’Neil’s OWN pick for his favorite Batman story.

Yeah, I was surprised by the lack of support for that one. It wasn’t even the next highest Detective Comics story on the list!

My list:
1. There Is No Hope In Crime Alley (Detective Comics #457)
2. The Ra’s al Ghul Saga
3. Batman: Birth of the Demon
4. The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge! (Batman #251)
5. Night of the Reaper! (Batman #237)
6. Shaman (Legends of the Dark Knight #1-5)
7. Venom (Legends of the Dark Knight #11-15)
8. Who Knows What Evil? (Batman #253)
9. Kryptonite Nevermore!
10. Hard-Travelin’ Heroes

I just couldn’t make room for any Question stories, and I haven’t read much of his Marvel work. Meanwhile, I think I’ve read every Batman story he’s ever written, so it was damn hard to make room for anything at all that wasn’t Batman. Incidentally, “A Vow from the Grave” was the last one I trimmed from my list.

Wasn’t the sirens issue with Sinestro part of O’Neill’s later run on GL/GA, after the series was revived years later? I think of that as a whole separate thing.

Holy crowballs, the first two books I thought of when I thought of Dennis O’Neil didn’t even make the list? I need to seek out some of his other work.

Venom and Shaman. That should date when I started reading comics on a regular basis anyway.

I need to ask–is it true that O’Neil came up with the name “Optimus Prime”?

I was going to ask him that at Emerald City ComicCon two months ago, but by the time I got to his table (next to Howard Chaykin’s), he just packed up and left. (At least I saw him in person…)

Hmmm, I’m just noticing this post now. Can’t argue with those the top two. Personally, I’m a bit bummed that neither of those two really solid Spider-man Annuals he wrote (#s 14 & 15) didn’t make the list. They were far and away the best stories he wrote in his otherwise pretty mediocre run on ASM.
Also, I absolutely agree with Greg – it’s pretty unfair that the entire GL/GA run is considered a single story, esp. since this was not allowed in other cases. There’s definitely clearly separate stories inside that run, a case in point being that 3-parter focusing on Green Arrow that appeared in the back pages of the Flash (which I voted for).

I didn’t get it together in time to vote for this round, but my list would have been exclusively Daredevil stuff, plus Iron Monger, (his classic DC stuff was before my time, although I enjoyed some of his issues of The Shadow).

I guess my vote for Daredevil #200 might have made the difference getting it on the list, so that’s too bad.

I also loved his death of Heather issue, the Micah Synn stuff, and a ton of his one-offs (Jester, Vulture and Two-Gun Kid spring to mind). I re-read most of his run a couple of years ago and it all holds up nicely. David Mazzuchelli art doesn’t hurt, either.

I don’t like most of O’Neil’s work, but no question his best Bat-work is amazing–I think I’d put the Reaper story even higher, ditto the Joker (of course, Adams’ art doesn’t hurt).
I agree that GL/GA should be broken down. I’d probably pick his intro of John Stewart as my favorite part–apart from turning out to be a major DCU debut, it avoids a lot of cliches.
I didn’t follow his Question but I clicked through on your link and that’s a neat little story.

I have “Zen and Violence” sitting in my big pile of comics I’ve bought/borrowed/found/etc. but have yet to read. Now I feel kind of stupid for letting it fall to the middle of the pile.

This seems like the perfect time to mention that tomorrow, May 3rd, is Denny O’Neil’s birthday. He will be 74 years old.

I voted for “Night of the Reaper” on every call for “Best Batman Stories/ Best Neal Adams Stories, Best Lunatic with a Skull Mask and a Scythe Stories etc” that appeared on this page…glad to finally see it in a top 10, ’cause it’s amazing!
The Daredevil run could have been great, but is full of forgettable issues…I pick #200 and #225 as the best.

Brian Cronin

May 3, 2013 at 2:10 am

I think Reaper made the top ten of Adams’ list, as well.

There was a great story I remember from the late ’80s where Batman was menaced by another “Reaper” character, a brutal vigilante in a skull and cloak that covered a hard leather bodysuit with a scythe-hand. It was drawn by Alan Davis, I think, and written by O’Neil or one of the other regulars at the time (Norm Breyfogle?). Anyone remember what I’m talking about?

I remember we had a badly used copy of one of the issues with the entire cover missing, and it had a huge effect on me as a kid.

TJ, that was Batman Year Two. The Reaper was a pre-Batman vigilante of the Punisher persuasion,now back in action. Bats teams up with Joe Chill to take him down.
The Reaper was indeed cool, though I preferred the pre-Crisis story of Batman and Chill finally meeting and Chill’s downfall.
But I believe the author was Mike Barr.

TJ, that was either “Year Two,” for which Alan Davis did the art for part one– the rest was done by Todd McFarlane– or its sequel, “Full Circle,” which Davis illustrated in full. Both were written by Mike W. Barr.

surprised the jokers five way revenge only got number two for it not only returned the joker to his normal evil ways but one of the best joker stories ever. and the green arrow green lantern run kind of hard to just lump the whole harding traveling heroes run or just a part of it for this list.

fraser and Drunken Fist: You guys are totally right, I remember seeing that on the front page now, though as a kid who had never heard of “Year One”, I had no clue what significance it had. I need to track that down (plus, “Full Circle” apparently). I remember several of those panels right down to the layouts, especially a fight scene between Bats and the Reaper. The Reaper kneed Batman in the chin, and the spikes on his suit caused Batman to pull his face back a bloody mess.

I don’t think I had ever seen that kind of violence in a Batman comic before, and I’ll always remember it.

I have such fond memories of the Question series I voted for Election Day, Riddles and the last 2 or 3 issues.
(I wanted to also vote for Shiva’s return where she challenged him to a rematch saying something like “I hope you’ve been training or the next minute is going to be boring”)
I also voted for the Detective comics/Green arrow/Question trilogy of annuals called Fables
and for “Venom” and “The Poison tomorrow”
and the first 7 issues of Azrael (though I also wanted to vote for the underworld unleashed issue with fight commentary from Vic and Shiva)
I voted for the beginning of the Stane storyline as I felt that was much better than the end

I wondered about voting for Batman adventures 10 or 30 but decided they probably wouldn’t count

Jonathon Riddle

May 21, 2013 at 12:08 am

I’d like to second John King’s assessment of O’Neil’s run on The Question. Frankly, I thought the first four issues of that series were the weakest in the entire run. The question got good for me starting with the Izzy O’Toole story in #5. I agree with Mr. King that the best stories during the run were Election Day (22-24), Riddles (26), and …Or Maybe Gomorrah (35-36)

Did O’Neal create Lady Shiva when he was writing Richard Dragon? He seems to have a love for the character and nobody writes her better, as far as I’m concerned. I always cheered whenever she showed up in The Question.

Good to see some love for O’Neil’s run on Iron Man. I’ve collected the entire Iron Monger story-line and the slow-burn effect of reading the entire thing from issues 160-200 is quite thrilling. I didn’t think Venom (Legends of the Dark Knight 16-20 would make the list, but it was a good story and worth checking out if one hasn’t read it.

O’Neil did create Shiva–I’m not sure if it was in Richard Dragon the comic or the original novel (which O’Neil wrote pseudonymously, IIRC).

The original novel.

Can’t argue with the list much. Love to see The Question in there. Glad GL/GA didn’t make #1, because while groundbreaking, there’s also a lot of pretty bad storytelling in there. It deserves its spot for doing things comics hadn’t done before….it just didn’t always do them that well.

Gah! I always discover these things too late! (: But I’m always happy to see O’Neil’s Iron Man run get some love– it’s a stretch of 48 issues that never gets enough attention and only gets better as time goes by: the epic scope, the rich character detail, and the moody McDonnell/Mitchell/Akin & Garvey art of those issues between 163 and 195, especially, is spectacular (Jonathon Riddle’s description of it as a “slow burn” is perfect). And as much as I’ve enjoyed recent runs on the character, there’s no way Marvel editorial would have the patience or editorial ballast to let it play out as slowly and disturbingly as it did 30 years ago (for which credit should be given not only to O’Neil and his artists, but the late, great Mark Gruenwald, who O’Neil admitted protected him from a lot of folks in the office who objected to his changes).

I know I’m late to this conversation, and probably no one will ever read this, but I wanted to throw this out there. My favorite Denny O’Neil story is “Night of the Shadow.” I had it originally when it published and the story left an impression on me. So much so that all these years later, as my interest in comic books has reasserted itself, I went in search of it, not knowing the title or the issue number. All I could remember was it told why Batman never used a gun. I finally found a copy on ebay and it didn’t disappoint. The story holds up after forty years! That is amazing writing! Bonus: Denny dedicated the story to the memory of Bill Finger. I had no idea who that was when I read it the first time, but it means a lot now. Thanks, Denny!

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