It’s HALLOWEEN WEEK! And the DENNY O’NEIL Interviews are back — with a behind-the-scenes look at the ultimate Halloween comic!
UPDATED 10/30/16: Batman #237 is the greatest Halloween comic book ever. Simple as that. So with Halloween upon us, it’s time to once again present this interview with writer Denny O’Neil about this gripping classic. And if you’d like to see what artist Neal Adams has to say about it — and you do — click here.
A year ago, I ran an interview with Neal Adams about Batman #237. Feel free to check it out here. This year, we’ve got Denny O’Neil, the writer who gave us Night of the Reaper!, an alternately funny, scary, satirical, horrifying and heartbreaking tale from the heart of the Bronze Age.
Now, this was one of those books I loved when it came out the first time. I was only about 5 or so — it’s cover-dated Dec. 1971, so I may very well have been still only 4 — but I remember seeing the terrifying cover in the store. It was probably the first time I thought Batman and Robin could face real, tangible danger, reared as I was on the Adam West TV show.
Inside, my favorite part was the three-panel spread that showed Dick Grayson and friends at the Rutland, Vt., Halloween Parade. I would pore over the costumes and marvel that there were characters from the competition in there. I’d get annoyed that Aquaman wore a mask, or that the lead Batman on the float had an off-model logo (which is now Batman’s logo in 2016!). Of course, that was all part of the gag, I would later appreciate.
Also over my head was the fact that the prime mystery centered around a survivor of the Holocaust.
As a child, it was all very colorful and exciting. As an adult, it stands as some of the very best work to come out of the 1970s, particularly from the tremendous tandem of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.
Dan Greenfield: I was always struck by the fact that people remember the parade aspect of it but they forget that the villain is a Holocaust survivor. Tell me about that.
Denny O’Neil: Well, we weren’t doing continuity then except the kind of continuity that was on television. The characters remained the same, the milieu remained the same. Now in TV and comics — well, I think TV got this from comics — you have the uber-plot.
In the first season of Veronica Mars, she’s trying to find out who killed her best friend and that thread runs throughout the 22 episodes. Meanwhile, she helps her father solve a crime every week.
So we didn’t even have the uber-plot. Just the stuff that was established from the very beginning. Superman had a newspaper job, and Lois and then, after about 1943, Jimmy. So with this, I was just writing Batman stories and a guy named Tom Fagan lived in Rutland, Vt., worked for a publishing company and had a 22-room mansion.
So every Halloween the comic book community was invited to come up to Rutland and sleep on sleeping bags in Tom’s big old house. (Laughs) So it was a memorable, though slightly blurry, night. We were running around the woods and doin’ stuff! And then waking up the next morning with headaches.
But during that night, the idea came that I ought to do a Batman story with this setting. It was a natural in a way. Dark, spooky, gothic. And then, two weeks later I was having dinner with Harlan Ellison in Manhattan and he said I ought to do a Holocaust story. And there it was. That was certainly enough of a springboard to go home and start writing. Neal put in pictures of us.
That’s what I was going to ask. It’s funny. This was one of the very earliest comics that I remember seeing actually on a spinner rack and I talked to Neal about this when I interviewed him, about the cover and the striking imagery of it.
But the part here, the double-page spread, where Dick Grayson is walking through the parade with his friends, I remember thinking that’s the ultimate parade. That’s the greatest parade I want. (Denny laughs) I used to pore over this and look and didn’t understand how Captain America could be next to Hawkman and I didn’t understand who that guy was and, of course, it’s Havok from the X-Men. But these (pointing lower) are real people, aren’t they?
Yeah, I can probably identify them. Bernie Wrightson, Gerry Conway, Dick Grayson and Alan Weiss.
Later there’s a party scene…
Well, that’s me in the cowboy hat.
Telling him to get off your foot?
That kind of thing is fun as long as you didn’t need to know that that’s (someone real) to understand the story. Doing that stuff is perfectly fine. … The only downside to it is that people who do understand the joke might be pulled out of the story for a second or two. But that’s a really minor consideration.
NEXT: Getting rid of Robin — twice. Click here.