PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite DENNY O’NEIL Books — Comics and Prose

DIRECT COMMENTS: The celebrated Mr. K takes you on a tour of Denny O’Neil must-reads…

Paul Kupperberg — comics writer, novelist, historian and 13th Dimension columnist — has a spectacular new publication out: Direct Comments, collecting about two dozen never-completely-published interviews from the ’70s to the ’90s, mostly with some of DC’s greatest creators. We’re talking folks like John Byrne, Denny O’Neil, Jerry Ordway, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano and many, many more.

You can order the $16 paperback through Amazon — and to spotlight this treasure trove of comics-history gold, we’re running a weekly series in which Paul pays tribute to his favorite works by 13 of these creators. (The series mostly runs weekends, with a few exceptions.)

Last installment it was Jim Aparo. (Click here.) This time: Denny O’Neil. — Dan


“When I was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, I was winning these poetry contests sponsored by the American Legion. Poems about poppies, which represented the veterans. I guess I was in fourth grade when I joined the Superman-Tim Club, sponsored by a local department store. For fifteen cents, you got this newsletter, a little pamphlet with features and puzzles about Superman and his made-up friend, Tim. I won a short story contest sponsored by the Superman-Tim Club. I wonder if that didn’t doom me to a life of comic book writing.”

— Denny O’Neil, Direct Comments: Comic Creators In Their Own Words

I don’t think Denny O’Neil (May 3, 1939–June 11, 2020) needs much of an introduction. A list of the comics and characters he wrote in his more than 50-year career should be enough to give the uninitiated some idea: Batman, Detective and Green Lantern/Green Arrow with Neal Adams, The Shadow with Mike Kaluta, Superman with Swanderson, Wonder Woman with Mike Sekowsky, Justice League of America, Shazam!, Daredevil, Iron Man, Azrael with Joe Quesada, and The Question with Denys Cowan, to name a few. He co-created Ra’s al Ghul and Talia, and later served a stint as editor of the Batman titles, masterminding such events as “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land.” He is also, by one account, the originator of the name “Optimus Prime” for the Transformers series.

Denny was the editor of my very first story for DC Comics, a World of Krypton back-up called “The Stranger” for Superman Family #182 (March/April 1977)… as if having to write a story set in the Superman universe that featured a cameo by Clark Kent wasn’t intimidating enough for this newbie!

Denny at TerrifiCon in 2018

A decade later, I pitched Denny an idea for a Phantom Stranger miniseries, knowing that the story I had in mind would strike a chord with the lapsed (but still heavily spiritual) Catholic. Unfortunately, due, I believe, to his taking over the Batman office, he had to hand the Phantom Stranger mini off to another editor (it was published in 1987, with art by Mike Mignola and Craig Russell, under editor Mike Carlin). I’ve always regretted not having the opportunity to develop the story with Denny, which would have been an education in comic book writing! (I shared my thoughts about Denny in 2020 on my website.)

His bibliography included a lot more than just comic books. Denny started in life as a newspaper reporter, and he also wrote fiction and nonfiction prose across a variety of genres. Here then, My 13 FAVORITE DENNY O’NEIL STORIES – IN COMICS AND PROSE, in no particular order:

Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes (Harmony Books, April 1976). A big fat (240 pages) collection of Golden and Silver Age superhero origins, including stories from Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #33, Flash Comics #1, More Fun Comics #89, Whiz Comics #1, Police Comics #1, and many others, back when reprints of those ancient gems were few and far between, accompanied by Mr. O’Neil’s informative text.

The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics (Watson-Guptill, 2001). A bunch of years ago, I decided to write a book about writing comic books. Then I looked at my shelf and saw my copy of Denny’s 2001 The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics and thought, “Why bother?” and reread it for about the fifth time. (Of course, there’s more than one way to do things and room for more than one “how to” book on any subject, so I got over it and wrote Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics anyway.)

The Perils of Captain Mighty and the Redemption of Danny the Kid (2017). What do you mean you haven’t already bought and read this, Denny’s fictionalized prose autobiography, mixed with a soupcon of magical realism? We’ll wait here while you go order it.

The Question by Dennis O’Neil Omnibus Vol. 1 (DC, Coming 2022). DC will make it easy for you to read one of the best series of the late-1980s/early-1990s: Denny’s collaboration with Denys Cowan on The Question. More than 900 pages of O’Neil goodness in a single 1.25-pound volume? Yes, please!

Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard Travelin’ Heroes Deluxe Edition (DC, 2018). It’s hard to imagine today the impact these stories by Denny and Neal Adams had on readers of the early ’70s. Not to put too fine a point on it, but “woke” we wasn’t! That is, until Denny started sneaking these social and political issues into these (let’s face it!) often silly and pointless little morality plays.

DC Universe: Helltown (Grand Central Publishing, 2006). And even if you’ve already read the O’Neil/ Cowan Question comic book series, you could do worse than to read what amounts to a novelization and retelling of his origin and early adventures in Denny’s Helltown.

The Shadow 1941: Hitler’s Astrologer (Marvel, 1988). Having tackled the adventures of the pulp era mystery man a decade earlier at DC Comics, Denny returned to writing the Shadow in the graphic novel, The Shadow 1941: Hitler’s Astrologer with artists Michael Kaluta and Russ Heath.

Batman: Birth of the Demon (DC, 1993). The graphic novel that reveals the secret origin of Ra’s al Ghul, by Denny and Norm Breyfogle!

Batman: Shaman (DC, 1989). Collecting Denny and Ed Hannigan’s five-issue storyline from Legends of the Dark Knight #1-5, “Shaman” is a taut Year One tale of young Bruce Wayne and some of the events that shaped him into the Batman he was destined to become.

Daredevil: Love’s Labors Lost  (Marvel, 2003). It couldn’t have been easy for Denny and artist David Mazzucchelli to play in the same sandbox as Frank Miller’s acclaimed run on Daredevil, but O’Neil doesn’t seem to break a sweat, helping lead the story into Miller’s subsequent “Born Again” storyline.

Batman: Knightfall (Bantam Books, 1994). The novelization of the epic 1993-94, yearlong, Batman/Bane back-breaking storyline, written by the group editor in charge of the event even as he simultaneously oversaw the story’s unfolding in the Batman titles. Having some knowledge of the behind-the-scenes “making of” the novel, I can tell you the struggle to meet the tight deadline was an adventure in itself.

Batman Begins (Del Ray, 2005). More O’Neil novelizations, this of the first of the three Christopher Nolan films…

Batman: The Dark Knight (Berkley, 2008). … And this one of the second. The novelization of the third book in the series went to another writer.

NEXT: The Man with the Dinosaur Signature.

“I discovered Marvel Comics in college. This was 1964 or 1965. I was about a year or two behind everybody else. Marvel had just kind of moved into high gear at about the time I discovered them. So, I was a big Marvel reader, for about four years. When I graduated, I had about a year off and then I went back to college. I liked it so much, I couldn’t stay away. I liked being in college. Being in college was just wonderful.”

— Walter Simonson, Direct Comments: Comic Creators In Their Own Words


— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite JIM APARO BRAVE AND THE BOLD Covers. Click here.

— The Complete INDEX of DIRECT COMMENTS Features. Click here.

Direct Comments is available now at Amazon. Click here.

Paul Kupperberg has been writing comic books from Archie to Zatanna for 45 years at DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, Bongo and others. He is also the author of Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics (Charlton Neo Press); I Never Write for the Money… But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check (Comics Career); the comic book industry-based murder mystery The Same Old Story, the short-story collection In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other StoriesJSA: Ragnarok, and his latest, the YA fantasy/time travel adventure Emma’s Landing, all from Crazy 8 Press and all available on Amazon, or signed and personalized direct from Paul (email him at for details).

Author: Dan Greenfield

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1 Comment

  1. Regarding the Secret Origins of the Super DC Heroes reference: “back when reprints of those ancient gems were few and far between”… Looking ahead on DC’s proposed schedule for books in the upcoming months, it appears that we are returning to the days again when reprints of “ancient gems” will be few and far between. At least as far as new releases go. After enjoying some great releases in the past few years, it appears that DC is really scaling back on reprinting Golden and Silver age material.

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