The TOP 13 DENNY O’NEIL-NEAL ADAMS Stories — RANKED

NEAL ADAMS TURNS 79: Adams and O’Neil — titans apart and magic together.

As you almost certainly know by now, Denny O’Neil — one of comics’ all-time greatest writers — died last week at 81. On a personal level, O’Neil and artist Neal Adams are my all-time favorite creative team but when the news hit, I took a step back and gave the floor to those who worked with the writer or were influenced him.

You can click here for Adams’ appreciation column, a 13th Dimension EXCLUSIVE. And you can click here to read what some of the biggest names in the business had to say about O’Neil’s legacy.

But in a quirk of timing, it’s Neal Adams’ 79th birthday — he was born June 15, 1941 — and so it seemed like the perfect time to look at the work of DC Comics’ Lennon and McCartney.

These are among the stories that set me down a lifelong path of comics love and dedication, playing no small part in ultimately inspiring the creation of 13th Dimension.

So with all that in mind, here are THE TOP 13 DENNY O’NEIL-NEAL ADAMS STORIES — RANKED.

(NOTE: Dates are publication dates. Some story titles were left out for expedience’s sake. And don’t forget the wonderful contributions of inker Dick Giordano, who had a hand in a number of these selections.)

13. Detective Comics #410. A Vow From the Grave! (April 1971). While the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series aimed for sociopolitical scope, the stories in Detective Comics tended toward intimate mysteries with an eerie bent. All things considered, the stakes are relatively low in this circus-based whodunit but the atmosphere is especially creepy and the characters, particularly boy/seal hybrid Flippy, are memorable.

12. Green Lantern #89, …And Through Him Save a World… (April-May 1972). Perhaps the most heavy-handed of all the GL/GA stories – it features the actual crucifixion of a Christ-like figure, as well as our two heroes – it’s redeemed by the final sequence in which Green Lantern, the symbol for law and order, loses his temper and destroys a multimillion-dollar aircraft with the terse line, “Send me a bill!” After a painful journey through America and the cosmos, Hal Jordan has had enough — and he’s a changed man.

11. Detective #404, Ghost of the Killer Skies! (Oct. 1970). Pretty much a straight-up homage to Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert’s war comics, with Batman teaming up (sort of) with Enemy Ace. Just a cool, spooky adventure.

10. Green Lantern 78, A Kind of Loving, a Way of Death! (July 1970). Black Canary enters the picture, falling under the spell of a death cult led by a very Charles Manson-esque leader named Joshua – complete with a “Family” reference on the cover. O’Neil evidently meant it to be a treatise on the authoritarian left, but hey, the parallels can’t be denied.

9. The Flash #217-219. (Aug. 1972-Jan. 1973). In retrospect, it’s flat-out extraordinary that GL/GA was cancelled when O’Neil and Adams were at the helm, but that’s comics for you. The series moved to The Flash, where the run filled out with a three-part series of short stories. Somewhat less political than the rest of the series, the story deals with what happens when a superhero accidently blows it and kills one of his assailants. Ollie goes on walkabout and it’s up to Hal and Dinah to bring him back from the brink.

8. Batman #234, Half an Evil (Aug. 1971). O’Neil and Adams generally stayed away from Batman’s classic rogue’s gallery, with two notable exceptions – one of them Two-Face, who had been shelved for years but who fit perfectly with the darker tone of the early Bronze Age. With Harvey Dent back in the public eye in this first-rate adventure, he would soon rejoin the Masked Manhunter’s A-List of villains.

7. Batman #237, Night of the Reaper! (Dec. 1971.) The best Halloween comic book ever, hands down. O’Neil’s story – with ideas from Bernie Wrightson and Harlan Ellison – takes place at Rutland, Vermont’s famed Halloween parade and goes from light to dark when it confronts the miserable legacy of the Holocaust. Weirdly, it’s probably O’Neil and Adams’ most political and serious Batman story but it’s balanced by a surprising amount of levity and satire. To this day, the two-page parade spread remains a big favorite.

6. Detective Comics #395, The Secret of the Waiting Graves, Jan. 1970. A lot of fans consider this the start of the Bronze Age – at least for Batman. I disagree: To me, the Bronze Age began a couple months earlier when Dick Grayson left for Hudson University. In any event, for two years after the Batman TV show was cancelled, editor Julius Schwartz pushed hard to bring the classic, dark Batman back with mixed success through writer Frank Robbins and artists Irv Novick and Bob Brown. Luckily, he had Adams showing the way over in The Brave and the Bold. O’Neil and Adams’ first collaboration solidified Batman’s new direction, laying the concrete for a foundation that would last for the next 50 years – and counting.

5. Green Lantern #87, Beware My Power, (Dec. 1971-Jan. 1972). O’Neil and Adams confront racism and introduce John Stewart, who is anointed Hal Jordan’s back-up. Stewart of course would be come a popular character in his own right – and the definitive GL to a generation of kids who watched Bruce Timm’s Justice League animated series.

4. Batman #251, The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge! Sept, 1973. The O’Neil-Adams partnership culminated with the return of a murderous, mad Joker.

The best single issue ever starring the Darknight Detective, Batman #251 is a combination mystery and straight-up pursuit, featuring one of the most iconic Batman images ever – and a sly commentary on the scourge of pollution.

3. Green Lantern #85-86, (Aug.-Nov. 1971). The drug issues. Green Arrow learns the hard way that his sidekick Speedy has fallen into heroin addiction, a seismic shift for the Teen Titan that would forever alter his depiction in comics. The story is a little too pat at times, but it’s intriguing to see the self-righteous Green Arrow figure out – painfully – that he doesn’t have all the answers.

Also notable for Issue #85’s almost-silent opening sequence in which an injured Ollie desperately seeks help from citizens who want to do anything but.

2. Batman #232, #243, #244. The Original Ra’s al Ghul Saga (June 1971-Sept. 1972). The original Ra’s arc actually comprised many more chapters than these, spread out over a year or so with other artists in the mix. But the highlights – and all you really need to read – are Issues #232, #242 (pencilled by Irv Novick), #243 and #244. And the best way to read those issues is as collected in the Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-51 treasury edition.

It’s the most cinematic of all the O’Neil-Adams stories – an international epic that essentially casts Batman as James Bond in a cape. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that. This story loomed so large that anytime Ra’s showed up in the following years it was a big deal. Unfortunately, DC doesn’t always get that less is more and Ra’s is now so ubiquitous, he’s just another villainous overlord.

1. Green Lantern #76, No Evil Shall Escape My Sight! (April 1970). How could it be any other? This groundbreaking issue sets up the Odd Couple of law and order space-cop Green Lantern with irascible liberal standard-bearer Green Arrow.

GA opens GL’s eyes to the systemic racism and rot in America’s cities, with the two deciding to delve into what else is tearing our once-proud nation asunder. In two famous sequences, GL is confronted by a older man who demands to know why, with all his power, Hal has never helped the black community, and GA decries a nation that is capable of assassinating great men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

O’Neil and Adams lobbed a grenade into the industry and completely upended the notion of what mainstream comics could accomplish. One of the most important comics ever published, Adams himself called it his favorite Green Lantern story (in a special 13th Dimension column) – so who am I to argue?

MORE

— DENNY O’NEIL: An Appreciation, by NEAL ADAMS. Click here.

— NEAL ADAMS Discusses His Greatest BATMAN Stories. Click here.

— DENNY O’NEIL Discusses His Greatest BATMAN Stories. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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4 Comments

  1. I would have included “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” on this list, very near the top.

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  2. I bought those Flash issues and the Five-Way Revenge and the last few Ra’s issues. Yeah, Denny and Neal were tops.

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  3. Absolutely ground-breaking stuff!

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