In 1980, Ronald Reagan was first elected President of the United States, Han Solo was dunked in a carbon-freezing chamber, and America discovered who shot J.R.
It was also the last time living comics legend Denny O’Neil wrote an issue of DC Comics' “Batman” or “Detective Comics.” That all changes in December, as O’Neil will write a two-part story entitled “Last Days of Gotham” in the two main Bat-books as an epilogue to Grant Morrison’s best-selling “R.I.P.” storyline.
The 69-year-old O’Neil told CBR News it’s great to be going back to Gotham City. “It’s nice to revisit, however briefly, characters who were so much a part of my life for so long,” said O’Neil, who was associated with the Batverse as either a writer or editor or group editor for much of the seventies, eighties and well into the nineties, and is widely credited with returning Batman to his Dark Knight roots.
Not wanting to spoil too much about what goes on in his long-awaited return to Gotham, O’Neil only teased the story, saying, “It’s more about the city and Batman’s relationship to it than anything else.”
O’Neil’s last work on the two main Bat-books as a writer was in 1980, when he penned “Batman” #320 and a five-issue arc on “Detective Comics” from #487-491. The writer said while Batman hasn’t changed a whole lot since 1980, he certainly has “evolved” over the years. “He’s evolved a lot, which may explain why he’s still as popular as he is,” explained O’Neil. “But though different creative folk interpret him in different ways, he’s still the guy who is forever symbolically avenging family murder. Subtract that and you don’ have Batman, you have a costume.”
O’Neil confesses he hasn’t been following Grant Morrison’s “Batman” run too closely, but tends to enjoy what the superstar writer brings to his work. “I’m not familiar enough with ['R.I.P.'] to have an informed opinion, but Grant’s work is generally excellent,” said O’Neil.
Asked who he thought should replace Bruce Wayne as Batman if Morrison actually does pull the plug on the 69-year-old character -- “born,” coincidentally, the same month and year as O’Neil -- the Shazam Award-winner quipped, “How about Batmite?” before adding, “But seriously folks, I guess most readers would vote for Dick and who am I to argue?”
It should be noted that Dick Grayson — the first Robin, who has protected Gotham and other cities as Nightwing since 1984 — is the main character of O’Neil’s two-parter.
Arguably, Dennis O’Neil’s most lasting legacy to the Batman mythos was the creation of Ra’s al Ghul, who made his debut in “Batman” #232 in 1971. The supervillain was introduced to mainstream audiences in 2005 as the main villain of Christopher Nolan’s film, “Batman Begins.” O’Neil wrote the novelization for both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” and he loves what Nolan has done with the Caped Crusader on the big screen. “Both [films] were terrific and I’m glad to be associated with them,” said O’Neil, who also co-created Azrael, a character that helped Marvel Comics Editor in Chief shoot to superstardom as an illustrator. “Nolan is creating his own version of the mythos and it’s as valid as any that preceded it by any criteria, and more valid in terms of his own art form.”
While he said he has no idea if he will be writing any more Bat-books in the future, O’Neil is definitely keeping busy in his “retirement.” “I just finished an essay for an anthology, and pretty soon I’ll have a shot at a piece of my old Superman stuff to be published in a collection,” said O’Neil. “And I also have a comic job for a small publisher I don’t think I can talk about.”
O’Neil’s two-issue arc, featuring art by rising star Guillem March, is scheduled to appear in “Detective Comics” #851 on December 3 and “Batman“#684 on December 24.