Some creators gain your respect due to their skill with their chosen medium while others amaze you with their originality and ability to handle plot or characterization. For me the greatest writers are the ones that make you fall in love. If it’s with a particular character, or a whole world of characters, they give you reason upon reason to read what they produce time after time. In the comic book medium there are two such people who gave me a reason to love. Paul Dini who gave me a character to love in his Batman stories, both those found in print and on screen, and Denny O’Neil who helped develop my love of the comics medium as a whole.
Dini was by no means the central driving force behind ‘Batman: The Animated Series’, that honor goes to Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, but he was the writer of some of the programs seminal episodes. Episodes like ‘Joker’s Favor’ and ‘Heart of Ice’ showed how a superhero cartoon could be about real characters and emotions. It showed this so clearly that even my child self was perfectly aware I was privy to something very special. When I began reading comics again, it was just at the time Paul was commencing his run on Detective Comics. That run is one of the most underrated in recent Batman history, with its two issue story arcs and focus on monster or villain of the week storytelling, it reminded me of BTAS and thus exactly why I love Batman in the first place. A fan-boy himself, Dini finally gave Bruce a potential love interest I could believe who wasn’t Catwoman in the form of his relationship with Zatanna. It was a sweet ‘will they, wont they’ scenario that never distracted from the main plot but added some touching character moments which I feel are often amiss from superhero comics. The scene of Bruce sitting by her bed while she was sleeping and recovering from Joker’s attack felt genuine and real and spoke to a caring side of the Dark Knight too often forgotten in the rush to focus on the ‘Dark’ in his moniker.
Aside from his Batman work, the other creation he gifted the comics medium and delighted me with was ‘Madam Mirage’. It was a Sci-fi, Noir delight that first introduced me to the art of Kenneth Rockerford. The story of an alluring Femme Fatale on a quest for vengeance with the help of her tech-savvy accomplice is a clever story with surprising poignancy as well as great action, one to seek out if you don’t know it.
It was the work of another Batman alumnus that helped me see what the comics world has to offer me as an adult reader. It was Dennis O’Neil who helped me to go from liking comics to loving them. A former Batman editor and writer, O’Neil penned some very iconic Batman issues in the early 70’s with comics legend Neil Adams bringing his words to vibrant life with vivid artwork the likes of which still ranks among the finest in sequential art. Like all readers getting into comics in late teens and adulthood, I read some of the various collected editions from the history of my favorite character so Batman in the 70’s was one of my earliest reads. Boy was it good, and it was the Adams and O’Neil pairing that I liked best. ‘A Vow from the Grave’ the single issue story of Batman’s pursuit of a killer among a ground of circus side show performers is still my favorite single Batman tale. It showed the Dark Knight Detective at his best.
It isn’t for his Batman work that Denny is the second creator I’m talking about here, it’s for his 1980’s masterpiece ‘The Question’. O’Neil took an interesting, if unappealing creation of Steve Ditko’s and crafted with it a series which dealt with civic corruption, abandonment, civic duty, ethics, and Zen philosophy while still being a readable action thriller that didn’t seem preachy or stuck up. Nor did it seem intimidating or childish when it took on tough topics. One issue which features the sexual assault of a woman by her boss during an evening trapped inside their place of work due to a blizzard exemplifies the books maturity. The emotional result of the boss’s crime on his victim is not hidden away or ignored and yet the boss is not demonized or shown as two dimensional. When he dives to his death from the building’s roof with guilt and remorse O’Neil makes his death feel like a meaningless tragedy rather than a moment for the audience to enjoy. That issue as a whole feels worthy of comparison to the work of the great Will Eisner, a complement I would not give lightly.
So while many writers will come and go in my mind and on my night stand, few will rise to the stature to join Paul Dini and Dennis O’Neil on my ‘true favorites list’