You may not know his name, but if you’ve enjoyed comics at some point in the last 50 years, odds are you’ve enjoyed the work of — or benefited from the work created in the wake of and influence of — writer and editor Dennis “Denny” O’Neil. Over a career that stretched across half a century, O’Neil created or redefined many of the most popular characters at both Marvel and DC Comics. Sadly, O’Neil passed away of natural causes on Thursday, his family confirmed to GamesRadar. O’Neil was 81 years old.

After a stint in the Navy, O’Neil became a journalist, where his pieces on the comics industry’s boom during the 1960s caught the eye of Marvel writer Roy Thomas. When Thomas left the company, he recommended O’Neil as a possible replacement. That got his foot in the door at Marvel, where he scripted series like Doctor Strange and X-Men before moving over to DC for a staff job.

That was where O’Neil first made a major impact, bringing contemporary issues and values to the company’s stable of heroes. His groundbreaking run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, illustrated by artist Neal Adams, turned Green Arrow from a generic archer into a champion of liberal causes, partnering him with the more conservative Green Lantern (who’s basically a cop in space) and sending them across America in a series of stories that examined late ’60s culture and politics. In one particularly famous storyline, Green Arrow’s teen sidekick, Speedy, gets addicted to heroin.

DC Comics
DC Comics

O’Neal and Adams teamed again a few years later on a celebrated run of Batman comics that returned the character to his roots as a grim detective after years of more colorful and campier adventures. During his period writing the Dark Knight, O’Neal co-created the immortal super-villain Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia, both of whom showed up as key characters in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

His creations and contributions to the world of comics are too numerous to mention. In addition to his signature runs on Green Lantern and Batman, he also wrote memorable stories for ShazamThe QuestionThe Amazing Spider-ManDaredevil, and Iron Man, where he introduced Obadiah Stane and Iron Monger who became the villain of the first Iron Man movie. As an editor for Marvel and DC he installed a young Frank Miller as the writer and artist on Daredevil, and oversaw the famous storyline where one of Batman’s Robins, Jason Todd, was killed by the Joker. Later, he co-created Azrael, who eventually replaced Batman for a time in the ’90s as Gotham City’s hero.

No matter what characters he took on, O’Neal’s writing was always about more than guys in tights punching each other. His comics used superheroes as a vehicle to explore morality, ethics, and the ideas of the day. There’s a reason his books remain so revered decades after their publication, and continue to inspire more television series and movies: Because they were made with uncommon care, intelligence, and humanity. He never became as famous as guys like Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, but his work will live on.

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