The Men Who Grew the Mythos
The Sixth in a Series Examining Green Lantern History
Throughout the months of June and July, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Green Lantern’s first appearance via a series of features each of which focuses on the characters and creators who had a lasting impact on the rich history of Green Lantern mythology.
Dennis “Denny” O’Neil represents the second generation of comic book creators, the first to have been directly influenced and inspired by the Golden Age of comics. Born in 1939 young Dennis would read comic books from his home in St. Louis and witness firsthand the first ebb in the medium’s popularity. As the Silver Age dawned O’Neil graduated college with a degree in English literature, philosophy before entering the Navy, participating in the blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After leaving the Service Denny took a job at a newspaper writing columns about the emerging youth culture.
It was a series on the rise of comic books that attracted O’Neil to Roy Thomas, who pushed him to try a stint writing at Marvel when he joined the company himself. With Marvel seeing a rise in popularity O’Neil found himself in the right place at the right time as he was able to take on the writing chores for books like Dr. Strange, Daredevil, and X-Men. When work at Marvel eventually petered out Denny went to Charlton, working alongside Dick Giordano where the more relaxed style of work reflected the growing influence that youth culture had on the workplace.
Giordano left Charlton for DC Comics, taking O’Neil with him and along with him a new culture which definitely contrasted the more formal atmosphere that had become typical at DC. With DC looking to tap into the maturing audience for comics, O’Neil was tasked to reinterpret classic characters in DC’s roster to make them more in tune with the times. One of Denny’s first assignments was Wonder Woman, who O’Neil famously de-powered much to the chagrin of feminists and long-time readers. But it was O’Neil’s idea of making Green Arrow a more street-level hero devoid of the rich playboy trappings that made him look like a Batman knockoff that ultimately led to some of his most famous work.
Tapped by Julius Schwartz to help on the Green Lantern series O’Neil took the liberty of pairing Hal Jordan with Oliver Queen to represent the growing split in ideologies that would shape the late 1960’s and early 1970’s of the United States. Teamed with artist Neal Adams the two would tackle social issues that would garner headlines and interviews, but ultimately not the sales needed to keep the book in publication.
The team of O’Neil and Adams would find success in revitalizing Batman, who suffered from the fallout of the character’s television success until the team helped restore the Dark Knight and his spectacular stable of villains. O’Neil was soon writing Superman, Shazam, Justice League, and other DC titles, even relaunching the Green Lantern series when it was relaunched in 1976. He would go on to edit the Batman family of books for fourteen years and was instrumental in the infamous “Death in the Family” story where the Joker kills Jason Todd, the second Robin. He would have a notable run on The Question and write several novels as well as teach a class on how to write comic books before retiring.
Martin Nodell would define Green Lantern for the Golden Age and Gil Kane would define the character for the Silver Age, but the Bronze Age belongs to Neal Adams. Adams’s realistic style and approach to visual storytelling put him in high demand and his versions of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Batman became their iconic representations for an entire generation of readers.
Born in 1941 Adams would graduate from high school in 1959 just as Hal Jordan would emerge as the Silver Age successor to Alan Scott. Adams would try unsuccessfully attempt to find work in New York’s comic book industry until an image of The Fly that he left in his portfolio while applying for work at Archie Comics was chosen to replace one done by the book’s regular artist. This led to regular work at Archie where Adams performed a number of roles from writer to penciller to inker and letterer.
After his stint at Archie Comics, Adams would take on commercial advertising work before returning to comics part-time, this time in the form of daily strips for Ben Casey where his art style worked well with the strip’s desire to take on social issues of the day. Adams would eventually take another stab at DC Comics, who’d turned Adams down when he’d been looking for work after college. DC hired Adams who began drawing a number of war comics despite his opposition to the Vietnam War. He’d go on to gain experience drawing a number of comedy media tie-in comics before getting assignments on superhero comics, but when he did that’s when people really began to notice his work.
A well-received run on the Deadman character led to an assignment on Teen Titans which would have introduced DC’s first African-American superhero had it not been rejected by editor Carmine Infantino. Freelancing at both DC and Marvel Adam’s realistic style would appear in Marvel books like the X-men series and The Avengers. It was at Marvel where Adams met writer Denny O’Neil and the two would later reunite at DC Comics when the two infamously tacked social issues in the “hard travelling heroes” run of Green Lantern and created John Stewart. Adams’s gritty realism paired well with O’Neil’s street-level storytelling and while the run failed to save the failing series their chemistry would go to great use in reviving Batman. Adams would work on both Superman vs. The Amazing Spiderman and Superman vs. Muhammed Ali before starting up his own company, Continuity Studios.
Adams would become an activist for creators’ rights and would be instrumental in gaining pensions and more creative credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and he helped lead the charge to have comic companies return original artwork to the artists so that they could generate additional income by selling it to collectors. All the while Adams would continue to do illustration work for novels and storyboards for movies. Adams is still active today and is an active participant on the convention circuit.