Denny O’Neil passed away June 11, 2020 at the age of 81. I cant properly put into words how much of an impact this man had on the comics industry. One of the greatest writers, editors & idea man this business has ever been lucky enough to have. He had a hand in so many of my personal favorite comics for over three decades. The man is without a doubt one of the most amazing forces for change and creativity we’ve ever had. It is extremely sad to see him pass and I will mourn his loss.
After hearing the news I knew I had to talk about the man and what he’s meant to me and Comfort Food Comics in general. His Iron Man run is in my opinion the best run Iron Man has ever had. His brief Spider-Man run gave us two of my all time favorite Annual issues and the start of turning Sandman, a CFC fave, into a hero while giving him more depth than he’s ever had before. And obviously his work on Batman. His longer storylines involving the Al Ghuls and his work with Neal Adams is usually beloved by all and there will be a future post someday of the collection of that work I’ve had custom bound. But when it came down to selecting the ultimate Comfort Food Comic for me that O’Neil has done was a much quieter little piece of work on Batman that I never hear anyone talk about – Batman 253-263.
This is a small little selection of stories from 1973-1975 where most of them are big huge 100 Page Super Spectaculars. These had a brand new story to lead with but also had an additional 4-6 reprint stories from Batman’s history. It’s a wonderful little era that celebrates Batman.
But as fun as it is to get so many 100 page comics full of Batman love, I am here to talk about how strong this little run of new stories is. This is right after Neal Adams stops drawing issues and the longer debut Ra’s Al Ghul and League of Assassins story has wrapped up for the time being. So O’Neil goes to the well of famous Batman villains as well as Batman’s inspiration, The Shadow to tell a new fun story each issue. It almost feels like the Batman the Animated Series Season of comics done by Denny O’Neil in the 70s. We get O’Neil doing all the familiar faces – Catwoman, Two-Face, Joker, The Riddler, Penguin in a series of extremely fun single issues. The one thing you notice right away in these issues is that instead of the noddy, dark gothic stuff theyve been doing before, its almost as if O’Neil is purposefully blending old sixties style Batman stories with his recent 70’s reinvention. Its just really, refreshing fun stuff that, like I said before, seems like a perfectly executed season of a Batman cartoon. Maybe its on purpose to coincide with the older reprints that are being published with these stories, maybe it isnt. But all in all its extremely strong stuff.
So what’s in the book? Let’s go issue by issue through this “season” of Batman stories by (mostly) O’Neil here. He doesnt do every issue included, but he does the best ones.
Batman 253: By O’Neil & Irv Novick. This is during the time period DC had the rights to do The Shadow comics. In this one we get The Shadow helping Batman on a case and we get a very fun meta way of in continuity saying the old Legend is one of the biggest inspirations to Batman becoming a hero.
Batman 254: This is by Frank Robbins & Irv Novick. One of the non O’Neil issues. This is a fun little team-up of Man-Bat trying to be a hero and teaming up with Bats. Again, this is like a guest written episode of the perfect season of a 70’s Batman cartoon. The inevitable Man-Bat episode. This also starts the big 100 page reprints. A great fun selection of stories through the decades.
Batman 255: This one again not by O’Neil but by Len Wein & Neal Adams. This is the alltimer guest issue. Two absolute legends make a really fun Batman vs werewolf story. Agin this is like the perfect one & done guest writer episode.
Batman 256: Now we get to Denny O’Neil deciding to do every big Batman villain in a row. He continues the perfect season of Batman with Irv Novick on this Catwoman issue. Love, love, love this one. Its all about a crooked circus plot that Catwoman ends up in. One of the issues involving Catwoman and real cats. Catwoman rides a white tiger while Batman on horseback chases her. IT’S EXCELLENT!!
Batman 257: Denny O’Neil & Irv Novick give us my favorite issue in this collection. This time the big name is Penguin, but thats not all!! Penguin kidnaps King Peeble IV of Swawak, a 12-year-old boy, in order to have himself declared Emperor of the Kingdom. He eventually takes him back to a castle where we get a lot of Penguin with an actual Penguin. A maid tries to protect the kidnapped boy throughout the story and its clear there’s something more to her. Batman & Robin storm the castle and its later revealed the Maid is actually Talia Al Ghul in disguise, here to cozy up to the boy King for her own criminal plan. The reason this one rules so much is its O’Neil using his Talia stuff with Bats but slamming it all into the greater Batman Universe with the silly hijinx of the Penguin, namely a death trap where Talia, Robin & Batman will be torn to shreds by an Eagle. It’s the perfect mash of his earlier redefining fun on Batman with the older sillier classic stuff. I love it. The perfect episode
Batman 258: Next up on the classic Rogue’s list is Two-Face. Denny O’Neil & Irv Novick bring us a zany, wild tale of Two-Face teaming up with a rogue general to hold Washington, D.C. hostage with an atomic bomb. A lot of good stuff about Two-Face using his coin to make his decisions while Batman swaps out his coin with a fake one. A really solid Two-Face tale
Batman 259: Next we get The Shadow followup issue. Another O’Neil/Novick joint. This ones pretty great as it shows how awesome the Shadow is and how a young Bruce Wayne’s interaction with The Shadow leads to a present day case. Another sublime one and done.
Batman 260: Next up is one of my favorite Batman/Joker issues ever. O’Neil & Novick again give us an alltimer for the Clown Prince of Crime. I think this one is hilarious. Joker infects Batman with a serum that makes him uncontrollably laugh at horrible things, including some of the worst puns & jokes imaginable the Joker keeps telling him. Batman’s way to fight this? Think of something genuinely hilarious, so he focuses on old Marx Bros humor. It is such a fun issue that makes you laugh out loud while Batman dramatically guffaws while groaning how horrible the jokes are. Its also one of the most perfect uses of The Joker and how his plots and crimes should be thematically done.
Batman 261: Another O’Neil/Novick issue. This one has no big villain or team-up, its just Batman at his best. As a detective, as a master of disguise, as a death-trap defying superhero and as an avenger of the night. Following the perfect season setup here, its a wonderful little quieter issue focusing on Batman just tackling crime and death traps in between all the major stuff.
Batman 262: Denny O’Neil teams with Ernie Chua(Chan) on this one. Back to giving you all the hits after the required quieter episode we get The Scarecrow. This one is pretty fun as Batman goes after the Scarecrow who is holed up in an amusement park but Batman cant ferret him out. He needs to use the spots where his fear greatly increases to finally find him.
Batman 263: And for the final episode of the perfect season of Batman, O’Neil & Chua wrap up with The Riddler, last of the main Batman Rogues. This is a really fun solid issue involving riddle & puzzle death traps and schemes. Everything you could want out of a Riddler story.
And that is that. Like I said, this is just the perfect season of Batman. It gives you all the rogues with some fun Shadow guest star stories and quiet issues. Most of all, every one of these issues is really fun and unitizes the characters amazingly well. I was shocked when reading this how this little era is never mentioned compared to the O’Neil/Adams stuff right before it. It goes to show you its not just Neal Adams carrying O’Neil in these Batman stories. Dennis O’Neil is an alltime talent that could with any character or plot, no matter how silly, make an incredible Batman story full of charm, emotion, excitement and action. I will miss the man dearly. Rest in Peace Mr. O’Neil