Denny O’Neil, who helped revive Batman, dies

Splash page to the Batman story “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley,” written by Denny O’Neil

Denny O’Neil, a comic book writer and editor who returned Batman to his dark origins, has died at 81, the Games Radar website said.

The character’s comic stories had turned light-hearted during the run of the 1966-68 television series starring Adam West.

After that show ended, editor Julius Schwartz assembled contributors who’d take the character in a darker direction.

O’Neill, artist Neal Adams and inker Dick Giordano were among the key contributors, though there were others.

Those stories ended up being an influence on the 1989 Batman feature film directed by Tim Burton. O’Neil and Adams also created the villain Ra’s al Ghul, who appeared in the 2005 Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins. Also, some of the O’Neil-written comics stories were adapted by a 1990s Batman cartoon series.

O’Neil and Adams also worked together on a run of Green Lantern and Green Arrow comics in the 1970s intended to take on contemporary issues, such as drug addiction.

O’Neil left DC for a time to work at Marvel. He was editor of Daredevil when writer-artist Frank Miller rejuvenated that character in the late 1970s and 1980s. O’Neil also wrote Daredevil for a time after Miller departed.

O’Neil later returned to DC, where he edited the Batman titles from 1986 to 2000.

Tributes to O’Neil were published on social media, including one by retired comic book writer Gerry Conway.

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Len Wein, co-creator of Wolverine, dies at 69

Len Wein (1948-2017)

Len Wein, a comics fan turned comics professional, has died at 69, according to multiple posts on social meedia by comics professionals including Mark Millar and Kurt Busiek. .

Wein co-created the mutant character Wolverine while writing The Incredible Hulk for Marvel.

He also revived the X-Men in 1975, with a new cast, including Wolverine. (The X-Men originally were created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.)

Wolverine helped make Hugh Jackman a star, both through X-Men and Wolverine movies. Jackman’s most recent performance as the character was in this year’s Logan.

At DC Comics, Wein wrote a number of Batman stories. One highlight was a 1970s story, Moon of the Wolf, illustrated by Neal Adams and Dick Giorddano, in which Batman encounters a warewolf. It would later be adapted in the Batman: The Animated Series.

Growing up in the greater New York area, Wein and friend Marv Wolfman (who would also become a comics professional) would visit the prolific Jack Kirby at his home.

“We came over for mile and cookies on Saturdays,” Wein said in a documentary about Kirby. When they’d see Kirby at his drawing board, Wein said, “His hand was always moving, producing.”

Such experiences presumably explain why Wein went into the field.

After becoming a writer at Marvel, he was named editor-in-chief after Roy Thomas (who had succeeded Stan Lee) stepped down. It wasn’t an easy time for the company. “Wein struggled with the constant cycle of cancellations and launches,” Sean Howe wrote in his book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Wolfman took over.

Eventually, a number of people (Thomas, Wein, Wolfman and others) got deals where they were editors of the titles they wrote. In the late 1970s, these deals were ended and Jim Shooter was put in charge of Marvel’s titles.

Nevertheless, Wein stayed in the field for a long time. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the first two Avengers movie for Marvel, posted a tribute:

UPDATE (8:55 p.m. ET): Hugh Jackman posted a tribute to Len Wein on Twitter.

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Jack Kirby: Hail to the King, 100 years later

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby self portrait (enhanced version, adding other characters from the original drawing)

Hail to the King! Aug. 28, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book artist Jack Kirby.

“Comic book artist” actually is an inadequate description. Comic book creator is more like it. His nickname was the “King.” It was deserved.

Kirby lived the stories he drew in his mind. The characters he depicted existed in that fertile imagination. At one point his beloved wife Roz banned Kirby from driving. He was so distracted devising new stories he wasn’t safe behind the wheel.

In the 21st century, much of the output of Marvel Studios wouldn’t be possible without Kirby’s contributions: Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon in 1941), the Avengers (co-created with Stan Lee in 1963), Iron Man (co-created with Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck, also ’63), Thor (co-created with Lee and Lieber, ’62), Ant-Man (Lee and Lieber, ’61), the Black Panther (co-created with Lee, 1966). Not to mention the X-Men (co-created with Lee, ’63) that are licensed by 20th Century Fox.

Walt Disney Co. reached an out-of-court settlement with the Kirby family that ensured the company would maintain control. Terms weren’t disclosed but ever since Kirby’s on-screen credit in Marvel-made movies is more prominent.

Still, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) isn’t as well known among the public as Stan Lee is. Stan was the showman and promoter. Kirby was the workhorse at the drawing board who dreamed up much of the story content. Stan gets cameos in every Marvel movie. Kirby got a cameo in one episode of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show.

This isn’t intended as a criticism of Stan. For several years in the 1960s, there was a magic every time there was a Stan Lee-Jack Kirby story published by Marvel. It’s just that Kirby deserves more notoriety than he has received.

Kirby has some detractors who note his drawing style wasn’t realistic. In a 2005 documentary, artist Neal Adams said that missed the point.

Paul McCartney and Jack Kirby in 1976

“I don’t think Jack could really draw anatomy,” Adams said. “I don’t think Jack could draw a real car. That wasn’t Jack. He was a visceral animal. (He) drew impressions of things.

“If you sit around with artists and talk about Jack’s anatomy… you would get the artist who was critical. ‘Oh, he doesn’t know how to do anatomy and everything,'” Adams added. “Then you say, ‘But can you do the power that he can do? Can you do it?’ Let’s just say I ask you to do it. Would you know what to do? Wouldn’t you essentially be held back by what you knew?”

Finally, Adams had this thought: “Me as an artist, it overwhelms me to see this gutsy, ballsy thing and in a way say to myself, ‘I can’t do it.'”

No one else could. That’s why Kirby was the King.

To read about the 1976 meeting between Jack Kirby and Paul McCartney, CLICK HERE to read a post from the Jack Kirby Museum website.

To view frequently asked questions about Kirby, prepared by his biographer Mark Evanier, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (2:45 p.m., Eastern time): Evanier, who once worked as an assistant to Kirby, has his own tribute you can view by CLICKING HERE.

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, sent out a post on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

 

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1975: When Marvel Comics ripped 007

One of the more unusual titles published by Marvel Comics came out in the mid-1970s. That’s when the company’s Dealy Hands of Kung Fu magazine ran a detailed critique of The Man With The Golden Gun. The article by Don McGregor, then a writer for Marvel, ripped almost everybody associated with the movie.

Some background: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu was a 75-cent magazine on newsstands featuring characters such as Shang Chi and the Sons of the Dragons. Horror comics and kung fu stories were popular for Marvel so the company came out with magazines with black-and-white artwork and a higher price (regular comics were 25 cents at the time).

Issue 12 of the magazine in 1975 was unusual in that the cover story was McGregor’s long review of the movie, not a comic story. Marvel even commissioned iconic comic artist Neal Adams to do the cover of Roger Moore as Bond, in a scene based on the movie’s “karate school” sequence. You can view that cover by CLICKING RIGHT HERE. Our recollection of the article is that McGregor wrote from the perspective of a long-time fan who didn’t care for the lighter tone of the 1970s films that Eon Productions was making. The title of the article: The Man With The Golden Gun Shoots Blanks!

We were reminded about after some Bond fans we know were discussing Golden Gun. It’s been years since we read the McGregor article but it’s definitely one of the more unusual things Marvel had done up to that time. Evidently, nobody at Eon held a grudge because Marvel ended up doing the official comics adaptation of For Your Eyes Only in 1981.

About two decades later, McGregor did his own take on 007 in a comic book story called The Quasimodo Gambit.