The saying goes that you should never meet your heroes. So when I first interned at DC Comics back in 1999 or so, I was outright terrified of Dennis O'Neil. To me, it was like walking past a movie star in the halls. This was the writer that redefined Batman in the 1970s. A writer whose work only got better with time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Denny's scripts evolved to fit the tone of the 80s and 90s, his plots became more complex, his dialogue richer. This was the writer on the brilliant Question series, the editor who created the most consistent and unified Gotham City, the man who threw social and political issues at Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the author of the "From the Den" editorials that offered a wealth of insight into the comic book business. Denny retired from DC around the time I was there, and I don't think I said two words to him.
As I began to get work in the comic book business, I've since had the opportunity to correct that mistake. Denny and I spoke on a Batman panel at a comic con together. I interviewed him for a book I was writing. We chatted in an email or two. We've spoken at comic conventions. And every time, I left impressed. He was as old as Batman, born May of 1939 (the cover date of Batman's first comic appearance in Detective Comics #27), but he never missed a beat. The last time we spoke, we talked about Asheville and he mentioned our town's most famous writer, Thomas Wolfe. I had said that I'd just finished reading Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel," and immediately Denny started asking me about plot points in the novel, what I thought of Wolfe's style of prose. It's exactly what you'd expect him to be like. He never disappointed and always inspired.
Denny O'Neil was the single most influential writer and editor to me as both a kid and an adult. I'm gutted to hear that he died last night, but I'm extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to meet my hero. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.