(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Dark Knight News.)
“Who writes the best Batman?” That’s definitely a conversation that comes up a lot between me and my other friends when we’re reading Detective Comics or Batman, and it’s always an intense debate. It occurred to me though that the better question is, how can you define who wrote the best Batman when Batman can be written in a multitude of ways? I think the art of writing Batman was put very well in that episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold: Legends of the Dark Mite. “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways…it’s certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots then the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy.” So looking back, I tried to wrack my brain for the best writers of Batman, the best stories, and the best ideas put forth by the writers to convey a masterful story that really made you feel like the Batman came alive as a character, lighter or darker. While it’s certainly true my tastes for Batman stories are indeed more dark than say someone who is fond of the 60’s Batman show or the Silver Age, I think that a lighter Batman can be great if he’s written well, just like in the previously mentioned Batman: The Brave And The Bold. So I’ll list whom I think are the five best Batman writers in terms of contribution and their take on the Caped Crusader. Some of them may have written longer runs, or had a stronger impact on the mythos, but this is just who I think are the top 5. I also won’t be taking into account any animated Batman related work at the moment as some writers like Paul Dini whowork on both the comics and the animated shows.
Number 5: Chuck Dixon.
Known for : Detective Comics #644- #738 (Knightfall, Knightquest, KnightEnd, Contagion, Legacy, Cataclysm, and No Man’s Land,) Nightwing, Robin, Bane of the Demon, and creating Birds of Prey
Chuck Dixon is who got me into reading Batman comics and while my tastes have evolved a bit since I was a small child in the ’90s, I owe a lot of my Batman love and what I expect from Batman due to Chuck Dixon’s work. He’s also the reason why Dick Grayson is probably my favorite Bat-family member because of his work on Nightwing. Dixon’s greatest claim to fame is perhaps helping to create Bane, the hulking genius in a mask that managed to do what no one else had done in Batman’s history; completely and utterly break Batman’s body and his spirit, through masterminding a way for Batman to slowly wear himself down, and after deducing his identity, confronting him in Wayne Manor for a beatdown that would leave Bane as the top dog in Gotham. Dixon would write pretty much 3/4ths of everything that came out of this Knightfall saga, including the second Batman, Azrael, Tim Drake’s ongoing solo series, Bruce’s attempt to reclaim both his ability to walk as well as his fighting spirit, and in general, threw the dynamics of the Bat-books perhaps the hardest they’ve ever been until that point. Robin and the second Batman weren’t working together, Dick Grayson was both concerned for Bruce and angry that he left a crazy zealot his cowl when he would have taken it up, Barbara decided to start her own superheroine group as Oracle known as the Birds of Prey, and Bruce had not only lost but been so utterly and brutally broken that it didn’t even seem likely that he would take up the mantle again. In a lot of ways, I think Knightfall/KnightEnd is what The Death and Return of Superman should have been. The hero has been obliterated by this overwhelmingly powerful evil, and now there’s a power vacuum, with these heirs to his legacy that do not seem to be doing the job as well as they could.
Dixon is also wrote the era where Batman was definitely a flawed hero, which culminated in Cataclysm and No Man’s Land, a very long but ultimately satisfying arc. When Gotham City was hit by a massive earthquake, the US Government declares Gotham to be a “No Man’s Land”, and they destroy all the bridges forbidding anyone from entering or exiting the city. Gotham became embroiled in a large turf war, with the Cops, Huntress, and every major crook in Gotham claiming parts of Gotham for themselves. During this Batman tried to fix things as Bruce Wayne instead of Batman, leaving the city for months and came back to find that everyone and everything had gone to hell. Dixon wrote Batman in a time where everything he stood to protect had essentially been destroyed and he was pushed to the brink to save Gotham, while his allies were still in a terse relationship with the ever brooding and hard to get along with Batman. This was Batman in a dark period, brooding and quiet, with a fumbled relationship with Nightwing, Robin, Oracle, as well as many others. Even Gordon’s relationship with Batman is pushed to it’s absolute limit in No Man’s Land because Gordon felt Batman had abandoned the city. That’s why I love Dixon’s work. Batman is very human under his pen, such as the Knightsaga, and most other stories. Batman is human, but Bruce Wayne can break. Batman might seem like this unstoppable master planner, but at the end of the day, he makes mistakes too, and he’s terrible at keeping up his own personal relationships because he’s ultimately not very good at admitting how he feels. After this story, the relationships he has with others starts to warm up, but really, during Dixon’s run, we got to see the “Man” part of the Batman. That’s why I learned to love Batman comics. It’s as much about Bruce Wayne’s own personal torment, his own drive to save the city he lives, and his ability to do good, while in contrast to his own inability to be happy and his strong and sometimes difficult relationships as much as it him fighting with the Justice League, or saving the day from a bomb or what have you. Half of why Batman is fun to read is to see what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, and Chuck Dixon did that wonderfully on all his books.
Number 4: Jeph Loeb
Known for: Batman: The Long Halloween. Catwoman: When in Rome, Batman: Dark Victory, Batman: Hush, Superman/Batman
While I’m far more critical of Jeph Loeb’s modern work, I think his stuff in the late 90s, and early 2000s on Batman was incredibly top notch. Loeb’s strength is a lot like Dixon’s in that his greatness lies in how he writes the character, but he adds something that Dixon did not put as much of in. Mystery. Batman is a detective, and all of his work focuses on a large mystery that you can slowly start to figure out if you look closely and go back and read. In The Long Halloween, it’s about who was ‘Holiday’, the mysterious killer who spent an entire year killing members of the Falcone crime family who were mentioned in Batman: Year One as the top criminal family in Gotham. Every issue of the Long Halloween takes place on a holiday around Batman’s second year of crime fighting, and it’s long strides in time, and extensive look at character development and relationships in the book are amazing. Harvey Dent, Batman and Jim Gordon team up to take down the Mafia, but slowly, as the year drags on, the “Holiday” killer becomes a menace that creates tension and paranoia among not only this alliance to bring down the mob, but the crime families as well. This story is as much Harvey Dent’s as it is Bruce Wayne’s, in a way that is not unlike how Year One was both Bruce and Jim Gordon’s story. The Long Halloween is the best follow up to that book for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s due to Loeb’s work with Batman’s early days, someone who still thinks that Gotham’s problem is the mob, while a new breed of super criminal begins to emerge and everything they touch begins to taint everything, even the greatest of men. This is the long story of how Batman builds his friendship up with Harvey Dent, and how Harvey Dent is lost during the war to bring down the Falcones, as he is turned into Two Face. It’s a long, emotional and fantastic journey into the dark mysteries of Gotham during Batman’s early years and Loeb writes it superbly with art by Tim Sale. A lot of the drama comes from the stress that comes with his kind of job, and how Batman is not able to save everyone. The writing and story are top notch because it works both as a mystery plot, and a character driven story. You truly feel for Harvey Dent’s long nights in the office but how he’s humanized by his loving wife, Jim Gordon’s own plights with his wife, and Bruce’s growing loneliness that fighting his one man war on crime that is not filling the void he’s had since his Parents died. Following this was an interquel with Catwoman,and a sequel during the next year, with Batman: Dark Victory
Dark Victory could be called “Year Three” if the Long Halloween is “Year Two”. Super Criminals are finally supplanting the mob which has been severely weakened by the events of the Long Halloween, as a new killer that works similarly to Holiday shows up several months later. Harvey is locked away, there’s a new DA who hates the Batman, as Jim Gordon and the Batman mourn the loss of Harvey. This is the story of how Bruce is now struggling to keep his humanity and connection to people, anyone who he can identify with. He himself says he found this in Harvey Dent, and would have revealed who he was had Harvey fall from grace had not happened. In a few ways, I like Dark Victory slightly more than The Long Halloween, because it’s much more focused on Batman, whereas the last one focused heavily on Harvey and Jim, as well as Batman. It’s deals with Bruce’s growing feeling of isolation, and that the mission isn’t getting any easier. It’s getting harder, and he’s just one man. This is also the book that introduces Dick Grayson into the life of Bruce Wayne and I love the way Loeb writes Dick, and Bruce’s relationship. Dick keeps Bruce human, and he gives him someone to talk to as a peer, rather than as Batman or just Bruce Wayne. In a lot of ways, Dick is also his chance to make sure what happened to him would never happen to anyone else, that Dick would grow up having avenged his parents murders, and had someone to talk to, someone who had been there before. Loeb writes the very painful and tiring process of Bruce opening his heart and trusting someone, someone who’ll be his partner, his protege and that’s why I think Loeb is one of the best Batman writers there was.
In Superman/Batman. He wrote the first 26 issues, the first arc of which was animated into the first Superman/Batman DC animated movie. Loeb’s strength is again, in how he writes Batman. He’s someone who’s isolated but does want to care about people. That’s a recurring theme in all his Batman related works is that he wants to connect to people. Whereas Chuck Dixon wrote this more as Bruce doing this in subtle, more quiet ways, or outright rejecting the notion that he could rely on others, Loeb’s Batman is more able to show this given the right conditions. Superman’s endless patience with his friend’s gruffness, and proving time and time again that they’re the World’s Finest for a reason, Batman and Superman’s relationship in these books could an opinion article all of it’s own. In a lot of ways, it’s not that Superman and Batman work together really well, it’s that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne compliment each other so well that it’s a friendship that can stand the test of time even after some initial mistrust. Loeb writes these two like they’re two sides of the same coin, as their dialog in the books often echo each other, and while their opinions often differ, they quickly find a middle ground and work to save the day. Another small thing I love in these books is the occasionally fun small talk between Bruce and Clark. The dialog actually feels like they’re friends inside the suit and out. Superman takes Batman’s attitude with a grain of salt most of the time, thinking the best of his friend, and Bruce silently enjoys Superman’s warmth and friendship.
Last but not least is Hush, which I feel captures everything I’ve mentioned previously as well as puts some insight into why Batman is both so distant and at the same time, so desperate to have relationships with people. Mostly it has to do with loss, specifically the loss of his parents, the loss of Harvey Dent, and the loss of Jason Todd. Batman is afraid to lose people, and he wants to protect himself, but he finds comfort in his old friendship with surgeon Tommy Elliot. Loeb creates an awesome character who is actually the arch enemy of Bruce Wayne, not Batman, in Hush. Hush doesn’t hate Bruce for anything he did as Batman, he hates Bruce for being able to live the life he wanted, without parents and with all the money in the world, as well as the fact his father, Thomas Wayne, saved his overbearing Mother from death from an accident that Elliot had orchestrated. This is also the story that has Batman reveal his identity to Catwoman and the two enter into a real relationship at last, as well as has him confront “Jason Todd”. Bruce’s relationship is again at the focus in this story, as we see his rage when he thinks Tommy has died thanks to the Joker. This might be the closest Bruce has ever come to killing the Joker, being completely covered in his blood, he just keeps beating the clown until he’s a bloody mess while Gordon manages to talk him down. You can feel all the emotions in this story because of how Loeb writes it. Love, Hate, Anger, Fear, Control, Sadness, Betrayal, and Loss. While his works are few, they are no less incredibly contributive to the Batman Mythos.
Number 3: Frank Miller
Known for: Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns.
I’m gonna be honest here and say I almost didn’t put Frank Miller on my list because of how ridiculous he’s gotten over the years. Just read the Dark Knight Strikes Again, or Holy Terror if you want to see what I’m talking about. I mean, he gave us ‘The Goddamn Batman’. But whatever unintentionally hilarious work he’s doing now, I have to give credit where credit is due, and Frank Miller is one of the best Batman writers of all time for two very important reasons that won’t change. Batman Year One, and The Dark Knight Returns, two of the strongest pieces of Batman work ever done. Batman Year One was the tale of how Batman returned to Gotham to take out the mafia, after many years of honing his mind and his body. It’s also equally the tale, if not more so, of James Gordon, who’s come to Gotham after leaving Chicago on grounds of refusing to accept corruption. The only two honest men in an otherwise corrupt city, and they are at odds with each other until the very end when Batman saves the life of James Gordon Jr. Batman Year One’s narrative is the stuff of legends. It’s word work is great, the characters feel real, the noir feeling that the Batman books had needed was back in full force. This was a dusky, new Gotham that while we had seen a little of in the Bronze Age, this was full on grit. This is the story that no one would ever really retcon no matter how many crises or hypertime events happened until the brand new Zero Year that’s coming out soon in the pages of Batman. So many ideas are planted here that would continue to persist in the Batman Mythos even now. Bruce must find a way to strike terror into hearts of the cowardly and superstitious and after a disastrous first outing, he contemplates giving up while bleeding to death in his father’s study in a green veteran’s jacket. He has a bell to his left, and he can ring it, but he doesn’t know how to continue, how could he? Then a bat comes crashing through the window, and suddenly it hits him, and he rings the bell so Alfred can save his life. “Yes Father, I shall become a Bat.”
That iconic scene has been put in so many Batman works over the over, most noticeably, Grant Morrison’s work. It’s also important to remember that this was the first Batman story post Crisis on Infinite Earths, establishing this grittier, more mob heavy Gotham city. This isn’t your Dad’s Batman, although it was closer to your Granddad’s Batman at the time. Frank Miller crafts this world where a Batman could realistically exist, one who’s vulnerable and still learning the ropes, and the police aren’t just as crooked as the mafia, but they won’t tolerate a vigilante, making Bruce have to get resourceful. It’s only when Jim Gordon sees the nobility of the Batman saving his infant son, that they begin a tentative partnership that would become a friendship over time. Really, what drives is this something that the previous stories had a lot of but not nearly as well. Introspection. These four issues are so focused on Jim and Bruce that we get a lot of in depth look into how they think, how they feel, and it’s great to see these characters at the start of their career and the beginnings of their partnership. This is also a story that does not rely on a major villain or grandiose plot. It’s about the early days, before the Joker and people holding Gotham for ransom. It’s just a man in a cowl, an honest cop, and gangsters, and it gives a really human and realistic feel to the story, something Frank Miller was really good at back in the day. Miller showed us two of the great periods of Batman’s life. In Year One, it was the beginning. In The Dark Knight Returns, it was at the end.
The Dark Knight Returns is one of the best Batman stories ever written, even if it’s not canonical. It’s a what if look if Batman had retired after Jason died, ironically before DC really killed off Jason Todd by a few years. You could not imagine my delight when they made it a movie, and had Batman voiced by Peter “I’m Robocop” Weller. Because Robocop and The Dark Knight Returns does have a lot in common. It’s about a figure of justice bringing law to an otherwise apathetic and generally dystopia 80s future where everything has become hyper violence and almost a self parody of television culture. Batman retired and life went on, but then he needs to come back, to remind the world of what it used to be, and what it can be again. I could sit here all day writing about this, but I’ll keep it down to the highlights instead of fanboying. This is a story that while well written, has Batman fight a mutant gang leader in a fist fight, a giant Bat Mobile Tank, The Joker going on a rampage in a carnival, and Batman fighting Superman to a stand still. These are all insanely awesome things and the best part? It’s written well. Bruce feels like a burnt out old man who’s slowly regaining his fighting spirit and coming to deliver Justice to the unlawful future and he doesn’t care who he has to fight to establish law and order. Superman is written kind of poorly, I think, in that he seems to be more of a puppet of the government then what I think Superman should act like, but that’s a minor point. The point being that Batman has a real dilemma of going back out to be Batman, and if he does, can he still do it now that he’s getting on in his years? There’s also the very sweet relationship between him and his new Robin, Carrie Kelly. Carrie is an amazingly fun character, she’s bright, she’s cheery, and she’s resourceful. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of a slightly more sassy Dick Grayson, but on that note don’t ever let Frank Miller write Dick Grayson. Just keep it at Carrie. On the highest note, I think I would have to rate Miller’s Joker as the right amount of showman, and sociopath. After losing his greatest enemy, the Joker had nothing, but now that he was back, it was time to have fun all over again, but not without some razzle dazzle. Get the Batman worked up by doing some mass murder, fight him in a carnival, and then frame him for his own murder. In a lot of ways, without Batman, the Joker is a gag without a punchline. I think a lot of modern Joker draws from this depiction of Joker, as well as the movies. Same goes for Batman. Both Year One and the Dark Knight Returns serve as inspirations for Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight Rises respectively although the latter is more of a mix between Miller and Dixon’s work on Batman. It’s an iconic story, with iconic imagery, and best of all, a story that is dark but at the same time, hopeful because the Dark Knight has returned to save the day.
Number 2: Grant Morrison
Known For: Batman (Batman & Son, The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul, The Black Glove, Batman R.I.P, Batman: Last Rites, Time and the Batman) Batman & Robin Vol 1, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman Incorporated, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Final Crisis, JLA, and a lot more of other stuff that had Batman and co. involved like 52.
I’ll state it right here that Grant Morrison is my favorite Batman writer period, but I do not think he’s the best Batman writer of all time. I understand while I love his work, he is kind of a hit or miss for some people because of how, perhaps needlessly in the eyes of some, complex he gets with his stories that require a lot of attention to detail and meta concepts. I think I have enough objectiveness to think that while Grant Morrison is one of the best writers of the last 20 years, there is one more person a little more qualified to be considered the greatest Batman writer of all time, who is coincidentally my second favorite Batman writer. I know that sounds odd, but I feel like enjoyment shouldn’t take away from what each is done, which I’ll elaborate more on the number 1 choice. That said, wow, do I love Grant Morrison’s Batman. It’s equal parts dark and light, with as much love as there is hate and pain. It’s about the defining relationships in the Dark Knight’s life in a positive way. It’s about the relationship between Bruce and Dick, Tim, Damian Wayne, and Alfred. In a way, this is a Bruce that has begun to heal, something we hadn’t really seen much of. He was spending more time with his family, working positively with Nightwing, talking openly about his feelings and confiding in people. Well except in the case of Jezebel Jet. His work is a complex narrative that celebrates all of Batman’s history while putting him in the way of what Morrison feels is the ultimate Evil. Doctor Hurt, from a vague Batman Silver age story, and Darkseid, the literal embodiment of Evil.
That’s how Morrison writes. He writes in archetypes, but he also makes those archetypes fleshed out and three dimensional. Bruce fully realizes that he’s isolated himself his whole life and he does not have to do that. That’s almost what the point of Batman Inc. is, that Bruce has never been alone and that he must continue to branch out his mission. In these books, Batman’s relationships flourish and grow, if awkwardly. While kind of at odds with his son, Damian, at first, it grows at a rate far faster than any relationship he’s had that was not a love interest since at least Tim Drake. In a lot of ways, the book was more light hearted because Batman wasn’t always brooding. He was more curious and a little more witty then usual, rather focusing on his darker feelings. I think this might have part in after Infinite Crisis, Batman realized he had become too dark and brooding and he needed to exorcise the darkness in his heart, both literally and figuratively. So in the face of the greatest darkness, Batman could stare into the abyss and not blink. He was not alone, and he was not afraid, and nothing would stop him, because there’s only two things you can beat but never truly defeat. Time and the Batman. The idea of Batman became more of a concept, while Bruce Wayne was more of a person rather than them being one in the same. Morrison humanized Bruce more then a lot of writers had in the past, in a way that wasn’t drawing back on the vulnerable child in the man. No, Bruce felt like an adult with adult concerns that did not exactly stem from his past, but more in the present. I think introducing a son managed to help give the idea that Bruce was getting on his years, and that he should focus on the here and now, rather than what had been. So what happens when you have a more self realized Batman that will be far more productive than he had been before, with a flourish working relationship with all his friends and loved ones? Why you kill him of course!
No one stays dead in Comics except Uncle Ben, Bucky and Jason Todd…Wait. I mean Uncle Ben and Bucky…Uh…Uncle Ben? So when Batman was to die after Batman RIP and Final Crisis, everyone knew it wouldn’t stick, to the point Morrison even showed Batman alive in the last pages of Final Crisis but in the distant past. But the way Batman go to that point is one of my favorite Batman stories and a wonderful recap of his entire history until that point. Batman’s “final case” as a detective right after he stopped Doctor Hurt from ruining his life and his family legacy, was something pretty awesome even for a Batman story. The mystery of who killed a God, and how. Batman was captured shortly after beginning the case but not after taking the bullet that killed Orion, the bullet that was the literal concept for all bullets, a sort of meta concept that all bullets would be designed similarly to the one Batman had, even the ones that had killed his Mother and Father. Afterwards, he’s captured and Darkseid and company try to make Batman clones to make an army which in itself, is a pretty smart idea I suppose. An army of Batmen? Unstoppable. Problem is that Bruce’s memories are so brutal that the clones literally die from the stress. Finally, Batman breaks free and heads off to confront the God Of Evil, Darkseid. Grant Morrison creates a scenario that perhaps Bruce has been waiting for his entire life. There is the concept of evil standing in front of him, the source of pain and murder. In Batman’s hand is a gun, with a bullet that is blueprint for all bullets ever. This is exactly the opposite of when Bruce’s parents were taken from him. A man, evil, and a gun. Only this time, Batman is the one with the gun, and Evil is at his mercy. “Gotcha”.
On a related note, I love Morrison’s Batman & Robin with Dick Grayson as Batman, and I would spend more time on that if I hadn’t already written pretty extensively on them in other opinion pieces. Dick as Batman under Morrison’s pen feels right, and it would feel right with other writers like Scott Snyder’s work on the Batman title.` The way he writes the relationship between Dick, Bruce and Damian all feels organic and very natural in it’s progression. Dick and Bruce have a long history together but only because Dick was very easy going and able to tolerate a lot of Batman’s attitude until he got into his rebellious late teen years. That same patience and affection extends to Damian who is very much Bruce’s son, a brooding dark avenger with a lot on this plate. At the same time, he manages to make Bruce a nice balance of the two. He’s certainly more positive then he’s been in years, but he’s also got a dark edge to himself. He still has all the underlying hurt and darkness even if he’s not actively fighting it to become someone better than he was. I think by making Bruce a little more separated from the Batman mantle is what allowed for the “Batman never dies!” and Batman Inc mentality works. He’s simply A Batman, an idea. What’s important is what the cowl stands for, and that each character under it brings a lot to the table. Alfred says that Batman is like a role, and that each person changes it to their strengths and that’s very much Morrison’s work in a nutshell. Taking the old and playing it to his strengths by making it a masterful and complex tale of the larger than life ideas like good and evil, archetypes, mysticism, and conspiracy. However, none of this would be possible I think, without the greatest Batman writer of them all, and that would be…
Number 1: Dennis O’Neil
Known For: Batman(224-303), Detective Comics (399-491 ), Azrael (1-100) World’s Finest Comics (198-214, 244, 256-264), Justice League of America
I started this opinion piece off with that little Bat Mite quote because I always thought of how Dennis O’Neil managed to change Batman in the Batman comics we know today. A dark, serious, brooding avenger with serious stories where there isn’t always a happy ending. Stories that reflected reality a little more than the stories of the Silver Age. O’Neil changed Batman from the campy caped crusader of the 60s into the Bronze Age crusader that would eventually give birth to the Batman of the 80s and 90s. O’Neil changed everything. It’s my sheer respect for O’Neil, the tightness of his writing and his innovation in an era right after the Silver Age that makes me believe he is the greatest Batman writer of all time. In these stories, Batman went back to his golden age roots, a vengeful, obsessive man hunter, who demanded justice. It was during this time that O’Neil created one of Batman’s most famous Rogues, Ra’s Al Ghul, an eco-terrorist that had a certain fondness for the Dark Knight. This complex relationship of hate, ideology, and mutual respect was not something seen before in the pages of Batman. He once again made the Joker an insane murderer with no regard for human life, a far cry from the harmless prankster that he had been for the last 25 or years prior. Talia Al Ghul, Leslie Thompkins, Ra’s Al Ghul, all these characters and more were brought in during the Bronze Age of comics under O’neil stories
O’neill’s stories were grounded more in reality and detective work, with real problems at stake. Batman wasn’t wrestling gorillas on the moon anymore, or visiting alternate dimensions. He was fighting terrorists, trying to save lives from the despair of Gotham City, and generally fighting his own inner darkness. It was such a radical shift that I have no idea how it stuck, but it might have to do with the tonal shift of the Bronze Age with other comics from Marvel gradually getting darker as well the other stories O’Neil did for Green Arrow, like having Speedy being addicted to heroin. Throughout the 70s, he’d add more grit and realism to the comics that had not been seen the Golden Age of comic books, and it was wonderful as far as creative stories went. Now stories were not about how outlandish you could make a super hero fight, or other such things, but about giving characterisation and making the heroes more related to everyday people. This can be seen on his work on Green Arrow. He returned to DC after the Post-Crisis influx of comics that would continue the trend he had started, darker, more mature stories that were less outlandish in their storytelling. He’d create Azrael, a college student that had unknowingly been the latest in line as an assassin for the Sacred Order of Saint Dumas, who would work closely with Batman. In fact, he would replace Batman during Knightfall as The Batman, and the editors weren’t sure if they’d bring back Bruce or not, but it was decided after a while that Bruce should be Batman once again. O’Neil would work as an editor on Batman books and occasionally as a writer for books like Legends of The Dark Knight until 2000. Over three decades of work on Batman, with some time at Marvel in the 80s, and the comic flourished. Batman went from being a campy fun joke to a serious story with a lot of gravitas and power behind it. The characters grew and changed, there were real things on the line, and characters died, like Jason Todd. Robin would have never died for real prior to O’Neil’s work, at all. Robin Dies At Dawn is an example, a dark sort of “what if” back in the 1960s, but Jason Todd really bit the big one. Batman failed to save Robin and I believe that speaks for itself. That the stories had evolved to the point that was possible.
There’s not much I can really say about O’Neil that hasn’t already been said by writers far better than me, especially his peers in the industry. I think in general, his work has a dark, simple edge to it, that I think comics could use nowadays. Sometimes I want to read a character driven story where it’s really the characters that drive the story, not so much the larger than life threats. Ra’s Al Ghul was a major threat, but I feel like that came more from his character than any power set. He wasn’t insane like the Joker, or wanted petty things like The Penguin, he had a genocidal goal to preserve the Earth. Leslie Thompkins and Batman had a quieter issue where they asked each other why they continue to work so hard in Gotham, especially in Crime Alley. Batman is driven to avenge his Parent’s death, but at the same time, is also an inherently good man who wants to do what he can do make sure no other 9 year old child loses their parents in a dark alleyway. Justice and revenge rage inside Batman’s heart, and I think O’Neil captured that perfectly in his stories in the 70s and beyond.
Now in closing, I’d like to say this is all just my opinion? See up there, at the top? Opinion. What I’d like to know is your opinions. Who do you think are the five best writers that wrote for Batman? Now if you don’t see your favorite writer on this, let me say that picking writers was hard. It was really hard. I’d have done a top 10 if I didn’t already write so much. I have a lot of love and respect for different writers like Greg Rucka, Scott Snyder, and anyone else not on the list. So who do you think are the top five?