An Interview with Dennis O’Neill
Conducted by Jek Tezak
Dennis O’ Neil is responsible for using his creative writing talents to give us our hero and the awesome storyarc of Knightfall. We have some questions for you Dennis, related to the creation of Azrael and the Knightfall storylines. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.
How did the idea for Knightfall begin? What was the original concept for Knightfall? Was Azrael a character that was in the original outline?
The genesis of the story was a two-part piece for Detective, by Peter Milligan. Then I thought I saw some big-time possibilities in the idea and assembled the troops to put together an outline. Azreal came along much later. We needed a character to be the antagonist and it fell to me to come up with one. So Az was created to serve a plot need, I never expected him to have an afterlife.
In a visual sense, what did you want Azrael to look like? What was your original concept for the character?
I didn’t have a concept. I trusted the artist and the editor, my late and much-missed friend, Archie Goodwin.
I’ve heard the term Bat summit meeting. Is this refering to creative brainstorming meetings on where to take the Batman storylines? Can you give us a rough idea as to how the first meeting about Knightfall went?
It usually worked like this: I assembled as many people as the budget would accommodate somewhere outside Manhattan and explained the problems to them. Then, for about three days, everyone drank coffee, took walks, played poker, and talked talked talked. Jordan took notes and at the end of our time together, we’d solved enough of the problems to begin the project.
There was a rumor going around roughly when Sword Of Azrael was at the news stands that the Death of Superman team copied the Knightfall teams ideas, that originally Bruce Wayne was supposed to die. Is there any truth to this rumor?
Mike Carlin did not copy me, nor I him. I didn’t know about the Superman storyline until we were some months into Knightfall, and Mike was equally ignorant of my stuff.
Besides what we’ve already read, Were there any changes to the storyline or characters made when Knightfall was hitting the newstands? By changes I mean, last minute ideas or concepts that were not originally going to be used?
I’m sure there were. I always tried to keep the outline loose enough to accommodate good, late-blooming ideas.
One change I’m curious to know about is why the Azrael Batman suits final design was changed. I noticed in an old Wizard magazine that the AZbats suit looks much different than it did in the comics. Why did you guys change the final suit?
Ask the editor. I’m not sure, but lame sales might be a good guess and if so, the editor was doing his job.
When reading Knightsend I really felt like Azrael was going to become a full time Batman villian and added to Batman’s already infamous Rogues Gallery. Was this ever thought of in the process of creating Knightfall?
We were mostly thinking about filling a plot hole and undertaking a year-long juggling act. Not much consideration of anything beyond that.
In your very honest opinion, what do you think of the Azrael character?
Tough one to answer. I wish I’d done one or two things differently, and I think the series kind of lost its way for a while in the middle of the run. But all that aside…I don’t think there’s ever been a character exactly like Az before or since and I generally enjoyed working on him. I wish the 100th issue could have been stronger, but it was wonderful of Mike to let me write it; I was only weeks past major surgery at the time and maybe a ways from my best.
In the Knightfall saga, Azrael was Batman for about a year. I know some fans were very upset sending death threats to DC comics stating that if Bruce Wayne wasn’t put back in the Batsuit, that you would lose loyal readers. How long was Azrael supposed to be Batman? Did those letters from the fans influence your decision on how long Azrael was going to be Batman?
No, We had most of the series, and particularly its length, planned from the git-go. Actually, I would have been more bothered if the readers liked Az–that would mean they favored a nastier Batman and I would have had problems with that.
Do you have any little known facts or secrets that fans don’t know about the Bat-summit meetings or the creation of Azrael/Knightfall?
If I ever had such secrets, they are lost to a memory riddled with hard living, defibrillation, age, and maybe genetics.
There was a rumor going around that DC wanted you to outright kill off Jean Paul Valley/Azrael and you didn’t want to. I heard that you wanted to make the ending of Jean Paul’s character vague because you liked him too much to kill him off outright. Is any of this true?
No. He was, at first, a plot device and often plot devices bite the dust. In fact, before my heart attack, I was doing a continuity that would have culminated in Az’s shuffle off this mortal coil. It was Mike’s idea, but I was completely comfortable with it.
What really happened to Jean Paul Valley at the end of issue#100?
He left? Gotham? Earth? Life? I wanted the readers to decide for themselves. As noted above, the original idea was to kill him off, but I was myself briefly dead (and revived by defibrillation and a stalwart fireman) and while I was recovering, Mike called Marifran and told her that maybe having a character I created die might be letting fiction get a little too close to fact, and maybe we shouldn’t do it. So we didn’t.
With this Battle For the Cowl and a new Azrael comic, will we ever see the return of the original Azrael, Jean Paul Valley?
I have no idea.
In terms of collecting Knightfall memorabilia, were you excited to see Azrael finally as an action figure?
It was nice, and it gives me credibility when I talk to Marifran’s grade-schoolers