The countdown continues with the next five writers that you voted as your favorites of all-time (out of roughly 1,023 ballots cast, with 10 points for first place votes, 9 points for second place votes, etc.).
22. JM, DeMatteis – 524 points (5 first place votes)
Few comic book writers are quite as dedicated to the inner workings of the human mind as JM DeMatteis. His works have consistently explored the inner depths of the human condition, often in ways that did not exactly scream out as being obvious at the time. For instance, likely his most famous work deals with the depression and then manic breakdown of an old Spider-Man villain, Kraven the Hunter, who had almost become a joke by the time DeMatteis wrote Kraven’s Last Hunt. In it, Spider-Man underestimates Kraven and is nearly killed. Instead, he is buried alive while Kraven takes over as Spider-Man, proving himself to be (in his mind) a superior Spider-man.
Spider-Man’s eventual escape was another journey to the mind of someone, this time Peter Parker…
Similarly, DeMatteis wrote a classic stretch of stories spotlighting the slow descent of Harry Osborn into the beginning of madness with the Child Within storyline in Spectacular Spider-Manwhere we see just how badly emotionally abused Harry was by his father Norman (a few years later, DeMatteis would re-visit this idea in a Spectacular Spider-Man Annual where Spider-Man relives Harry and Norman’s childhoods). Meanwhile, the fact that Harry knew Peter’s secret identity was being used by Harry torment his best friend … now his enemy.
Things seemed to come to a fever pitch in #189…
Also similarly, DeMatteis wrote a classic story of the Joker dealing with killing Batman and then, well, “Going Sane.”
DeMatteis is not just concerned with madness, though, of course. Of moonshadow, we see a wonderful coming of age tale. Or in “The Gift” (aka the death of Aunt May) we were treated to one of the best handlings of death in a superhero comic book that you’ll ever see.
All of this doesn’t even TOUCH on his wonderful work on the off-kilter superhero stories of Keith Giffen in Justice League International, where DeMatteis’ dialogue brought characters like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold and Maxwell Lord fully to life. DeMatteis recently launched a whole new LINE of comic book, jokingly referred to as the DeMultiverse!
21. Denny O’Neil – 608 points (2 first place votes)
After breaking in at Marvel through the help of Roy Thomas (where he got the chance to script the last few issues of Steve Ditko’s epic Doctor Strange run), Denny O’Neil ended up at DC Comics in the late 1960s and soon made a real name for himself on Justice League of America, Green Lantern/Green Arrow (where he took the two heroes on a road trip across America finding themselves) and, most importantly, the Batman titles in the early 1970s. While editor Julie Schwartz was already heading for a darker Batman in the late 1960s (including working out a deal where Batman no longer HAD to be drawn by Bob Kane’s studio), O’Neil really brought it to the forefront, especially as he famously revamped two of Batman’s greatest villains, the Joker…
O’Neil also introduced Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul in one of the most famous Batman stories of the 1970s (including Batman dueling Ra’s Al Ghul in the desert with his shirt off, seemingly dying after being bitten by a poisonous scorpion, getting the poison cured and then coming back to capture Ra’s and making out with Talia). O’Neil was the primary Batman writer throughout the 1970s, working with artists like Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Irv Novick and Bob Brown. O’Neil also introduced another major new character, Doctor Leslie Thompkins.
After a stint at Marvel during the 1980s (including a run on Amazing Spider-Man and an extended run on Demir Adam where he used his own experience with addiction to do a more realistic take on Tony Stark’s alcoholism), O’Neil returned to the Bat-books in the mid-1980s to take over as the editor in charge of the line of comics. He brought in Frank Miller for Year One. O’Neil then guided the Bat-universe for roughly the next fifteen years. O’Neil would also still write from time to time again. He famously invented Azrael in a mini-series with Joe Quesada, all part of Knightfall, which was based on O’Neil’s view that they should show people what a true “Grim and gritty” Batman would look like, and show why that would be a very bad idea. However, once that story was finished, O’Neil decided to try to redeem Azrael, and he did so by writing Azrael’s ongoing series for the entire 100 issue run.
O’Neil retired at the turn of the 21st Century, leaving behind a vast multitude of awesome Batman stories and likely the greatest influence upon the character over the past 40 years. He sadly passed away in 2020.
20. Marv Wolfman – 655 points (8 first place votes)
What I think has always made Marv Wolfman a compelling writer is the way that he lets his characters drive his series. His most famous work at Marvel is probably his long run on Tomb of Dracula, and there, he was able to write such effective horror stories because he was so good at developing the characters within the series so that when bad things happened to them, there would be more of an impact to them. In addition, he has always been adept at quickly introducing characters and getting you to care about them – Blade was a cool character right off the bat and Hannibal King has one of the all-time great introduction issues. His work on Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man were a bit more plot-driven but then he came to likely his most famous work, the New Teen Titans, and there it was ALL about characters – and what characters! Wolfman and George Perez created in Raven, Cyborg, Starfire (plus essentially brand-new takes on Changeling and Wonder Girl) characters so interesting that decades later they were easily adapted into a hit cartoon series. As much as we were reading the New Teen Titans to see superhero adventures, we were reading it to check in our “friends,” and to see how they were progressing in their lives. That’s what made moments like New Teen Titans #39 resonate so much, where Dick Grayson gives up being Robin…
See how each character is given a chance to shine in very little space – that’s Wolfman to a tee. It’s no surprise that the Titans he created have become such popular icons in the Teen Titans Go cartoon, as Wolfman was a master of coming up with great characters (he even got to guest star on the show with Perez before Perez’s tragic passing)
19. Roy Thomas – 694 points (3 first place votes)
While Stan Lee certainly introduced the idea of the Marvel Universe as a shared universe, Roy Thomas perfected the idea as he began to take over more and more writing assignments from Lee before taking over as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, the first full -time Editor-in-Chief other than Lee in over thirty years at the time. During his time as Editor-in-Chief, Thomas played a major role in the creation of Wolverine (Thomas assigned the specifics of the creation of the character to writer Len Wein and Marvel Art Director John Romita, but Thomas came up with the idea of a Canadian mutant named Wolverine). Thomas then helped develop the bare basics of the All-New, All-Different X-Men before leaving the Editor-in-Chief position.
Few comic writers are quite as thoughtful as Thomas, who was (and is) a great student of both comic book and pulp history, which led to him seeking out the Conan license for Marvel. Once he managed to acquire the Conan license, Thomas wrote the character for years, including introducing Red Sonja to the title.
Thomas was smart enough to know that he wouldn’t own characters he created for Marvel, so he used his comic knowledge often to rather UPDATE old characters rather than create new ones himself. And even WITH that in mind, he STILL created one of the greatest Avengers villains of all-time, Ultron (plus the Vision, but the Vision was sorted of based on the Golden Age Marvel hero of the same name). Vision’s debut two-parter has two of the greatest endings in superhero comic book history. In the first issue, #57, Ultron is defeated and we got an awesome epilogue page…
While #58, now that Vision has proved himself to be a worthy addition to the Avengers, we ge to see his reaction to the news…
After giving up his Editor-in-Chief role, Thomas continued to work at Marvel throughout the 1970s, even helping to keep the company afloat with his idea of also acquiring the Star Wars license before the movie came out. In 1980, Thomas left Marvel for DC (he was one of the Marvel writers who balked over the “no writer/edtiors” rule, along with Marv Wolfman) and carved out his own little corner of the sky with the Earth 2 heroes. He eventually introduced Infinity Inc., the next generation of Earth 2 heroes. His knowledge of history was in rare form while writing the Earth 2 heroes, as he got to write a lot of stories set in World War II (he also excelled back at Marvel on the Invaders, also a World War II series). Thomas also had an acclaimed run on Wonder Womanas well, with Gene Colan.
Thomas returned to Marvel as he 1990s began, writing Doctor Strange and Avengers West Coast. He also returned to writing Conan again, becoming the main writer for Marvel’s Conan stories pretty much until Marvel lost the license in the late 1990s. nowadays, while he still does comic book work (he recently launched the latest volume of Marvel’s X-Men Legends), he also continues his excellent comic book history magazine, Alter Ego.