Comic book artist Kevin ONeill has passed away, leaving behind an amazing legacy including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Green Lantern.
Artist Kevin O'Neill, the British comic book artist whose best work carved new paths in the superhero genre, died this week. O'Neill's best comics chart a course from 1980s British comics to 2000s independent fare, including titles like Marshal Law and 2000 AD. Fans unfamiliar with his work now have the opportunity to learn about a vital, inventive period in comic history.
He left his indelible mark on several great comic books, including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which he co-created with writer Alan Moore. He also worked with Moore on Tales of the Green Lantern Corps, which proved monumental not only in Green Lantern lore but in the company's relationship with the Comics Code Authority.
O'Neill got in on the ground floor with 2000 AD, a highly influential British comic book that produced several major artists including Moore, Dave Gibbons, and others. He provided art on the first issue's cover in 1977. He also contributed to several strips in the weekly comic, which continues to publish in the U.K.
2000 AD spawned numerous popular characters like Judge Dredd, which spawned two movie adaptations. Redditors feel the second stands with the best non-Marvel/DC comic book movies.
Though O'Neill quickly stood out among a strong artistic roster, he only worked on Judge Dredd sparingly, drawing only covers and a few shorts during his time on 2000 AD. But his propensity for drawing with exacting detail proved vital in realizing the dystopian world's strange landscape.
He added to the comic's verisimilitude with realistic costumes, gadgets, and landscapes. His devotion to detail became a hallmark of his career and certainly influenced artists that followed in the 1980s and 1990s when such detail became prevalent in mainstream superhero comics.
O'Neill lent his talents mostly to Nemesis the Warlock, a sci-fi fantasy featuring a fire-breathing alien warrior. Nemesis fought against the Torquemada, Grand Master of the Terran Empire, in a hellish future. This fantastical strip provided a weekly showcase for his art, which included inventing bizarre yet realistic creatures that featured so much detail it seemed he drew them from reference.
These creatures tilted toward the grotesque, a pattern O'Neill leaned into more and more over the years. The comic ran for years and inspired video game adaptations and action figures.
O'Neill's skill in creating copious detail served him well on The ABC Warriors. This strip ran in 2000 AD as well, created by writer Pat Mills, who would collaborate with O'Neill often. These mechanized robots fight in an apocalyptic landscape and O'Neill rendered them with a granular detail that exceeded other popular robots from the 1980s like the Transformers.
O'Neill worked on the earliest stories laying down the comic's sci-fi foundation and helped create the visually distinctive warriors who populated the long-running series.
O'Neill's love for robots and tech also featured in Ro-Busters. This long-running strip in 2000 AD afforded him ample opportunity to create massive, intricately embellished machines and robots. The story weaved on plot elements from other 2000 AD titles like The ABC Warriors, centering on The Volgan War.
These stories likely prove the most difficult for fans to find, though they're worth the effort. Ro-Busters comics have not been collected as often as other comics O'Neill worked on in the same period.
O'Neill's singular art style caught fans' eyes in the United States, leading him to work for DC Comics in the 1980s. He brought his appreciation for gigantic, gross monsters to The Omega Men, who might qualify as the strangest DC Comics characters ever.
The Omega Men, an interstellar superhero team, started life in other DC titles like Green Lantern, but O'Neill helped raise their profile in their first solo series. During his run on the title, O'Neill pushed the sci-fi elements in the book as far as comic book conventions at the time allowed.
O'Neill provided the art for "Tygers," a story in Tales Of The Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 from 1986. This issue proved remarkable for several reasons. First, Alan Moore and O'Neill establish the Blackest Night prophecy in this story, which laid the foundation for the 2009 Blackest Night storyline, which ranks with the most important DC Comics events.
The comic book numbered among the few in the 1980s to run without The Comic Code Authority seal. DC printed the book without it as the oversight board objected to O'Neill's art and the company disagreed with their stance. This contributed to a slow erosion in The Comic Code Authority's hold.
O'Neill's fondness for machines and creatures collided in Metalzoic, a 1986 graphic novel that reunited him with Mills. O'Neill's gonzo creations included lion-like robots with chainsaws for mouths, fighting each other in a typically post-apocalyptic landscape set in the far future after humanity died out.
His creations often resembled creatures that wouldn't be out of place in The Thing, among the best horror movies ever. DC Comics published the graphic novel, among the first in the genre, though the concept began life in 2000 AD comics in the United Kingdom.
O'Neill partnered with Mills for Epic Comics, a Marvel imprint, to create Marshal Law. This series took O'Neill's passion for monsters, dystopia, and detail and fashioned something truly unique. The series focused on Marshal Law, a superhero hunter who combines equal parts Judge Dredd and what would eventually become The Boys.
Featuring graphic violence and nudity, unheard of in mainstream comics at the time, the comic satirized the superhero genre in ways that now seem familiar. O'Neill continued to skewer the genre and others in later work with Mills and his other frequent collaborator, Alan Moore.
Comic book fans likely best know O'Neill for his work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which allowed his eye for detail to flourish. Taking place in the 19th and 20th centuries, O'Neill renders the period's costumes, technology, and characters in vivid detail. He also gets to create truly memorable monsters.
O'Neill's work on the series spans several years and titles, weaving through history and proving an ideal match for Moore's own intricate storytelling. The two created visually unique comics, including 3-D comics, that blended classic Victorian characters from sci-fi and fantasy with a distinctive comic book flair. O'Neill provided pencils on the title through its changes in publishers and formats, right up until its conclusion in 2019.
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DARBY HARN is the author of the sci-fi superhero novels Ever The Hero, The Judgment Of Valene, and Nothing Ever Ends. He talks all things pop culture on The Shelf Warmers podcast.