I regret to share in the passing of Len Wein, comic writer, editor, producer, creator, and well frankly, genius rarely equaled in this industry. He was a cornerstone, who was invisible but ubiquitous. Like Futurama’s Galactic God, Wein’s light touch made you think he’d barely done anything at all.
Until you sat down and thought about it. Like so many of my writing heroes, I remember the first time I saw a page of their work which resonated with me. Whether they be a writer, artist or editor. For Len Wein, it was 1975 and I was eleven years old.
I took a trip to my local grocery store to spend one dollar on comics. This was back when a comic cost a quarter. Yeah, fun times, right? I arrived to find the spinning stand already full and my story owner, Julius smiling at me when I came in. I was a regular and would read all the comics even if I could buy only five or six. He never seemed to mind.
Julius knew my books. This was before comic stories. He knew my tastes and held one up for me and said: “This one. This one is for you. Giant Sized X-Men #1.” Julius couldn’t have been more right. I will admit, the X-men weren’t my favorites at the time. I preferred DC’s more eclectic Metal Men or their Doom Patrol. The X-men felt more like students than superheroes. I was eleven. Student was equated with a little dull.
There was something about this one that seemed different. They seemed older. Certainly more colorful and diverse. I was intrigued on the strength of the diversity alone. I only recognized one. Cyclops. I hated that guy. I wanted to write comics one day so I had already started collecting the names of writers. I figured this guy was getting a giant-sized issue, so he must be a name to conjure by. Len Wein and his artistic co-creator Dave Cockrum would change my view of comics on that day. Wein became my hero.
Don’t get it wrong, Uncle Stan was still the man but he was as unachievable to my eleven year old mind as the president. He was like a legend. Len was someone I could aspire to. In this one issue, Wein would co-create some of the greatest (and my favorite) heroes in the Marvel Universe all at one time.
Storm: No matter what they did to her, I love her still; powers, no powers, bad hair, worst costumes, Storm can do no wrong in my eyes.
Nightcrawler: (you fuzzy, swashbuckling elf), who knew you would become the heart and soul of the X-men of your era. And would become handy with a sword…
Colossus: Okay this guy was stiff as Russian literature and had to grow on me but after he died and came back he really knew how to party. I always thought he an Kitty Pryde were a good couple, which is why it never lasted. I loved him as the Juggernaut, brief though it was.
Wolverine: And baddest of the bad boys, but good in a fight and the best-looking mutant in modern cinema, thanks to Hugh Jackman, the original Canuckle-head, the-best-at-what-he-does, even when-it-wasn’t-very-nice: the one the only, the Wolverine. In all his stories, Wolverine never seemed more real to me than in this moment:
How could one man be in so many places at one time?
In the case of Len Wein, how many times in comics does one man, with the help of amazing artistic talent create so much good at one time? With anyone else, you might have attributed this to just plain luck. But he would strike again and again. He flitted through the DC and Marvel Universes, laying hands on just about every character possible, either as a writer or editor, and over time, Wein’s influence was everywhere.
His Swamp Thing work would make him a household name, winning him several awards, and the recognition of the character as more than just a backup feature, but as a fully-realized character. I was glad to discover I wasn’t the only person enthralled by such strange work, which seemed part horror comic and part superhero revenge story. I wasn’t surprised to see Wein’s name attached to it. Alan Moore’s transformation and re-imagining of the character helped to make it legendary and redefine interesting aspects of the DC Universe using such concepts as the Green, the Clear and the Red.
Wein would write my favorite runs of the Justice League during that period where the Seven Soldiers of Victory and the Freedom Fighters (of which I have already professed my love) appeared. Wein would even rise to the level of editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, stepping down just a year later handing the reins to the very capable Marv Wolfman.
Wein would write my favorite books, which included Marvel Team-Up, which always felt like a tour of the Bronze Age Marvel Universe. At the time, people probably didn’t love it like I did, but I thought the series brought out the best in the Thing or Spider-Man and anyone who appeared in it. Two heroes meet, sometimes they dust it up, then figure out the villain, team up and go their way as friends. No, it wasn’t Shakespeare, but ask anyone from the period and they will probably remember it fondly.
Wein would also write all my favorites, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Fantastic Four. He also wrote my favorites obscure heroes the Defenders and the so rarely seen, Brother Voodoo.
Len Wein’s early work would go on to show up in television with Swamp Thing and The Human Target and he was the editor for one of the most famous graphic novels of all time: The Watchmen. I think fans underestimate the role of editors. They can be influential in ways people rarely understand. They help writers decide what’s important, where to focus one’s creative energy and how best to get the most from each page. By the time the Watchmen was being written, Wein’s talents had been honed and I am certain his contribution to the success of the Watchmen was considerable.
Len would later continue to contribute to animated works such as Ben 10 (another favorite) and providing superhero and comic industry commentary for a number of animated features and documentaries. Genial and enthusiastic, he was a perfect spokesman for the industry. A whirlwind of activity, Len Wein always seemed in demand somewhere. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Hall of Fame in 2008.
Len was no stranger to tragedy. He would lose his home in a fire, along with many of his original works and awards. He would also have to have major heart surgery in 2015. He said he was a sickly kid and it was his favorite past-time to read comics while he recovered.
Well, sir. Thanks to your efforts, I have spent many a rainy, snowy, or inclement day, lost in the worlds of your fervid and bountiful imagination. You have given many of us entire worlds to enjoy. To your family and friends, we offer our condolences on the loss of an individual who meant the world to you. He certainly was the world to us.
Godspeed, Len Wein. You were the divine touch, gentle, invisible and yet transforming. You don’t get enough credit for all you’ve done. Let the Green embrace you.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.