In Memoriam: Len Wein
We have fans of all types of geek culture here at House of Geekery, so the name Len Wein may not be immediately familiar to you. His creations, on the other hand…
Wein’s introduction to comics is almost cliched. In his own words he was a ‘sickly child’ whose father brought him a stack of comic books to help him pass the time. When his school art teacher complimented his talent Wein decided that this was his path. As a teenager Wein immersed himself in fan culture by collecting, reading and writing fanzines. Wein and friend (and fellow comic legend) Marv Wolfman would tour the DC offices and try to show the editorial staff their creations on a weekly basis.
Eventually DC editor Joe Orlando hired Wein and Wolfman on their first job in the comics industry, Teen Titans #18. In this issue the pair introduced their own creation, Red Star, who was the first Russian superhero in the DC universe. An additional story they wrote for Teen Titans would have featured the first African-American hero in 1968, but the publisher rejected the concept and the story was rewritten.
Having gotten his foot in the door Wein picked up regular work with DC writing their horror and western books. In 1970 he wrote a one-shot Daredevil story for Marvel.
In 1971 Wein teamed up with artist Bernie Wrightson to create one of his most famous and unique characters: Swamp Thing. This mythological and environmental horror icon would remain a staple of the DC landscape for decades, spawning movies, TV shows and served as a platform for the early work of Alan Moore.
Wein’s reputation among the comic community was solidified through his runs on Justice League of America, Marvel Team-Up, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Defenders and others.
As an X-Men fan it’s Wein next creations that contributed most to my love of comics. Whilst working on The Incredible Hulk in1974 with John Romita, Snr and Herb Trimpe, Wein introduced a new foe named Wolverine, a Canadian scrapper with metal claws protruding from his knuckles.
The next year Wein worked with David Cockrum to revive the failed Lee/Kirby title X-Men. In doing so they introduced Wolverine to the fold, and new characters who became series icons such as Storm, Colossus, Thunderbird and my personal favourite mutant: Nightcrawler.
The reins of X-Men were handed over to Chris Claremont, who went on to define the series in the lead up to and during it’s run as the highest selling comic series in history. Claremont started out scripting the plots created by Wein and gives him a great deal of credit in shaping what the X-Men would become. Claremont said in 2009, “The fact he doesn’t get credit for it half the time is disgraceful.”
Following this Wein moved back to DC to work as a writer an editor, picking up work on the Batman line with Dave Gibbons and Mark Farmer. Here he created enduring support character Lucius Fox (played on the screen by Morgan Freeman). Amid editing a number of major titles Len Wein worked as editor on Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ seminal work Watchmen.
From here Wein moved to the west coast to work as editor-in-chief of Disney Comics and write for the X-Men and Batman animated series (among others) of the 90s. Len Wein maintained his prominent role in the comic industry working across many titles and projects up until his death.
Len Wein passed away on September 10th, 2017, and was succeeded by his wife Christine Valada. In addition to his many accolades including a position in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame and two Shazam Awards, Wein leaves a legacy as one of the most influential creators in the business responsible for iconic figures such as Wolverine and Swamp Thing. The world of comics would look very different if Wein wasn’t around.
Rest in Peace.