For those of us of a certain age, who grew up on comic books in the 1970s and 1980s, it seems like we’re losing far too many of the great creators who helped shaped our imaginations during those years. The incomparable Bernie Wrightson and the underrated Rich Buckler passed earlier this year. Len Wein is now the latest in a long line of Bronze Age comic book writers, artists, and editors we’ve lost. He was only 69 years young. That’s far too soon to leave.
You can read about Wein’s numerous contributions all over the internet, but simply put, the man had a hand in several important characters and comic book series over the years. From co-creating Wolverine and Swamp Thing, to writing some extremely enjoyable runs on books like Batman and Blue Beetle to name only a few, to editing Watchmen, Wein was there. Alongside creators like Wrightson, Jim Starlin, Paul Levitz, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman, and so many more, Wein helped introduce Gen Xers like myself to the astonishing world of comics. Those creators sparked our own imaginations, so much that it’s impossible to imagine our lives without their influence over us.
For me personally, Wein’s job relaunching the X-Men in 1975 was life altering. Without Wein, and the late, great artist Dave Cockrum, there would be no Wolverine, no Storm, no Nightcrawler. In other words, three of my favorite characters in comics wouldn’t even exist if not for Wein. He established this new and improved, multiracial and international team of mutants in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May, 1975). From there Chris Claremont soon took the reins. What followed was a magical and unparalleled run of success spanning nearly two decades and turning Marvel’s mutants into worldwide superstars. It can all be traced back to Wein.
As I grow older, I love reading behind the scene stories about those days at the Marvel and DC offices, long before corporate synergy zapped much of the life out of comics. It was a time when young men and women were given the near-total creative freedom to let their imaginations run wild. The result was a plethora of memorably inventive and ridiculously entertaining stories that remain exciting to read today. Yet it’s important to remember the stories that changed our lives originated in the hearts and minds of the men and women working in comics at the time. Paul Levitz was kind enough to share on Facebook a wonderful memory of working with Wein during those days:
“A favorite story Len Wein would tell about us: back in the day when Len was editing comics at DC and I was responsible for keeping the schedules, we were frequently in conflict. Len would scrape past deadlines in service of quality, but causing disruptions to the system, and I was forever trying to get his titles on smoother schedules. One day after one of our furious arguments, as I closed up my log book, and he cheerfully asked, ‘okay, so where are we having lunch today?’ a bewildered Mike Barr looked on. Later, Mike asked him how he could have a friendship with someone he was arguing with that strenuously? Len replied, ‘That’s easy. It’s not Paul and me arguing, it’s Paul’s job and mine arguing.’ There’s a lesson in there for most of us, in separating the assignment from the person.”
That sort of personal revelation about what went on behind the panels, is fascinating, and only further enhances my love of comics. Wein and the gang were just doing their jobs, yet like Lee and Kirby before them, their work gifted us with characters and stories that influenced the kind of people that many of us grew up to be. For that and for so much more, those of us who grew up with Wein’s work owe the man an enormous debt of gratitude. Thanks, Len. Thanks for being there.