Monday, October 9, 2017

The Late Great Len Wein

Comic book writer Len Wein, who co-created Swamp Thing with artist Bernie Wrightson and revitalised The X-Men, died on September 2017 at the age of 69. He had experienced problems with his heart for some time.

Len Wein was born on June 12 1948 in New York City. He was a comic book fan from childhood, although initially he wanted to be an artist. He and his friend Marv Wolfman (who also attained fame as a comic book writer) regularly attended National Periodical Publications' (now DC Comics) tour of their offices as teenagers. Mr. Wein received a degree in art from Farmingdale State College on Long Island.

It was in 1968 that DC Comics editor Joe Orlando hired Len Wein. His first published work was the story "Eye of the Beholder" in Teen Titans #18 (Dec. 1968).  Later in the year he wrote for DC Comics' horror anthology House of Secrets and Marvel Comics' horror anthology Chamber of Darkness. He also wrote for DC Comics' romance anthology Secret Hearts and the Mattel toy tie-in Hot Wheels. He did a good deal of work for Skywald Publications' black-and-white magazines, including the horror titles Nightmare  and Psycho, as well as their The Bravados and The Sundance Kid. He also did a good deal of work at Gold Key, writing on such titles as Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery, Star Trek, and The Twilight Zone.

Len Wein's first work on a superhero title for Marvel was a one-shot story co-written with Roy Thomas in  Daredevil #71 (Dec. 1970). He worked on various DC superhero titles, including Adventure Comics (featuring Supergirl ), The Flash, and Superman. It was in  The House of Secrets #92 (July 1971) that Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson introduced the character of Swamp Thing. Set in the Victorian Era, the story centred around a scientist who is transformed into a monster made of muck and vegetable matter. The story proved so successful that Swamp Thing was given his own title, although it was updated to modern times. Len Wein was the writer on Swamp Thing for its first 13 issues. He also wrote several issues of The Phantom Stranger.

Len Wein wrote issues 100 to 114 of Justice League of America, including issues 100-102, which re-introduced The Seven Solders of Victory and issues 107-108 which reintroduced various Quality Comics characters. With artist Carmine Infantino he co-created Christopher Chance, the Human Target, who first appeared in Action Comics #419 (December 1972).

Len Wein also wrote a good deal for Marvel Comics in the Seventies. In 1974 he succeeded Roy Thomas as editor-in-chief of Marvel's colour line. He remained as editor-in-chief at Marvel for only about a year, being succeeded in the position by his friend Marv Wolfman. He did stay at Marvel as a writer, and wrote on such titles as Marvel Team-Up, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor Fantastic Four, and The Defenders. It was while he was writing The Incredible Hulk that he co-created the character of Wolverine with artists John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe. Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, no. 182 (Dec. 1974).

It was in 1975 that Mr. Wein and artist Dave Cokrum revived the Marvel superhero team The X-Men, originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. A new team was introduced in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975) that included the characters Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Len Wein plotted the early stories of the revived X-Men, with the scripts themselves being written by Chris Claremont. Afterwards Mr. Claremont took over the title entirely.

It was a the end of the Seventies that Len Wein returned to DC Comics. With Batman no. 307 (January 1979) he began scripting Batman. It was with that issue that he introduced Wayne Foundation executive Lucius Fox. He also scripted Green Lantern, taking the character of John Stewart, previously a rarely used substitute Lantern when Hal Jordan was not available, and turned him into a major character. As an editor he worked on such diverse titles as The New Teen Titans, All-Star Squadron, and Batman and the Outsiders, as well as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's legendary mini-series Watchmen.

In the early Nineties Len Wein worked as editor in chief for Disney Comics for three years. Afterwards he worked on various animated series, including Phantom 2040, Iron Man, Hypernauts, Street Fighter: The Animated Series, and others. In 2006 he collaborated with writer Kurt Busiek on Dark Horse Comics' mini-series Conan: Book of Thoth. Since then he has written various one-shots and mini-series for DC Comics.

Len Wein was one of the most influential comic book writers to emerge from the Seventies. He would have been influential if Swamp Thing had been the only character he had ever created. As it was he created several important characters, including Wolverine, many of the New X-Men, and Lucius Fox. While John Stewart was created by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, it was Len Wein who turned him into a major character. As to why Len Wein proved to be so influential, it was perhaps because he rooted his writing in tradition, while at the same time bringing in something new. He was responsible for reviving The Seven Soldiers of Victory at DC Comics and reviving The X-Men at Marvel. He wrote for such classic characters as Batman and Green Lantern. At the same time, however, he was able to introduce new elements into classic comic books, whether it was the character of Lucius Fox in the Batman titles or adding new characters to The X-Men. Len Wein was truly one of the great comic book writers, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

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