"So I kept referring to it as 'that swamp thing'..."
September 10, 2017 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Len Wein, Co-Creator of Wolverine and Editor of Watchmen, Dies at 69. He leaves behind numerous comicbook creations such as Swamp Thing, Human Target as well as being responsible for the best known incarnation of the X-Men, his impact on comics and popular culture was incalculable.
posted by Artw (52 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Len Wein (1948-2017)
posted by Artw at 3:33 PM on September 10

Aaand I'll delete the draft I was working on. Here are some links to interviews with him: about writing superheroes, about writing Fantastic Four back in 1981, about Tales of the Batman (more). Marv Wolfman interviews him (part 1, part 2).
posted by goatdog at 3:39 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]

TBH That sounds like a better obit, on reflection this one is kind of crappy, if the mods will it i will gladdly withdraw it in favour of yours.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]

Nah, maybe everyone can post their favorite Len Wein thing and it will be a group memorial. I liked this obit a lot.
posted by goatdog at 3:42 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]

Ouch, I'd kind of forgotten we'd also lost Bernie Wrightson last year. That's both Swamp Thing creators gone.
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

Wein also created the backstory for Arkham Asylum for an issue of Who's Who: The Definitive Guide to the DC Universe, introduced thew rhyming speech gimmick that defined Etrigan the Demon for many years, and had a run of Justice League that may still be the definitive one.

He was the editor who shepherded Alan Moore to greater heights at DC, inspired Grant Morrison, whose own DC work drew on Wein's and, int he case of his JLA, was modeled after it. Thus Wein had a considerable, if indirect influence on the Justice League animated series. even before that, he'd directly adapted one of his comics stories, the one where Batman fights an artificially created werewolf, for the classic animated series.

But Wein's work on DC's Who's Who, their answer to Marvel's Official Handbooks, is worth recalling, however obscure. Imagined as a companion piece to the universe-shaking Crisis on Infinite Earths, it's a treasure trove of concepts, many of which would be tossed out in the immediate wake of DC's tonal and stylistic reboot.

Wein effectively saved hundreds of characters from utter obscurity, editing and in some cases writing their profiles in the series. Many, many characters were brought back later because writers found them there, or were at least reminded of them. Much of the texture and variety of DC's line is down to his easily-overlooked efforts there.

How many creators can be said to have guided both the Class of '86 that matured superhero comics and the cycle of reconstruction and rediscovery that happened an "Age" later? Wein is in that rather small circle.
posted by kewb at 3:57 PM on September 10 [25 favorites]

posted by the sobsister at 4:07 PM on September 10

Len Wein is one of those names that seemed to touch every comic I read for a while. He was never on the very top of my list of favourite writers, but his was always a notable presence.
posted by sardonyx at 4:11 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]

posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:18 PM on September 10

From Mark Evanier.

posted by beowulf573 at 4:21 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

That's both Swamp Thing creators gone.

Maybe they will rise again from the muck?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:24 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

Mutant healing factor, fingers crossed.
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on September 10

posted by Sphinx at 4:36 PM on September 10

That's both Swamp Thing creators gone.

Maybe they will rise again from the muck?

Mutant healing factor, fingers crossed.

Wolverine alone, and thus Len Wein's imagination, will outlive 100% of everyone alive on planet Earth right now. This one is catching be by surprise in it's difficulty, much like losing Harold Ramis a couple years ago. Like oh damn right, there was this once-in-a-generation creative genius working in my time, and even though I loved his work, it still doesn't feel like I appreciated it enough.

Anyhow. Thank you for the stories and please rest easy, bub.

posted by EatTheWeak at 5:23 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]

posted by Joey Michaels at 5:25 PM on September 10

Gah. What a loss, in a solid year and a half of losses.

May he...become one...with the Green.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:36 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

I love what Moore, Bissette and Totleben did with Swamp Thing, but their reinvention led to a character that had no easy way forward -- none of the subsequent runs really stuck. Wein and Wrightson built a story machine that could go on indefinitely, which is kind of the point of ongoing comics. Wein was very good at devising such machines, and at writing serial comics. He was, to be honest, much better at it than most of the people who do it today.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:45 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]

posted by zombieflanders at 5:59 PM on September 10

. Human Target is and was one of the best characters in comics.
posted by vrakatar at 6:17 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]

posted by Catblack at 6:44 PM on September 10


I've got, uh, conflicted feelings about Len Wein and his legacy ("cripple the bitch" and fighting to keep comics as straight, white, and male as possible), but there's no denying his impact on decades of comics and comic book writing.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:44 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]

The first comic book I ever read was one of Wein's JUSTICE LEAGUE stories. The energy and intensity he brought to it was ... extraordinary. I suppose I must have been about 7 or 8. It motivated me both to buy JLA back issues and pick up every new issues for, I don't know, the next five years.

Although I collected about 160 issues of the JLA, I am not sure I realized until recently how much of the moments I truly enjoyed were crafted by Wein. Green Arrow's hidden sadness at Hawkman's departure? Wein. The terrifying two-parter in which the JLA was trapped in a Nazi universe? Wein. The strained reconciliation of the JLA with Snapper Carr? Wein. The Sandman's realization that he had pointlessly condemned Sandy to years of unnecessary confinement? Wein. The Red Tornado's development of a personality, aided by Kathy Sutton? Wein. And, of course, the very first comic book I ever read, in which a weakened JLA pursued Amazo across the earth in order to regain their powers? Wein.

(I am lucky enough to have one page of Dillin-Giordano original art from that era of the JLA up on my wall. I snapped it up some years ago off of ebay for $100 or so. A steal.)

I kept reading comic books, not simply because of the avalanche of costumed characters, but because, when Wein wrote them, they seemed to be populated by three-dimensional human beings, with real emotional lives and real histories. Over 40 years later, my memories of his writing remain vivid.
posted by Mr. Justice at 7:06 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]

Between 1971-1975 Len Wein co-created Swamp Thing (w/Bernie Wrightson), Wolverine (w/John Romita Sr), and revived the X-men (creating Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, and Thunderbird w/Dave Cockrum for Giant-Size X-Men No. 1). Think about that.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 7:12 PM on September 10 [10 favorites]

If the only thing that Wein had done was reinvent the X-Men, he'd have cemented his place in comics history. Of course, he did way more than that.

posted by Halloween Jack at 7:30 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]

posted by mikelieman at 7:33 PM on September 10

posted by praemunire at 7:48 PM on September 10

dinty_moore - I do wonder if Moore revealing that detail in 2006 was what lead to the souring of the relationship between the two. Possibly it had gone south already as part of Moores hardline against anything and anyone DC related. Certainly after that you'd find it hard to find Wein saying anything nice about Moore, being particularly dismissive of his creative contributions towards Swamp Thing and Watchmen.*

A shame really, since I think that collaboration together of Wein and memoirs produced some outstanding works, even if Killing Joke** also happened.

* not entirely coincidentally this was around the time Wein was writing Beyond Watchmen, which I'd also count as a bit of a questionable decision. But for better or worse he was very much a jobbing writer and turning that work down would probably incomprehensible to him.

** and I liked that one a lot at the time too. A lot of people did. I think only over time has it become apparent that it was a grim and gritty too far.
posted by Artw at 7:53 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

I never really liked The Killing Joke, but Moore wrote it, not Len Wein. Not to take anything away from what an editor does. But I don't think anyone is trying to give anyone other than Moore credit for writing Watchmen, so fair is fair.

Before Watchmen makes me itchy, but Wein had recently lost his home to fire and may well have needed the money more than Alan Moore needed him not to make it, frankly. It's appalling that the co-creator of Wolverine wasn't a multimillionaire, but that's the comics business for you.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:06 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]

That is indeed an incredible and not in a good way thing about the comics industry.
posted by Artw at 8:19 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]

On movies:

HC: When these films come out, is it fair to say that it’s something of a bittersweet experience? Characters you’ve created continue to have these long screen lives, but you don’t have credit on the movies.

LW: I still haven’t had credit on one of these movies.

HC: Is that frustrating?

LW: Yes, of course it is. It’s less frustrating for the characters I created at DC. Money comes with the anonymity, at least. I have contracts that guarantee me some small piece of the action. Lucius Fox has earned me a great deal more money than Wolverine ever has, although I will say that for the latest film Marvel did send me a nice check.

posted by Artw at 8:40 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

I really grew to love and appreciate Wein and his contributions long after I'd (mostly...) given up on comics. I will miss him.

If you haven't heard them yet, I strongly recommend listening to the episodes of Nerdist Writers Panel and Nerdist Comics Panel podcasts that he is featured on. Great conversations about storytelling and characterization, as well as a good dose of historical context and behind-the-scenes stories.
posted by Anoplura at 8:43 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]

I don't want to make a memorial thread about Len Wein be about his shortcomings, but it wasn't just the Killing Joke. He made other comments that made it pretty clear that he was one of the ones that viewed pushes toward diversity in comics as poor storytelling and entitlement.

He did help create Storm, and that's great. He was a wonderful storyteller, and created amazing characters. He was hugely influential, and part of that was why I was disappointed when I listened to interviews and podcasts with him and realized he didn't value me as a reader. I still think he was a net good for the comics industry, especially for the 70's.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:44 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]

No . from me. He'll be back in a multi-crossover event, and I will put down the comic to dance a little dance and go "YES!" just like I was 13 again, thrilled to see him back in the fray.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:09 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]

What Does It Pay to Create Wolverine? $350, Initially

In this case Marvel really do seem considerably shitter than D.C.
posted by Artw at 9:11 PM on September 10

Gah, I really didn't need to read that dinty_moore. Well, okay maybe I did but I wasn't happy reading it. I really do believe it's better that I stay as far away from biographies and comments by artistic people as possible. Every time I read one, I'm pretty much guaranteed to be disappointed. (The Todd McFarlane comments, those didn't surprise me or disappoint me in the least. They're pretty much what I expected just based on his terrible writing. Gerry and Len though, those hurt.)

I've already shared my feelings as a female comic reader who was around at the time when The Killing Joke (and Miller's The Dark Knight Returns) were originally published, so I won't detail them again, except to say I hated the way they treated women, and they left me very wary of those writers and their future projects.

At the same time, I never really felt excluded from comics as a female reader. Sure I was a pariah at the comics shops, but that's a different story. I guess I felt like I could be a reader because there were always stories that I really enjoyed.

In one of the CBR interviews linked to above, Wein mentions Haven as one of his favourite stories. I remember that issue. In it, Batman ended up having a philosophical discussion with a pacifist who was being threatened by some bad guys on the lam. (Please keep in mind it has been years, and years since I read the story, so I may have scrambled some details.) It's always been one of those stories that have stood out in my mind as being something really different--which is evidenced by the fact I can still recall it by name decades later. (I should note that by today's standard it had Batman doing some very un-Batman-like things. He was out in the daylight. He was outside of Gotham proper. He was in the woods in the middle of a snowstorm. He actually talked in full sentences and didn't just grunt. That's my kind of Batman.)

Wein also mentions the retroactive continuity (before that term got butchered to mean reboot) masterpiece The Untold Legend of the Batman, which tried to make sense of (at that time) 40 or so years of DC comic history as it related to Batman. That was the kind of thing that the comic history nerd in me loved.

I think with Wein, the good outweighs the bad, at least in my experience as a reader. He gave us some great main characters (A-listers, and ones further down the food chain like the Human Target) and some important secondary or supporting characters, with Lucius Fox being the prime example. He also left behind a vast body of work with some really strong stories. For me, that has to be his main legacy. The more toxic comments and attitudes--those were things I was unaware of at the time, so while I can understand them now as something harmful to the industry and to women in general, I'd be lying if I said they hurt the way I consumed comics at the time when I was reading Wein's work.
posted by sardonyx at 9:38 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


(BTW, see that, MeFi's own Etrigan? RHYMING SCHEME!)
posted by Samizdata at 10:25 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]

If tears could come, they would.
posted by benzenedream at 10:28 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]

I am deeply annoyed whenever someone writes Ertigan and scams their way out of doing the rhyming.
posted by Artw at 10:32 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]

Wein mentions Haven as one of his favourite stories. I remember that issue.

It was one of DC's Best Stories of 1979* and made me cry my face off when I read it as a kid. Honestly, I get a little choked by it today, kinda mawkish Batman/Grizzly Adams team-up be damned, and there's a seven-panel sequence by the great Don Newton that also blew my mind back in the day and still gives me chills. Excerpts/synopses can be found on the google, but read it whole if you can. A fantastic done-in-one that could serve as his legacy all on its own.

Thanks, Len Wein.

*Jesus, the stories in that digest. Basically DC's definition of 'Best' that year was 'Hey, Let's Emotionally Gut That Ampersand Kid'
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:47 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]

posted by Gelatin at 2:19 AM on September 11

posted by filtergik at 3:06 AM on September 11

posted by doctornemo at 4:50 AM on September 11

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posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:54 AM on September 11

posted by tdismukes at 9:54 AM on September 11

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posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:17 PM on September 11

"Gah, I really didn't need to read that dinty_moore. Well, okay maybe I did but I wasn't happy reading it. I really do believe it's better that I stay as far away from biographies and comments by artistic people as possible. Every time I read one, I'm pretty much guaranteed to be disappointed. (The Todd McFarlane comments, those didn't surprise me or disappoint me in the least. They're pretty much what I expected just based on his terrible writing. Gerry and Len though, those hurt.) "

I dunno, Wein seemed kinda shoehorned in there, and it seemed more like the context of the article that made him come off badly. He only has one quote in there, and it's that if you make the representation the point of the character, you're selling the character short.

I think this is one of those times where what Wein actually did should be the more important context — he repeatedly created three-dimensional minority characters whose races and genders are substantial parts of who they are. Saying that he created Storm, not Black Storm, contrasts with Black Lightning, a character who has been an also-ran for most of his existence, and who was explicitly created to be a headlining black character for DC. Storm's being an African goddess was core, and there have been a lot of great stories exploring that, but she's far more than "Oh hey I guess we need some black characters now."

His vision for the X-Men was a diverse set of heroes from all over the globe and with real, deep backgrounds where even Thunderbird has a fleshed-out back story.

It just seems like reading Wein's comment as being against diversity overall is congruent with the mistake of arguing that Marvel's decline in sales was due to diversity, rather than due to weak storytelling.
posted by klangklangston at 1:51 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]

How much that is actually Wein's contribution is questionable though; much of the fleshing out of all the All-New X-Men was done by Claremont with Cockrum, Byrne and others.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:42 AM on September 13

I mean, there are more examples I can provide if people really think it's necessary, but when I was reading a lot of interviews and podcasts with him in it, a lot of the stuff he said about readership bothered me - things that seemed to indicate that comics shouldn't try to branch out, shouldn't try for diversity in writers and readers, and seemed blind to some ongoing issues.

We're talking about events that are decades apart - the comments I'm talking about were all made in the last five - ten years (mostly during last DC stint, right with the new 52 and into about 2015, when I decided I wanted to stop being disappointed by someone I'd always thought should be better than that). It's just that when we're talking about modern fights for diversity in comics, he came up very short. I'm totally fine saying that what passed for great in diversity in the 70's is different than what would count as great for diversity today, and I'm not saying that what he did in the 70's didn't count for anything - it's just the more modern opinions bothered me. It kind of sucks to realize that even supposed champions of diversity don't think you should be reading their work.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:24 AM on September 13

It's taken me all these days to post something in this thread, and I still don't have anything to add really except that Len was a dear friend, and that his generosity and humor were legendary, and that I am going to miss the hell out of him. RIP and .
posted by OolooKitty at 9:13 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

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