Near Mint, is our weekly comics column where we discuss all the KAPOW! that’s fit to print. This week, we discuss the late great comics legend, Len Wein.
Comics writer Len Wein, who co-created Marvel’s Wolverine, Storm, and other X-Men characters, as well as DC’s Swamp Thing, passed away last Sunday from heart complications at his home in Los Angeles. He was 69 years old. Wein is lesser known as a talented editor, though he worked on titles like Watchmen and New Teen Titans, and wrote several episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, including Blind as a Bat, where Batman is forced to fight the Penguin while temporarily blinded. Wein was one of the first comic book writers who actually grew up as a fan of comics, alongside a generation that included Marv Wolfman and Denny O’Neill. Wein’s creation Swamp Thing would go on to be written by Alan Moore, forming the cornerstone of DC’s alternative Vertigo line. Wein’s achievements with X-Men are particularly significant, taking what was mostly a flop and revitalizing the American superhero genre through a new international cast of characters. There’s Colossus, a likeable russian beefcake created while the cold war was still in full affect, christian demon Nightcrawler, and proud First Nations mutant Thunderbird.
But perhaps Wein’s most game changing creations was the X-Man (or rather, X-Woman) Storm, who first appeared written by Wein and penciled by Dave Cockrum in Giant Size X-Men. A Kenyan weather witch whose real name is Ororo Munroe, she was one of the first black female characters to play a significant role in either a Marvel or DC Comic. Storm was preceded only slightly by Marvel’s robotic detective Misty Knight. “Ororo Munroe isn’t an unsure neophyte when we meet her;” wrote Evan Narcisse at io9. “she has the powers, bearing, and responsibilities of a goddess.” In Len Wein’s writing, Storm doesn’t join Xavier because he white-saviors her from a mob, she joins the X-Men after Professor X begs for her help. Storm would go on to become one of (if not the most) popular female character at Marvel, even besting Wonder Woman after winning a poll in a Marvel vs. DC 1996 crossover event. And while Ororo fits the trope of the strong black woman with a capital S, strength is often expected of superheroes, and we later saw her vulnerability, claustrophobia and loneliness in America through stories by writer Chris Claremont. “you write what you know” Claremont told the Hollywood Reporter of Wein earlier this week. “One of the distinct advantages of living in New York—which was Wein’s formative state—was being able to walk around the world and see cultures and peoples and attitudes without leaving the five boroughs.”
Of course, the title for most famous of all of Wein’s creations goes to the Wolverine. Logan was something of an anomaly when Wein debuted him in 1974—a government owned creature of small stature in a super hero universe populated by six-foot tall vigilantes. In his first appearance, it seemed he was capable of holding his own against the Hulk with nothing other than his claws and sheer tenacity to allow him the upper hand. While we admire other superheroes for being impervious to harm, Wolverine’s strength is his ability to survive through the pain. The character’s past was mysterious for many during his early years in the X-Men. “I think part of that (fascination) is the mystery factor” explained Wein in an interview with Stan Lee for the DVD extras on X-Men Origins: Wolverine. “The less you know about a character, the more interesting they are.”
On twitter, Logan star Hugh Jackman celebrated the man who created the character to which he owes his livelihood.
The comic’s community has been in mourning, with many creators eulogizing the writer. “As much as I love the characters he created, I loved to see him tackle pre-existing characters,” said comics writer Gail Simone on Facebook. “Because there was always some chord structure, some weird key change, that showed the reader that it’s not necessarily the song, but the player, who brings the resonance.” Shadowy penciler Bill Sienkiewicz offered a stunning portrait of the fellow mutant writer, and other creators expressed their love for Wein’s work.
On a more personal note, it was Wein’s particular cast of X-Men that got me through middle school in the closet. The X-Men gave me a blueprint for a community hated by the world at large, yet that still somehow found happiness. It made it possible, in my pimply little 13-year-old mind, to consider that being hated didn’t mean being wrong. I’ve taken issue with some of the X-Men’s choices over the years. The writing on the comics and movies hasn’t always been stellar. But it got me through something heavy, and I can’t ask for anything more from a body of work. The great characters Len Wein created populate much of that work. May he rest in power.