This weekend the comics world was rocked by the death of Len Wein, a writer and editor who laid the foundations for huge changes in the industry — even though not many would have been able to tell at the time. Wein died on Sunday, Sep. 10, at the age of 69.
It’s understandable that tributes to Wein would lead with his most famous creation, Wolverine, who first appeared as an antagonist in Wein’s The Incredible Hulk #180-181. But the mutant brawler is just the tip of the iceberg.
As a young New York native, Wein and his childhood friend, Marv Wolfman — who likewise grew up to make an indelible mark on American comics — would make regular trips to the DC Comics offices to take the company’s official tour of the premises. Gerry Conway is a Brooklyn native and another fan-turned comics writer; in his statement on Wein’s death, he confesses that he’d known Wein since the latter was 14.
Len Wein’s first published story at DC or Marvel was Teen Titans #18, in which he and Wolfman created DC’s first Russian superhero, Red Star — foreshadowing Wein’s similarly international approach to superheroes in his later work at Marvel.
While at DC he would create the characters of Swamp Thing — later expanded upon and popularized by Alan Moore — and Wayne Enterprise executive Lucius Fox. And even outside of the main writer’s chair, he would go on to edit Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and script dialogue for George Peréz’s celebrated and enduring Post-Crisis revamp of Wonder Woman.
But his work for Marvel Comics is perhaps his most famous. After co-creating the Canadian character of Wolverine, he added him to a significant revamp of one of Marvel’s historically less popular superhero teams, which had struggled for nearly a decade to attract readers until its cancellation in 1970.
Co-created Wolverine & the new X-men. Co-kickstarted the modern comic book era with its most powerful metaphor. And more. RIP Len Wein. pic.twitter.com/TSiWChvfdI— Joss Whedon (@joss) September 10, 2017
Five years after Uncanny X-Men released its final issue, Wein and artist Dave Cockrum designed a suite of new mutant characters to fill out a new team — including the Kenyan character of Storm, the German character of Nightcrawler and the Russian character of Colossus — and handed the plot of the new X-Men’s first few issues off to Chris Claremont for scripting. Claremont’s work in the X-Men setting would bring the characters to the kind of popularity and cultural relevance that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby couldn’t have dreamed of, but it was Lein and Cockrum who gave the comics world one of its first truly international super-teams.
When author and comics writer Neil Gaiman tweeted about Wein’s death, he outlined another way in which he had made international contributions to the industry:
Len Wein was the editor who brought the British creators to DC. He was one of the nicest people I've met, in 30 years in comics.— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) September 10, 2017
DC Comics’ so-called British Invasion defined the late ’80s and early ’90s at the company, bringing the talents of Gaiman, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Dave McKean, Grant Morrison and later (arguably) Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis.
Wein is survived by his wife, Christine Valada.