Len Wein, who co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing and edited Watchmen, has died. We are immeasurably fortunate to have had him. Our loss is profound.
Like a passing planet, comics characters exert a gravity on our lives; they pull our inner tides in subtle, non-obvious ways. They are profound miners in the deep levels of the human psyche. Right this second, somewhere on the broad back of America, there are men and women who are sticking it out through tough situations because they know that’s what Logan would do. Len Wein came from an age of giants, when modern superhero comics were first hitting their stride. He lived long enough to see comics become the primary driver of American pop culture, to witness their ubiquitous spread across all media. It is not every creator, even in comics, who has a hand in an immortal character. By the leanest count, Wein had three. By a more generous tally, Wein had two dozen or more.
The X-Men you know—the troubled, glamorous, multi-ethnic team fighting the hate of the world and feuding with one another—are not really Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s doing. That was Wein and artist Dave Cockrum. They took Jack and Stan’s regulation superhero team, and fermented it into the oppressed tribe of angst-hunters we know today. When all is said and done, Giant-Size X-Men #1 and its descendants are arguably Wein’s most lasting influence on the world. Kirby and Lee’s X-Men #1 came out in 1963, but the X-Men became our X-Men in 1975, when Wein and Cockrum’s giant-size was published. The execution finally caught up to the brilliance of the concept. And the person who coaxed it out was Wein. Subsequent creators John Byrne and Chris Claremont made the team famous, but they built on the foundation Wein laid down.
Wein was born three years after the war, in 1948. Reading comics in a hospital, he decided to make them for a living. Wein entered the industry when he was 20, beginning at DC, then to Marvel, then back to DC. His first published piece of comics writing was a Teen Titans story in December 1968, the same month Anders, Lovell and Borman were reciting Genesis in the orbital embrace of the Moon.
His influence is everywhere. Along with Wolverine and Swamp Thing, Wein co-created Storm and Thunderbird, Nightcrawler and Colossus. He wrote for House of Secrets and the Chamber of Darkness. He wrote for television too: Twilight Zone and Star Trek. He told the stories of the Flash, Superman and Daredevil. He wrote stories for Batman and for Thor, for the Amazing Spider-Man and Brother Voodoo. Not only did he co-create Swamp Thing, he then passed it to Alan Moore, who essentially rebirthed the character over again. He was on both sides of monumental character reinventions.
In a medium whose characters mock death forever, Wein has a certain kind of immortality: he lives on through what he created. Only when an arc has finished, can the entire story be adequately judged. The issues of his life can now be gathered together, their excellence fully comprehended.
Comics is a sequential art, with the next panel just over the horizon—but we who read, draw and write comics will always be in the debt of the legend who came before us, as great a hero and as fine a man as any figure ever captured in ink. Rest in power, Len.