My Favorite Len Wein Stories

To comics readers raised on the Bronze Age, writer and editor Len Wein was a ubiquitous name. He passed away yesterday, age 69, and was, by all accounts a very nice man. Like a lot of Bronze Age work horses, his star waned in the 90s and beyond, and while he continued to get work, was considered by most a little too old-fashioned for contemporary tastes. And yet, this was the trail blazer who co-created Wolverine, the All-New All-Different X-Men, Lucius Fox, the Human Target, and Swamp Thing. And then others would take those characters and make themselves famous by pushing them to greater heights. Frank Miller. Chris Claremont. Alan Moore. They all built their huge reputations on his foundation (Moore especially, since Watchmen was Wein's editorial project). From the 90s on, the number of times his work was reprinted was pretty much off the charts.

To pay tribute to someone who should rightly be called a comics legend, allow me to present some of my favorite Len Wein stories (and I really wish I'd been reading comics in the 70s because of lot of his great comics were written during that decade):
Thor #244 "This Is the Way the World Ends!" - When I was a kid, and could only read French, we used to get these Jumbo books that had black & white translations from a variety of comics, from all companies thrown together willy-nilly. I don't have them anymore, sadly, but a few of them fired my imagination and still loom large in my memory. One of these is this issue of Thor, where he goes up against time-manipulating beings. How they could age you to dust or send you back to before you existed terrified the young me.
Fantastic Four #186 "Enter: Salem's Seven!" - This issue of FF, fighting the very cool Salem's 7, was another. And looky here, both were written by Len Wein!
Blue Beetle #8 "Henchman" - Probably my favorite single Len Wein story, this change of pace - and perspective - in the middle of a perfectly fun series, looks at a superhero adventure through the eyes of a henchman with very human concerns.
Swamp Thing #9 "The Stalker from Beyond!" - Not the most obvious choice from the original Swamp Thing series, but I reread it a few times recently for the Invasion Podcast, so I'm using it as a stand-in for that first run.
DC Comics Presents #61 "The Once-and-Future War!" - Wein wrote a lot of team-ups over the years, eve starting the Thing's run in what would become Marvel Two-in-One. One of my favorite team-ups, that I recently covered on FW Team-Up, is this Superman/OMAC tale that predates and prefigures The Terminator!
DC Comics Presents #64 "The Resurgence of Blackbriar Thorn!" - Another of my early purchases, leading to a life-long love of the Demon and of Joe Kubert's art. Blackbriar Thorne was a pretty cool villain too.
Teen Titans #18 "Eye of the Beholder!" - Wein's first published work was a modernization of the Teen Titans (that I covered HERE), co-written with Marv Wolfman. The two would team up many times, most famously on Crisis on Infinite Earths and my next choice.
Who's Who #1-13 - Wein edited and wrote many pieces of the first half of the original "definitive directory of the DC Universe", which just so happens to be one of my favorite comic book things ever.
Batman: The Animated Series "The Demon's Quest" - Wein also wrote four episodes of Bruce Timm's Batman, the best of which is surely the two-parter that introduced Ra's al Ghul  and Talia to the animated DCU. Reviewed HERE.

I know I missed a lot of great stuff. Tell me what yours are. Tell me about your love of the Basilisk. Or of how the Hulk fell in love. Or of his JLA/Golden Age crossovers. His great Batman stories. The return of the Green Goblin. His horror work. His westerns. His Star Trek stories. There's a lot to love. And a lot for me to still discover.


Anonymous said...

RIP, guy.

I've read that Len Wein lived pretty handsomely just on royalties on Lucius Fox; I'm not sure why that pleases me so much. Maybe because, for all the eclectic work Len Wein did, it's only right that he finally found a golden goose that kept laying golden eggs -- but ironically for the weakest concept he ever developed. Which do you suppose he deserved more fame, recognition, and money for:

A) Wolverine, the most popular mutant at Marvel, a nearly-immortal samurai / soldier / spy / assassin / hero, appearing in a half dozen titles simultaneously for a while; or

B) Lucius Fox, the man exists solely to make sure there is an answer to the question, "Who runs Bruce Wayne's financial empire while Bruce is kicking muggers in the face?" There is literally no reason to care about Lucius Fox. It's like asking "who makes sure the second floor men's room at WayneTech doesn't run out of toilet paper?" and then getting paid for answering "Tiberius Chicken".

Toby'c said...

Sadly I don't have a lot of Wein's writing on my shelf: a couple of issues in various collections (Giant Size X-Men and The Flash #215), and Legends.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Wein's runs on Amazing Spider-Man (he used a lot of classic villains like Shocker, Kingpin, Doc Ock, and Silvermane, plus some newer ones like Will o' the Wisp, Hammerhead, and Punisher) and Batman (more classic baddies like Mr. Freeze, Two Face, Gentleman Ghost, Catwoman). His early 70s JLA run was great too--he brought back the Seven Soldiers of Victory and Freedom Fighters, and had Red Tornado and Elongated Man join the team.

Maybe it was because he came out of fandom, but Wein seemed to like resurrecting old characters, and he always seemed to give them a fresh perspective. That's probably what I'll remember most.

Mike W.

John said...

In re Anonymous #1's comment above: "Who runs Bruce Wayne's financial empire while Bruce is kicking muggers in the face?" isn't a profound or interesting question, nor one that necessarily needed to be answered, but it's noteworthy that Wein's answer to that question was good enough that it's remained mostly unchanged for almost 40 years, which is impressive. (That Wein created him as a person of color is important to note as well.)


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