Bad News, Good Deeds

A poster for the
X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, © 2009 Fox or Marvel or both.

I can't imagine you haven't heard of
Wolverine by now. Gruff X-Men dude with claws? Played by Hugh Jackman in the new US box-office smash? Right?

He was co-created and first written by a man named
Len Wein in 1974.

On April 6th, one month ago yesterday, Len and his wife Chris Valada lost much of their house, many irreplaceable possessions, and their dog Sheba in a fire. Neither they nor their son were physically injured, which is far and away the most important thing, but their collection of original artwork and comic books to which Len had contributed was burned and/or waterlogged — much less a financial consideration than an emotional one, although thanks to the phenomena with which Len has been involved replacing them would be an expensive proposition.

Mark Evanier — perhaps the only person who could challenge Larry Marder for the title Nexus of All Comic-Book Realities (sorry, civilians; in-group speak is hard to shake) — has thus captained...

Click here to visit the project's home page immediately.

Now, I realize that the "comic-book people" reading this are probably already aware of the situation, and the rest of you don't own (or wouldn't know where to purchase) any relevant items to donate. I just couldn't let this go without mention on the blog, however; if I reach anyone who wasn't aware of the undertaking and can help, it's worth it. Len has had a hand in countless moments of joy and wonder for me and millions of other readers over the years, on top of which he's what our tribe calls a
mensch. I've seen him indulge fans with behind-the-scenes stories at comic-book conventions, and at a time when dozens of journalists were likely asking the same favor he graciously spoke to me at length for an article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the "new" X-Men that ran in a well-received issue of Comicology. The reason why it's taken me so long to write about this, in fact, is that I've been trying to figure out how to cost-efficiently offer some of the few remaining copies of that issue as a reward to folks who donate to the project. As it turns out, the book drive is going so well that no incentives are needed — not that my gesture would be more than a drop in the bucket — but some copies may yet be part of an auction if funds are needed to purchase any outstanding items on the list.

Here's an overview of Mr. Wein's career — with a focus on the creation of Wolverine, since that's what's topical — to give you an inkling of his place in the comic-book world and pop culture at large:

Covers to
Teen Titans #18, drawn by Nick Cardy and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, and House of Secrets #92, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, © 1968, 1971 DC Comics. The former contains Len's first comic-book work and the latter introduced Swamp Thing. Scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database. Click here for a look at Wrightson's uncolored ink-wash original and here for an interior page.

Len broke into comic books with friend Marv Wolfman writing a 1968 issue of Teen Titans at DC. He quickly amassed credits there and at Gold Key, Skywald, Warren and Marvel as well, mostly on such anthology titles as House of Secrets and Twilight Zone; Cain and Abel, the "hosts" of House of Mystery and its sister title Secrets, were physically based on Wein and Mark Hanerfeld, assistant to editor Joe Orlando. After creating Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson for Secrets in 1971, Len won the 1972 Shazam Award in the Best Writer (Dramatic) category and shared another with Wrightson for the story "Dark Genesis" in Swamp Thing #1. He wrote influential runs of Phantom Stranger and Justice League of America at DC — among many other titles — before succeeding Roy Thomas as Marvel Comics' editor-in-chief in 1974, also writing Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and, briefly, the revived X-Men.

X-Men was one of the rare early-'60s Marvel concepts that underwhelmed, and it went all-reprint in 1970. Thomas had inherited scripting duties on the title from Stan Lee in 1966 and, after passing the reins to other writers in 1968, returned to close out the series' first run with Neal Adams. Len told me back in 2000 that resurrecting the mutant team — specifically with a group of new, international characters — "was something that had been bandied about for several years" before the assignment fell to him in 1974. "When I created Wolverine," he said, "I made him a Canadian mutant so that whoever got [the job of relaunching X-Men] would have something to start from." Thomas first approached writer Mike Friedrich to collaborate on X-Men with artist Dave Cockrum, but Friedrich was unavailable by the time the project was given the green light and Wein stepped in.

Cover to
The Incredible Hulk #181, drawn by Herb Trimbe and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, featuring the first good look at Wolverine, © 1974 Marvel Comics. Scan courtesy The Grand Comics Database. Click here to see the original black-&-white art (a third of the way down the page).

Wolverine was first glimpsed at the end of
The Incredible Hulk #180, dated Oct. 1974, with the character's first full appearance coming in #181. John Romita, Marvel's art director, designed the character, but Hulk artist Herb Trimpe was the first to draw him for publication. After #182, Wolverine was next seen in 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1, where he was recruited by Professor Charles Xavier alongside a couple of extant characters and the new Wein/Cockrum creations Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Thunderbird (other mutants seen in the movies either predated the 1975 relaunch or have come along since). The new team's adventures continued in X-Men #94, the first non-reprint issue of that title in five years, and took off like gangbusters — though Wein handed the scripting baton to his associate editor Chris Claremont during production of #95. "I never intended to write it," Len said in our interview. "Once I got involved with the creation of the team, I liked the characters, but by that point I was editor-in-chief ... and there weren't enough hours in the day." Wein didn't stay in the executive position for long, putting him in good company; Thomas succeeded Lee in 1972, Wein took over in August 1974, his old friend Wolfman (who had been overseeing Marvel's line of black-&-white magazines) assumed the post in 1975, and so on.

Cover to
Giant-Size X-Men #1, drawn by Gil Kane & Dave Cockrum and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, © 1975 Marvel Comics. The issue introduced the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men, most co-created by Wein. Scan courtesy The Grand Comics Database.

Len returned to DC Comics as a freelancer in 1978, writing
Batman and the Dark Knight's adventures in Detective Comics as well as Superman and such back-up features as Deadman, The Demon, and The Human Target, the latter of which he'd originated with artist Carmine Infantino in 1972. He became an editor at DC in 1980, overseeing such quality projects as that year's launch of New Teen Titans, Wolfman and George Pérez's revival of a concept that became DC's answer to X-Men; Roy Thomas' 1981 introduction of All-Star Squadron; Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo's Batman and The Outsiders in 1983; Alan Moore's revelatory 1984 reinvention of Swamp Thing; and Camelot 3000, one of DC's first direct-market-only projects and its first "maxi-series" (the trade name bestowed by DC upon 12-issue miniseries), written by Barr and drawn by Brian Bolland. Len co-plotted the first issue of 1985's game-changing Wolfman/Pérez blockbuster Crisis on Infinite Earths, consulted on the rest of the run, and edited its companion title Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. Having worked with both Moore and Dave Gibbons, who illustrated his run on Green Lantern, Len was also assigned to edit a little something of theirs called Watchmen.

Covers to Detective Comics #500, drawn by Dick Giordano and many others, and Batman #400, painted by Bill Sienkiewicz, © 1981, 1986 DC Comics. Len wrote two stories in the first of these landmark issues, and he edited the second. Scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database.

When Disney established its own comic-book house in 1990, after decades of licensing its characters to other publishers, it hired Len as editor-in-chief. The operation didn't last long, but in 1992 Len transitioned to writing teleplays for the
Batman and X-Men animated series, Transformers, and much more. He kept a hand in comic books, co-creating Gunfire for DC and dabbling at Marvel, Image, and Defiant, on occasion returning to the characters with which he was most associated for special projects; Cain and Abel, who had been appropriated for Neil Gaiman's Sandman series after their anthologies were boarded up, were written again by Len in a 1998 special issue of Sandman spinoff The Dreaming. The past decade has found him writing Simpsons stories for Bongo Comics, scripting The Victorian for Penny-Farthing Press, and co-writing a Conan miniseries at Dark Horse Comics with Kurt Busiek. He was elected to the Eisner Awards' Hall of Fame in 2008, and earlier this year again contributed to various titles at DC, including Justice League of America.

Covers to The Dreaming Special #1, illustrated by Dave McKean, and Justice League of America #29, drawn by Ed Benes and colored by Brian Miller, © 1998, 2006 DC Comics, both featuring Len returning to concepts that he'd written decades before. Scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database.

A quite recent, pretty decent
rundown of Wolverine's creation with commentary from Romita and Trimpe was written by Frank Lovece for Film Journal International on the occasion of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine premiere. Wein's blog, WeinWords, includes an interesting post from February addressing a particularly strange idea that's been bandied about from time to time concerning the muttonchopped mutant. No actual review of the Hugh Jackman flick there, though, as the blog understandably hasn't been updated since the fire.

Marv Wolfman
interviewed Wein on his friend's early days, working methods, and other subjects in 2003, and last year The Silver Age Sage presented an entertainingly freewheeling conversation with Len on a wide variety of topics. An installment of The Treasure Keeper, Robby Reed's in-depth look at legendary letterer Gaspar Saladino, focuses on the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing with story pages and Dial B for Blog's usual fine production values.

You can spread the word about
The "Let's Rebuild Len Wein's Comic-Book Collection" Project by visiting Mark Evanier's POV / News from ME and, even if you have nothing physical to contribute, copying one of the banners onto your own website.

A poster for the first film adapted from Wein's comic-book work, Swamp Thing, © 1982 DC Comics or maybe Avco-Embassy Pictures.

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