Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Len Wein, R.I.P.

Just before heading into the gym today, around 2, I learned from Kurt Busiek‘s Twitter feed that Len Wein had died. That made for a very thoughtful workout.

In my lifetime, I have read many, many, many comic books that Len wrote, including a landmark run of “Justice League of America” that reintroduced The Seven Soldiers of Victory and the Freedom Fighters (and which I bought again two months ago at Comic-Con), his Batman run in “Detective” and then later in “Batman,” and, at Marvel, his work on “Marvel Team-Up,” “Thor,” and, of course, “Fantastic Four.”

He was also the co-creator of many of the most significant new characters of the 1970s:  Swamp Thing, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus. Without Len, there would have been no new X-Men comics, let alone the movies.

I knew him a little bit — enough to say hello and to say, “Hey, here you are again!” That’s because I kept running into him, and not just at comic-book conventions. Although I probably first met him when I was a kid and he was a force to be reckoned with at DC or Marvel, I can’t pinpoint when I got reintroduced as an adult, here in Los Angeles.  It might have been almost 10 years ago, when my company was the sponsor of a live stage revival of “What’s My Line,” hosted by a very clever guy named J. Keith Van Straaten. Len’s first appearance on the show was as a mystery guest. The next time, I saw him sitting in the audience. Finally, he was made a panelist. To my recollection, he was there week after week in some capacity or other, because he just loved the show. If that wasn’t how I (re)met him, then maybe it was at my friend Jackie’s improv show — because Len had studied improv with her and also loved improv. And I would run into him at the theatre all the time. In early ’09, I took my wife and kids to see the revival of “Pippin” at the Ahmanson — and Len Wein happened to be sitting in front of us. That happened to me lots of times in lots of different places. He was a bit of a theatre geek.

He was also a pivotal figure in comics. Of all his achievements, these three in particular cemented his reputation:  He co-created Wolverine, who is by far the most popular comics character introduced in the past 60 years; he launched the X-Men revival, which financially carried Marvel all through the mid-1970s, 1980s, and 1990s at least; and he hired Alan Moore to write “Swamp Thing.” That was Moore’s big break — and ultimately led to Vertigo comics and the more-literate line of comics since then. Without Moore there’d of course be no “Watchmen” — but probably no “Sandman” (Neil Gaiman’s big break), no “Preacher,” no John Constantine or “Hellblazer” (another Moore invention), no “Lucifer” and on and on.

Not just in comics, but in all the areas they now touch, Len Wein was a very, very big deal. I’m glad to see all the obits today acknowledging his impact.

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