Thinking Good Thoughts for Mr. Len Wein

You may have seen this message from Len Wein going around the comics internet:

Hey, Gang–

I am about to impose on our online friendship for what I pray will be the final time. Then I can go back to posting endless videos of cute Golden Retriever puppies, of which there can never be too many.

Okay, so here’s the deal: About six weeks ago, I took a header while leaving my foot doctor’s office and bounced my head off the floor, which I may have talked about here. At first, they thought the damage was minimal, but further testing revealed I had fractured/broken my upper neck in several places, which need repair immediately or I run the risk of becoming a planter with a head on it. I’m going into the hospital tomorrow morning (March 6) for prep, with major all-day surgery scheduled for Tuesday (March 7) at 11AM PST.

So here’s where you come in. At that time on Tuesday morning, I’d really appreciate it if you just think good healing thoughts about me. I asked the same of you two years ago when I had my quintuple bypass heart surgery, and I believe to this day that’s a major reason I survived it.

So, if you think you can, please do. On the other hand, if you think I suck runny eggs through a straw, I’d rather you not think of me at all. After that, the rest is up to my talented surgeons and whatever Higher Powers That Be.

Thanks for listening, and I hope to see you on the other side.

So… We are asked to send positive vibes to Len Wein. This is easy for me; because were I to list my favorite comics ever, from when I was a kid to now, Mr. Wein is responsible for roughly a third of them.

Wein was maybe the second or third writer’s name I learned to recognize in comics as being a brand– i.e., the realization that if he wrote it, I’d probably like it. (The first one was, of course, Stan Lee. The second was probably Denny O’Neil if it wasn’t Wein.)

I’m pretty sure my first Wein comic was this one, World’s Finest #208. October of 1971.

Heavy lifting

I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially since I was always a sucker for Earth-2 stories back in the day, and also because the promise of the cover was actually paid off inside.

Twice, in fact. Wein knew a good visual when he had one.

But it was his Justice League stuff that made me a fan. “Wolf In The Fold,” in which the Red Tornado joins the team, remains one of my favorites to this day.

Mostly because of the way it set up the Tornado as kind of the nerdy, picked-on kid of the League. As a nerdy, picked-on kid myself, that really got to me, and when Kathy Sutton took pity on him and became his friend, that melted me.

I was too young to get all snarled up with the boy-girl stuff. My nine-year-old self was just cheering because someone saw the Tornado was sad and wanted to be nice to him. That was how the world SHOULD work, damn it. People should be nice to someone who’s hurting. Maybe that seems corny today, but it hit me right between the eyes then. Probably because I wasn’t seeing it much in real life, either at home or at school.

So of course I was back next issue for “Crisis on Earth-X.”

This one, in which the JLA and JSA team up with the Freedom Fighters to defeat Nazis on a parallel world where the Allies lost World War II, pretty much had me at hello anyway, but I especially dug the fact that Batman got a particularly fist-pumping FUCK YEAH moment.

That’s right, Nazis. You are SO FUCKED.

The Wein-Dillin era of the Justice League, more than any other, is MY Justice League. They’re friends, they hang out, they may argue but they rarely bicker– except for Green Arrow and Hawkman, but even they were eventually revealed to be fond of one another, underneath.

But my favorite part of Wein’s League was his badass Batman. So naturally when Wein started doing Bat stories, I was all over that action. “Moon of the Wolf”…

…”Bat-Murderer”…

…the new Clayface…

…”Untold Legend of the Batman…”

…I could go on and on. In fact it was his Batman that led me to one of the characters Wein is most famous for– Swamp Thing.

I was late to the party on that one, as I was with his Phantom Stranger, but I’ve caught up in recent years.

When he moved over to Marvel I found his work to be just as enjoyable over there. His Thor, especially, made me a convert for a character I’d never cared much about before.

Wein himself says his favorite Marvel character was the Hulk, but it was his Thor that kept me coming back. The four-parter with the Tomorrow Man and the Time Twisters was awesome enough that I chanced the dreaded TO BE CONTINUED…

…but to my delight, the grocery store up the street had started carrying comics and I found I could KEEP UP. So I did, with everything I could get my hands on, and when I saw Wein’s name on something it was a guaranteed sale. In addition to Thor, he also did a Spotlight with the Warriors Three that I bought mostly because it was tying in to Thor and I was intoxicated by not having to miss out…. but as it turned out, it was one of the few comic books to make me actually laugh out loud reading it.

Of course, the most famous of his creations during that time is the one he didn’t have that much to do with afterward. I read that one too, but he’d already turned it over to Claremont by the time I got on board.

I suppose something had to give, but my God the guy was just a factory throughout the seventies. Creating characters right and left, from Wolverine to Lucius Fox, from Anton Arcane to the Human Target… far too many to list all of them here. Looking up stuff today just to write this I realized I’d forgotten he created Brother Voodoo.

When he moved back to DC in the 1980s he did a lot of other stuff that I liked as well, though fans have occasionally snarked off that it was too old-school. Nuts to them. I like old school.

He has had great runs as an editor, as well. That long stretch on Batman with Doug Moench, helping to midwife Watchmen and Crisis on Infinite Earths, lots of other stuff.

But it’s his own stories I like the best. A great many of them are available in nice collected editions, as it happens. Most of it is in Showcases or Essentials, but there are a couple of standouts I wanted to mention.

The Thor run I was talking about can be found in two volumes: If Asgard Should Perish and The Quest For Odin

…sadly, it does not include the Warriors Three Spotlight issue, but that one IS available as part of this Warriors Three collection.

The bulk of Wein’s terrific Batman stories are collected in a hardcover edition that is probably my pick for the Bat book I’d want on a desert island… or at least it’s tied for that honor with the Archie Goodwin one.

Almost the entire Wein-scripted Batman run is there. The only one missing, for obvious reasons of copyright and whatnot, is the crossover where Batman met the Hulk.

But you can find that one in Crossover Classics.

A really nice little mini-series from a couple of years ago covering the entire history of the DC Universe, Legacies, is out there in a nifty hardcover collection as well.

Trying to sum up DC’s history is a thankless job but I thought this came off pretty well, and there was even a story. Beautiful art from Jerry Ordway, too.

The chances are that if you are reading this you probably are alrealdy familiar with the vast majority of these and are already gearing up to tell me about stuff I missed. Believe me, I know I left out lots, and one of them was probably your favorite. But these are mine.

Len Wein’s been entertaining me with his work for over forty years. And now he’s asking people to think good thoughts? Seriously? He’s made my world immeasurably better with dozens– hundreds– of great comics. In the last four decades I have never STOPPED thinking good thoughts about Mr. Wein.

It’s nice to have an excuse to tell him so; I just wish it wasn’t this medical disaster that prompted me to sit down and do it. Feel better soon, sir. We’re all rooting for you.

7 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Had some stuff going on lately that has really put me out of the mood for commenting, but topics like this really strike a nerve, esp. since I’ve also been worrying a lot about my dad’s health issues lately.
    Yes, please feel better Mr. Wein.
    And thanks for such an outstanding and heartfelt overview of Wein’s work over years, Greg. He was indeed one of the top writers of that period in comics many of us here seem to like so much (1970s/1980s). To your excellent list of his many writing credits, I would just add the outstanding Deadman shorts that appeared in Adventure Comics during that title’s all-too-brief dollar comic phase (and the Superman/Deadman team-up in DC Comics Presents).
    I’m also glad you stressed that on top of everything he was a great, great editor and that he had a hand in creating so many characters and story ideas back in the day – it’s worth remembering that, for example, he brought Nighthawk into the Defenders, as well as the practice of having semi-regular guest heroes (like Luke Cage), appear in that title, an idea that Gerber really ran with subsequently.
    So, yeah, my best wishes go out to Wein, and just like he said in his message that there can never be too many Golden Retriever puppy videos (true enough, although I’d just say puppy videos in general), it’s also impossible to have too many posts like this, reminding us why we love the work of our favorite creators so much.

  2. M-Wolverine

    Glad you posted this, because a thought costs nothing and can mean everything in the world. So I’m happy to do it.

    And an interesting post to go with it. I didn’t remember that there were “Crisis” stories before the “CRISIS” story. (Wonder what the first one was at DC.) It has Neal and dick drawing Janet Bonner. Which I never read so that’s a treat. All in all it really shows what a great creator he has been, not just a writer. Particularly in a time frame where Logan is in theaters now, and Brother Voodoo at least gets passing mention in Dr. Strange. And he didn’t create him, but damn right I loved those Blue Beetle stories. He was from a time when comic book writer meant knowing how to write comic books. Not the author flavor of the week who wants to deconstruct them that has pretty much killed the industry (along with the big corporate side). And it’s not appropriate to search for them, but I feel confident in saying that even if Mr. Wein didn’t hit the highs (or at least get the credit) of some of his contemporaries, I don’t think he ever hit the lows some of them did either. I don’t think there’s a long list of “bad Len Wein stories.” If you’re reading it, it was probably pretty darn good.

    Oh, and it has Batman beating up Nazis. What’s not to like about that?

    1. frasersherman

      I think the first one would have been “Crisis on Earth-One,” JLA 21. My first comic book ever was Part Two of the second Crisis story, with the Crime Syndicate.
      Blue Beetle was probably the Wein book I liked least. But I must admit he completely faked me out on the identity of the Manhunter’s agent Overthrow. Even back then I’d read enough it wasn’t easy to do.
      Mr. Wein also gets credit for turning the Seven Soldiers of Victory into something more than the answer to a trivia question.

  3. Alaric

    I’ve been a Len Wein fan most of my life. I loved his Hulk run- he and Roger Stern (who followed him) are my two favorite Hulk writers (I know, I know… Peter David is supposed to be everyone’s favorite… I liked the way Wein and Stern wrote the Hulk himself better. David definitely wrote the best Rick Jones and Doc Samson, though). As a kid who was skinny, into science, generally a nice guy, and had a temper that sometimes burst out unintentionally (and that scared me), I strongly identified with his Bruce Banner/Hulk. In general, Wein’s name has always meant comics that were AT LEAST really, really good, sometimes deep, always fun- really good STORIES.

    Sending lots of good thoughts.

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