Len Wein, a prolific and influential comic book writer who gave life and dimension to fan-favorite characters including Swamp Thing and Wolverine, has died while hospitalized in Los Angeles.
Wein, who died Sunday at 69, had been struggling with poor health for months, a battle he chronicled — sometimes with a touch of humor, sometimes with resignation — on Twitter.
During a decades-long career, Wein was a mainstay of the comic industry, laying hands on classic good vs, evil characters like Batman and Superman, but more often introducing or reviving characters who struggled with human frailties and the complexities of life.
Wein wrote for both DC Comics and Marvel, and was part of new wave of artists and writers who’d been weaned on comics as children.
“My generation, we were the first generation that grew up reading comics,” he said during a comic fan fest in Phoenix in 2007. “We grew up loving the characters and it was more than just a paycheck — it was a dream.”
Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment, said Wein was regarded as a legend in the industry.
“He wrote or edited almost every major DC character — there’s hardly a facet of DC’s world that Len didn’t touch,” Nelson said on the DC Comics website,
Hugh Jackman, who played the role of Wolverine in the X-Men film series, tweeted: “I first met him in 2008. I told him — from his heart, mind & hands came the greatest character in comics.”
Born in New York City on June 12, 1948, Wein grew up with a general interest in becoming an artist and an overriding obsession with comic books. He leaned toward the darkness and grit of Batman and spent free time with his friend — and eventual artistic partner — Marv Wolfman taking the weekly tours offered at the DC Comics offices. Occasionally he landed freelance work.
Wein was riding the subway to Queens when the idea for “Swamp Thing” seemingly rose from the jungle muck, a hulking blob of vegetation that would defend the environment — as uninviting as it might look — against invaders, supernatural forces and other agents of evil.
“Swamp Thing was a lucky accident. It was a character born out of desperation,” he said in the 2007 interview. “The character got named accidentally — I kept referring to ‘that swamp thing I’m working on.’ The ‘thing’ meant the story, not the character. But the name stuck.”
Wein provided some rough sketches of a humanoid beast of plant matter for artist Bernie Wrightson to work from. The comic was a quick success for DC and eventually was made into a Wes Craven movie that drew lukewarm reviews from Wein.
“Unless you were around when that book debuted, you can’t really grasp how truly revolutionary Swamp Thing was, how different from everything that had come before it,” writer J. M. DeMatteis wrote in a remembrance. “I remember being floored by the emotional power of the art, the pulp-poetry of the language and the big beating heart at the story’s core.”
At Marvel, Wein revived the superhero team the X-Men, helping create new characters like Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler and Wolverine. At DC, he was one of the editors who worked on the Watchman series in the 1980s, considered a watershed piece of work in the comic industry. And throughout, he wrote or edited the industry standard-bearers — Superman, Batman, Spider Man, the Incredible Hulk.
In the mid-1970s he was editor-in-chief at Marvel, and in the early 90s, editor-in-chief of Disney Comics. He continued to write for DC as recently as last year.
Even as he struggled with his health, in and out of hospitals, he humor flashed through.
After posting a series of tweets in July saying that he was getting out of the hospital earlier than doctors had predicted, Wein sent some advice to well-wishers.
“I’m thrilled. Now please stop liking it. You’re using up all my data space.”
Wein is survived by his wife, Christine Valada, and a stepson, Michael Bieniewicz-Valada.