The comic book industry has sadly lost another legend. Len Wein, the award-winning writer and editor with a long and storied history at both Marvel and DC Comics, sadly passed away on Sunday, September 10, 2017, at the age of 69.
Wein’s contributions to the industry include notable runs writing some of the most high-profile superheroes in comics, a massive revival of the X-Men in the ‘70s, and Wein even served as editor on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal miniseries Watchmen. However, one of the things Wein will be remembered for the most is the characters he created and/or co-created.
In honor of his memory, let’s look back at 15 characters that wouldn’t exist without Len Wein:
If you’ve watched Luke Cage on Netflix, then you’re no doubt familiar with Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, who was portrayed in the series by Mahershala Ali before being killed off far too soon. This Luke Cage villain was created by Len Wein and George Tuska, debuting in the pages of Power Man #19 in June 1974. Beginning his criminal career as a drug kingpin in New York City, Cottonmouth eventually gained superhuman strength and durability, rivaling that of his heroic nemesis.Advertisement
This past season on Arrow, Jessica Jones alum Wil Traval made a brief appearance as Christopher Chance, AKA the Human Target. The first Human Target, Fred Venable, debuted in 1953, but the Christopher Chance iteration of the character, created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino, premiered in a backup story published in Action Comics #419 (December 1972). Chance operates as both a private investigator and a bodyguard, assuming the identity of clients that are being targeted by assassins, thugs, and other violent criminals. Chance would go on to appear in The Brave and the Bold, Detective Comics, and even his own limited and ongoing series.
The Multiple Man
James Madrox, more commonly referred to as the Multiple Man, was created by Len Wein and made his first appearance in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 in February 1975. The character is a mutant with the ability to create instant duplicates of himself, and although he largely served as a supporting character after his creation, he would go on to play a significant role in the 1987 miniseries Fallen Angels, as well as Peter David’s X-Factor runs in both the ‘90s and the 2000’s. In 2004, a MadroX miniseries was published by Marvel, and the character was last seen in Death of X, where he was killed by the Terrigen Mist cloud that had been decimating the mutant population.
The Freedom Fighters
Black Condor, Doll Man, the Human Bomb, the Ray, Phantom Lady, and Uncle Sam were all properties of Quality Comics, but once they were acquired by DC, they were assembled as a group for the first time by Len Wein and Dick Dillin. The Freedom Fighters, as they came to be known, premiered in a Justice League of America/Justice Society of America team-up, which ran in Justice League of America #107–108 (October–December 1973). The DC version of the team was said to reside on Earth-X, where Nazi Germany eventually won a prolonged World War II. Three years after their DC Comics debut, the team was given their own self-titled ongoing series, which ran for 15 issues, and the characters have all appeared sporadically since then. Most notably, the Ray now serves as a member of Steve Orlando’s Justice League of America.
Nekron is perhaps best known as the main antagonist of the widely popular 2009-2010 storyline Blackest Night. However, his history spans all the way back to June 1981, where he made his first appearance in the pages of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #2 by Len Wein, Mike W. Barr, and Joe Stanton. Primarily a Green Lantern villain, Nekron is an embodiment of death and the ruler of a region near Hell known as the Land of the Unliving, which also borders Limbo and Purgatory within the DC Multiverse. It’s from here that Nekron draws his power from the souls and spirits of all those who have ever died. He last appeared in a flashback in the current Green Lanterns series, as Volthoom pleaded with Nekron to allow him to die.
Clayface is a name that’s been used by a number of characters, each of which has served as thorns in the side of the Caped Crusader. However, the two we’re focusing on are Preston Payne and Sondra Fuller, who were created by Len Wein, Mike W. Barr, and Marshall Rogers. Payne made his debut in Detective Comics #477 (July-August 1978), while Fuller premiered in Outsiders #21 (July 1978), and the two became the third and fourth versions of Clayface, respectively. Together with the original Clayface, Basil Karlo, they went on to form a group known as the Mud Pak.
Although the original Cheetah was created by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, the version that most of us are familiar with is the third iteration, Barbara Ann Minerva. This version of the character was created by Len Wein and George Pérez, and she premiered in Wonder Woman #7 in August 1987. It was after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths that the third Cheetah was introduced as a prominent Wonder Woman foe, with superhuman strength that allowed her to hold her own against the Amazon Princess. Cheetah recently played a significant role in now-concluded Wonder Woman run by Greg Rucka.
Jericho Drumm, AKA Brother Voodoo, was created in September 1973 by Len Wein and Gene Colan. Debuting in Strange Tales #169, Brother Voodoo became the Houngan of Haiti when his predecessor and brother, Daniel Drumm, passed away. After achieving proficiency in voodoo practices, his brother’s spirit was joined with his own, further increasing his power. This connection also allowed Jericho to call upon his brother’s spirit to possess other living beings. Years later, when Doctor Strange was deemed unworthy to hold the title of Sorcerer Supreme, the Eye of Agamotto chose Jericho as Strange’s successor, at which time he became known as Doctor Voodoo. The character currently appears regularly in Uncanny Avengers.
Few of us could forget the lovable Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Lucius Fox in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. However, before he made his big-screen debut, Fox’s initial appearance came in the pages Batman #307 (January 1979) by Len Wein and John Calnan. In most depictions, Fox acts as Bruce Wayne's business manager at Wayne Enterprises, (unknowingly) running the business interests that supply Batman's equipment, as well as financing his operations. Fox has made sporadic appearances in the current Detective Comics run by James Tynion IV.
Amanda Waller is a character that has appeared in a number of forms of media, including video games, animation, and most notably on the big-screen in Suicide Squad, where she was played by Viola Davis. Originally, though, the character first appeared in Legends #1 in November 1986, and she was created by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne. A skilled and ruthless strategist, Waller is the director for the deadly missions of the Suicide Squad, as well as a specialist who oversees metahuman research. Since her inception, Waller has been a regularly-recurring character, and she currently holds a familiar position in the pages of Suicide Squad.
Pyotr "Peter" Nikolayevich Rasputin, AKA Colossus, was created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, debuting in May 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1. A Russian mutant, Colossus is a longtime member of the X-Men, with the ability to transform himself into metallic form. His presence in X-Men or X-Men-related books has been fairly consistent since he first premiered, including the current X-Men: Gold series. He’ll be returning to the big-screen in 2018 when actor Stefan Kapičić reprises his role as the kindhearted metallic mutant in Deadpool 2.
Another Len Wein/Dave Cockrum creation is Kurt Wagner, AKA Nightcrawler, who also premiered in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (May 1975). He is a mutant with superhuman agility, the ability to teleport, and adhesive hands and feet, but he also has physical mutations such as dark indigo fur, yellow eyes, and a long, prehensile tail. Much like Colossus, Nightcrawler has also been a major force in the X-Men comics since his inception and appears alongside him in the aforementioned X-Men: Gold.
Third time’s a charm! Storm (Ororo Munroe) was created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, debuting in May 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1. The daughter of a tribal princess from Kenya, Storm is yet another longtime member of the X-Men, possessing the mutant ability to control the weather. Storm has led the X-Men on a number of occasions, and she’s also had stints on both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. However, the X-Men will always be her true home, and she currently appears in X-Men: Gold with her fellow Len Wein-created teammates Nightcrawler and Colossus.
One of the most prolific Len Wein characters is Alec Holland, AKA Swamp Thing, which Wein co-created with the late Bernie Wrightson. The character first appeared as Alex Olsen in the horror anthology series House of Secrets #92 (July 1971) before eventually re-debuting as the more heroic Alec Holland iteration in Swamp Thing #1 (November 1972). Resembling an anthropomorphic mound of plant/vegetable matter, Swamp Thing fights to protect his swamp home, the environment, and humanity from threats ranging anywhere from ecological to supernatural. He possesses superhuman strength, plant manipulation abilities, a healing factor, size alteration, and more. Swamp Thing was a mainstay of DC’s Vertigo imprint and eventually, the DC Universe proper, and he’s made several appearances in the current Hellblazer series alongside longtime pal John Constantine.
Without a doubt, the most popular character whose creation Len Wein had a hand in is James Howlett, better known as Wolverine. Created by both Wein and John Romita Sr., Wolverine had a brief cameo in The Incredible Hulk #180 before making his first full appearance in The Incredible Hulk #181 (November 1974). An animalistic mutant with super strength, an Adamantium skeleton and claws, and a powerful healing factor, Wolverine has been featured in nearly every major X-Men title, as well as his own solo titles, and in 2008, he was ranked #1 in Wizard Magazine’s Top 200 Comic Book Characters. For years, Wolverine was considered the poster child for Marvel, and it was hardly uncommon to see him featured prominently in several ongoing series simultaneously. On the big-screen, Wolverine was famously portrayed for 17 years by Hugh Jackman in 20th Century Fox’s various X-Men films, culminating with Logan this past March.
These characters are among Len Wein’s many contributions that have helped shape the comic book industry as we know it today. As readers, we should all be eternally grateful for the legacy he’s left behind.