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Comic Book Legend Len Wein Dies At 69

Sep 12, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 6:06 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The man who co-created Wolverine, Swamp Thing and a whole lot of other comic book characters died Sunday at the age of 69. NPR's Glen Weldon says Len Wein was a writer, an artist and an editor whose love of superheroes was clear on every panel.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Len Wein wrote and edited the adventures of many well-known superheroes over the course of his career - your Batmans, your Hulks. But he created Wolverine with artists John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe. Hugh Jackman played him on screen for years. With his extendible, razor-sharp, adamantium claws, he isn't much of a talker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

WELDON: He's more of a grunter, and slasher and stabber.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLASHING)

WELDON: Wolverine was an innovative superhero in several ways. He was hotheaded. He was hyperviolent. He was Canadian. Most importantly, he was an antihero, one of an emerging breed of characters who strained against the good-guy-versus-bad-guy formula of old-school comics. As Wein explained in the 2016 PBS documentary, you couldn't pin the guy down.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SUPERHEROES: A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE")

LEN WEIN: I think, from my perspective, what makes Wolverine so attractive is the unpredictability, the belief that he doesn't give a damn about anybody but himself and spends his whole life proving that's not true.

WELDON: Wolverine was something comics hadn't seen before, and so was Len Wein. When he got his first freelance gig in 1968, he was a young man, a member of the first generation of creators who were also fans. They'd grown up on comics. To the old guys who'd been turning out stories for decades, comics were a steady paycheck. But to Wein, they were a passion. He saw these characters as our contemporary myths - modern-day takes an Achilles and Gilgamesh.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SUPERHEROES: A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE")

WEIN: There is something in the human psyche that wants to believe we have a bigger capacity than that which we demonstrate to one another daily, that we can be all of these things we wish we could be.

WELDON: Once he got a shot at writing superheroes, he started delivering characters and stories he knew fans like him would appreciate. That meant digging a bit deeper, going a bit weirder - case in point, Swamp Thing. In 1971, with artist Bernie Wrightson, he created the tragic, muck-encrusted monster of a man who tries to do good in a world that shuns him.

A few years later, he and artist Dave Cockrum completely revamped the X-Men, expanding the roster of characters with new recruits like Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm, characters who've since earned a place in the hearts of fans who could tell that Len Wein was one of them. Glen Weldon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.