Long time X-Men mastermind Chris Claremont spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on friend and collaborator Len Wein, who passed away September 10 at the age of 69. "No one else helped define the work, and the era, to the extent that he did," Claremont said, calling the comic book writer and editor "the best of his generation — our generation."
Wein served as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, where he scripted some of comics' most popular characters, including Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, and the Fantastic Four. During his run on The Incredible Hulk, Wein co-created the fan-favorite Wolverine, who would later join the X-Men alongside newcomers Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus — all who would become some of the most popular mutants to don the "X," enduring as some of Wein's most famous co-creations.
Claremont recalls how the pair met during their time at Marvel, when Wein was editor-in-chief and Claremont was associate editor. It was there that Wein would revive the then-struggling X-Men franchise with 1975's Giant Size X-Men #1 alongside artist Dave Cockrum, revolutionizing the title that was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963. The "all-new, all-different" team of mutants included Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Thunderbird — all Wein co-creations — and Wein's works would influence Claremont's eventual 17 year run with the superpowered mutants.
"I just kind of eavesdropped as he and Dave started structuring out and building Giant-Size #1," Claremont said. "As they were structuring out the story, I was listening from outside the office, and then kind of wandered in. Just listening to them bouncing ideas back and forth was fun. And then I had the ridiculous good fortune of, Len ran into a problem at the end of the story: how to get rid of the bad guy, Krakoa, the Living Island? I came up with an idea that he used. That was that, as far as I was concerned; I'd just watch him and Dave have fun on Giant-Size X-Men for the foreseeable future, and the next thing that happened was that Marvel decided they didn't want to proceed with a giant-size quarterly. They wanted a bi-monthly regular-sized comic — and also, that coincided with Len deciding that he'd had enough with being editor-in-chief, and that he wanted to move on as a writer.
"Being editor-in-chief, he ended up with his pick of the top four books of the Marvel line. He knew he could do four books a month, which when you think about it, is a hell of a thing — you're essentially coming up with a story a week for an artist, Stan [Lee] made it look easy, he could just go to Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko and say, 'You got an idea?' and, boom, it's Galactus — but Len knew he had to give something up, and X-Men was it. He didn't even get the chance to ask anyone, I basically tackled him and said I wanted it. Len, to his inestimable credit and probably his equal frustration, said yes."
"In certain respects, Len was very much like Stan, in that he was willing to trust whomever he was working with, but wasn't afraid to give them guidance or criticism," Claremont said of Wein as boss. "Stan's attitude was, if you can do the job, and you're not a pain in the ass, and you do the job on time, I can live with that. You don't have to be brilliant. With Len, it was a little less laissez faire than that. If you could do the job — and it was a hell of a job, to edit better than 30 titles a month single-handed — then that's what you did. And, at the same time, kicking around ideas, talking with writers about where they're going, settling feuds with other writers — 'I want this character, no, I want this character!', that kind of thing. It was being a boss and being a den mother at the same time, and Len was superb at it."
"He loved the medium, and more importantly, he loved the craft," Claremont said.
Much of Wein's work has gone on to influence Fox's blockbuster X-Men franchise, which has released 10 films and grossed nearly $5 billion dollars worldwide since the release of X-Men in 2000. Wein, Claremont recalls, received due recognition at the premiere of 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the metal-clawed mutant's first solo movie. There Wein was given the spotlight by star Hugh Jackman — an unknown Australian actor when he won the role for the first X-Men — who would go on to appear as Wolverine nine times between 2000 and 2017, becoming a major star in the process.
"The nicest thing, at the premiere of the first Wolverine film: Len was the guest of Hugh Jackman, and Hugh got up to make a speech before the film started and said, 'I'm here, and my career exists because of this man,' and introduced Len," Claremont said. "'He created Wolverine, and Wolverine was the horse I rode in on.' That was an incredibly cool moment for Hugh Jackman to say this to him in public, in front of everybody — this was a big premiere — and for Len to get the attention and applause he deserves from people in a related industry where people respect and admire and benefit from his work. I think, and hope, there's an opportunity for that to happen more often. The heartbreaking thing is that he won't be around to see it."
"Blessed to have known Len Wein," Jackman wrote on Twitter, accompanied by a picture of the two. "I first met him in 2008. I told him - from his heart, mind & hands came the greatest character in comics."
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