September 10, 2017, just 2 short days ago, marks the end of a wonder life but not the end of a wonderful legacy created by Len Wein. It is easy enough to find his accomplishments as a comic book writer and editor, but perhaps harder still to define the lasting effect this fan-turned-creator will have on his beloved genre.
To me, the most lasting effect Len left us was this: look at what a fan can do. Look at what happens when creativity meets passion for a thing truly loved.
Many people get into an industry because of benefits. Many still pursue a love. But few can say they truly looked deep into the soul of their work and saw themselves and shouted, “that’s it, that’s where I belong.”
Len began as a fan, pure and simple. Growing up in New York, he had access to the High Holies – the offices of Marvel and DC comics. He would often take the free studio tours at DC comics as a teen, drinking in the culture, basking in its glow, and ultimately becoming the hunter who stalks his prey to become his prey. He studied his love from the field, and honed his skills to be ready when opportunity came.
Len Wein’s career is a beautiful roadmap of success – commercial, artistic, and even social. He is credited with reinvigorating comics and bringing a realism and life to them that had not been seen before. He championed the first minority heroes, including a Soviet hero in the age of the Cold War. The more he wrote, the more we the fans could see ourselves in his pages. Gone were the typical White Hat vs. Black Hat pulp stories and more and more he introduced us to the men and women behind the masks. Who where they? What did they believe in? Why did they fight? Why was this important to us?
One of the greatest things about Len’s work and attitude is something I personally love: playing what-if or why-not. Why couldn’t a hero be a woman? Why couldn’t a hero be black? Could she be confused? Afraid? Unsure of her power, herself, and her place in a complex world? And could she stand with others, much like herself, and defend the people who ultimately feared her? This was very unpopular when he began in the 1960s but his persistence won out. Because, can’t we all be a hero?
Thus, Storm was born. Like her, the X-Men were revitalized to become a truly global and diverse group of young men and women who fate had picked out to be powered beyond, and often hated by, normal people. Regardless of their backgrounds, how humanity saw them, and how they saw themselves, they chose to do what was right time and again, even if they were hated for it. In the end, that was what really mattered the most, and the best lesson a fan could learn.
All this started with one sickly kid in New York City, with a stack of comics, and a passion.
Thank you, Len.