And hardly a duplicate in the bunch.
UPDATED 6/12/18: Len Wein would have been 70 today. Perfect time to re-present this piece, which was first published shortly after Wein died in September. Enjoy. — Dan
For me, it’s simple: My favorite Len Wein stories come from his 1979-’80 run on Batman, a terrific if underrated period for the Darknight Detective. Wein utilized not just stalwarts like the Joker, Riddler and Two-Face, he refurbished villains like Calendar Man, Kite-Man and Crazy Quilt. Plus, he introduced Lucius Fox and chronicled the first real romance between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. (To read what Wein had to say about the run — which was a lot — click here.)
But it’s a testament to his versatility — he co-created Swamp Thing and Wolverine, most famously — that when I asked a number of comics creators and pros to name their favorite stories written by Wein, almost everyone came up with something different.
Here they are:
Paul Levitz, former publisher, DC Comics
My favorites of Len’s work are from before I knew him, and certainly aren’t his finest work, but hit me in the right place: his early ’70s Phantom Stranger run.
I’d found the Stranger interesting even in the early, mostly reprint issues, but the lyrical quality of this run and the relationship with Cassandra Craft took it to new heights. That’s what made me want to write the Stranger when I came into the field, and I could never do it a fraction as well.
Of our collaborations, I fondly remember Superman #344 — my only issue of that title, which Len had plotted and I got to dialogue. And, of course, he returned the favor, doing a Legion story over my plot when my schedule was jammed… though it wasn’t a fair trade, as he was never a Legion fan and I loved Superman.
Mark Waid, writer
Hands down, my favorite Len Wein story is no one else’s choice, I guarantee. It’s Balance of Power from Justice League of America #111, 1974. It has a brilliant bit of business in it. The individual JLA members’ villains are on the loose. Batman starts ordering everyone to go fight their specific villains — “Atom, you go fight Chronos, Hawkman, go get Shadow Thief,” and so forth. But Elongated Man says they’re all bored fighting the same old guys and guilts Batman into literally putting the villains’ names in a hat to mix up the battles. There’s probably not a single time I sit down to write a team book that I don’t think of that moment.
Alan Brennert, writer
Off the top of my head, JLA #107 — Crisis on Earth-X — which reintroduced the Quality characters. A new parallel world with a great alternate history, plus as a guest star, the Earth-Two Superman. I loved the annual JLA/JSA crossovers and this was one of the most inventive and original.
Fred Van Lente, writer
I think Swamp Thing is my favorite Len Wein project, if in large part for the contributions of his fellow member in the ranks of the gone-too-soon, Bernie Wrightson. My favorite single issue is #9 — The Stalker From Beyond! — where Swampy fights an alien who’s even more enigmatic and weird and, in his own way, as sympathetic as he is.
Arlen Schumer, historian
When I think about the first time I became aware of Len Wein, it was Detective Comics #408, Feb. 1971 — the Neal Adams-illustrated The House That Haunted Batman! This issue’s illustrations rank as among the best of Adams’ entire Bat-run (that would coincidentally end with a solo Wein tale, the equally memorable Moon of the Wolf in 1974). But beyond Adams’ awesome art was the behind-the-scenes fact that he used the considerable clout he commanded back then at DC to get former fanboys and wannabe writers Wein and Marv Wolfman published.
Adams’ cover was startling enough, a strange time-lapse of Robin disintegrating in Batman’s hands that was duplicated inside the story. And it was a strange, Twilight Zone-y story too, like walking through a haunted house’s hall of mirrors, where each page changed, distorted, differed.
And then, at the end, the villain was revealed to be… Dr. Tzin-Tzin?! It was kinda neat to see these newbie co-writers Wein and Wolfman take what could’ve been a campy cliché and, thanks to Adams’ realistic rendering, instead create a cool, offbeat little tale.
Bravo, Messrs. Wein and Wolfman! What a way to start a career!
Mike Allred, artist/writer
Len Wein, as well as Bernie Wrightson, were so celebrated as well as underrated in this beloved industry and art form. And huge in our lives for too many reasons to count.
I clearly remember as a kid when their lightning simultaneously struck me. Before comic shops and eBay, I rarely had complete runs of comics. There would be sporadic favorites that would find their way into our house. Single comics that would be cherished and read again and again.
Swamp Thing #7 was one of those comics. It was part of the furniture. To this day, Len’s wonderful storytelling and Bernie’s impossibly in-your-face art reignite my passion for all of their historical achievements whenever I see the cover to the comic that started it all for me.
From my humble perspective, it’s so cosmically strange for Len to follow Bernie so soon into the next world. Obviously, they did so many extraordinary things on their own, and with other collaborators, but my affection and enthusiasm for both of their creative outputs began with Swamp Thing #7. (Swamp Thing and Batman, people!) Looking at it again now takes me to a very thrilling and happy place that will always exist.
Bob Rozakis, writer
One of my favorites was the JLA/JSA/Seven Soldiers of Victory story in JLA #s 100-102. I enjoyed seeing the Seven Soldiers brought back.
Andy Fish, artist
I will always remember his run on Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson. It was brilliant and evocative of the great Universal monster films.
Jim Salicrup, editor at Papercutz, formerly of Marvel
While I read many other great stories by Len Wein, as an erstwhile Spider-Man editor, I always remembered Amazing Spider-Man #155, titled Whodunit! — which revealed the answer to the issue’s mystery right in the title. It may not be my favorite story by Len, but it’s one that always stuck with me. It was clever, and I like clever.
There’s not much I can add to what so many others are so eloquently expressing about Len Wein, but I do have one story about him…
Back in the days when Jim Shooter was editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, there was a wall outside his office known as the cover wall—because all the new covers were posted on that wall. One day, Len looked at the cover wall, and noting that there were several covers featuring portraits of the lead character on their respective covers, he snarkily asked, “Hey, is this ‘Big Head Month’?” I thought that was funny, but I also thought that was a brilliant idea. So, I filed it away in that place in my brain where I keep such things.
Later on, when Jim Shooter was looking for something special to do on all the covers for Marvel’s 25th anniversary, I remembered “Big Head Month,” and suggested that every cover be a portrait of the comic’s title character. What I especially loved about the idea was it would even cross over to the licensed covers that Marvel published as well. In other words, it was a way for all the covers to have the same idea—but not literally the exact same thing on each cover. Naturally, a frame was added to the covers, so that each cover then did have the exact same thing on it, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
My condolences to Len’s family, friends, and fans.