We’re back with a new installment of our talk with Len Wein!
UPDATED 6/11/16: It’s Len Wein’s birthday this weekend, so we’re re-presenting The LEN WEIN INTERVIEWS, in which he reveals all about his Bronze Age run on Batman. For the full INDEX of stories, click here. You’ll be glad you did!
A few months ago, we started running The LEN WEIN Interviews, a series about the great storyteller’s Batman years. The series came from a conversation Len and I had last autumn. When he fell ill, it seemed appropriate to press the pause button. Now, with him thankfully out of the hospital, we’re going to pick up where we left off, with Part 4.
Dan Greenfield: (When you were on Batman), I noticed that you made sure to get — with maybe the exception of the Penguin — you got all of the major villains in there but you also got some villains that had not been featured in ages. You see it all the time now with revamps of characters, but take Calendar Man. You’ll find this a little bit humorous but that’s how I found out what the days of the week were named after!
Len Wein: Oh, really!?
I appreciate that! Because I learned a lot from the comics that I read as a kid. I learned that the closet planet to Sol was Alpha Centauri from reading Adam Strange, I learned about the elements from reading the Metal Men. So the fact that somebody else learned from ME about something is very gratifying!
I remember sitting with the comic while my mother was making dinner and I was quizzing her. I said, “Ma, you know what…? Well, Sunday is the sun and Monday’s the moon, but do you know what Tuesday is?” She knew Friday and she knew Thursday obviously, but it was like, “Wednesday…is it for Wotan?” “Well, it’s Odin and…” and it was back and forth but I remember sitting there with that comic and quizzing her to see what she knew. I was probably 12 or 13.
So…you brought in Kite Man, Calendar Man and some others as well. Plus you also had villains from other heroes come in. You had Captain Boomerang I think and Gentleman Ghost. Talk a little bit about some of that decision-making and why you picked certain characters.
In the case of Captain Boomerang, it was simply, I realized later, that here’s a Flash villain who works perfectly in Batman’s universe.
And I liked the idea of a little cross-company … You know, DC at that point certainly did nothing like Marvel would, like having the Kingpin fight Spider-Man AND Daredevil. Various villains would show up in all kinds of different books where they seemed appropriate and I thought Captain Boomerang seemed a completely appropriate villain for Batman so I borrowed him and used him.
In the case of the Gentleman Ghost, I adored that character, always did. In fact, especially when Joe — God rest him — Kubert was drawing the character, no one ever did it better. And there was NO Hawkman book at that point at DC and I went, if no one else is going to use him, I am! Because I just loved that character and he made the perfect Batman villain.
Did you have anything to do with the fact that Joe Kubert did that cover for that issue?
Really? Tell me about that.
Well, Joe and I were friends and I worked with Joe on other things. He’d known me since I was one of those pain-in-the-ass fans before I became a professional. (Dan laughs) So I just asked. Joe did a number of things that I asked him over the years just because we were friends and he thought it might be fun to do. The fact that I think I wrote what was arguably the last Sgt. Rock story… I know I wrote what was technically the last Sgt. Rock story, a comic book where Rock dies (DC Universe: Legacies #4) … I was thrilled to have Joe draw that.
Right. He died at the end of World War II, right? It was the last bullet fired wasn’t it?
That was not my idea but had long been Bob Kanigher’s idea. Bob Kanigher said, “The last bullet fired in World War II is the bullet that kills Sgt. Rock. He doesn’t have a place in the world outside of the war. That’s where he belongs, where he thrives.” And I agreed, so there’s a character named Bob in the story that was kind of a tribute to Kanigher. So it was really Kanigher’s story, not mine. How it went about was my doing because Bob was no longer alive.
I always thought that that was a poetic angle for Sgt. Rock. It only made sense.
Now some of the other characters (you wrote on Batman) … You brought back Crazy Quilt. There was that two-parter where, I guess Robin was home for summer vacation. So there was Batman, Robin and Crazy Quilt and then the Riddler. What do you remember about some of those issues?
Well, I know that to the best of my memory, Crazy Quilt actually goes back to … Kirby and he was originally from Boy Commandos.
Yeah. He was.
And then when the Boy Commandos book passed on and Robin had his own feature in Star Spangled Comics, somebody thought of bringing Crazy Quilt over and making him a recurring Robin villain in that series. So I thought, well, he has a great weirdass visual and Robin’s not normally around. Let’s bring Robin back for an issue and bring Crazy Quilt out of left field. (Laughs)
If you’ll indulge me, the memories I have of these books are so distinct. I remember those and I remember it being summer vacation because I remember it being poolside and the days when you would actually bring your comic books to the pool and risk getting them wet.
But I remember sitting by the pool with my comics. After I was swimming, I’d get out and read. It was those. It was those issues because they came out at the end of the summer and again it’s like when I see those issues now — and I have a stack of them in my hand as we’re talking — that’s the memories that come back to me.
Just to sidetrack, at the time, did you have any indication that you would be asked about them 30 years later?
Oh, God no. I would’ve taken notes! I mean, we never expected this stuff would have the longevity it’s turned out to have. And I’m thrilled it has, obviously!
If you want to check out these stories, Tales of the Batman: Len Wein is now available from DC.