RIP Len Wein

Writer, editor and comics creator Len Wein has passed away at the age of 69, which is far too soon. He leave behind a massive amount of not just important creations (Swamp Thing with Berni Wrightson and Wolverine with Herb Trimpe and John Romita Snr to name the two big ones) but some truly great comics work. For me, my first exposure to Wein was Justice League of America #100 and this great Nick Cardy cover.

Wein wrote the JLA from this issue to #114, and these remain some of my favourite superhero comics ever not just because they’re enormous fun, but for me, these were the first superhero comics I read that even had a hint of doing something more than just stringing together fight scenes. It remains a vastly underrated run.

His Marvel work in the 70’s helped entertain me massively, especially the joy filled fun that was Marvel Team-Up.

A nice fun run on Amazing Spider-Man,

And a long run on The Incredible Hulk which is where Wolverine first made his début.

It’s worth noting that if Wein hadn’t brought Wolverine into the new X-Men in Giant Size X-Men #1, the revamped X-Men might never have gotten off the ground and failed and Wolverine would be a minor character that once popped up in a few issues of the Hulk’s title.

Instead though, Wein made the masterstroke of sticking Wolverine into the X-Men and unleashed a massive fan-favourite for decades to come.

As an editor he’s responsible for helping Alan Moore and Gave Gibbons Watchmen into the world.

Overall Wein gave comics more than he’s probably appreciated for. Without him DC may never have hired Alan Moore in the first place and all that British talent DC mined from the 80’s to today. Wein changed the mainstream comics industry in the US and UK massively and his passing is a loss. Yes, we can dwell upon shite like Before Watchmen and later work, but let’s not dwell there and choose instead to remember his work for helping kids like me have some entertainment over the decades…

What I thought of Justice League of America #113

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I was skimming through the latest releases on Comixology today and this glorious comic stood out among the new comics. This is Justice League of America #113, not only one of the Justice League/Justice Society of America team ups, but a 100 page giant that DC Comics published as part of their regular titles in the early 1970’s, in this case this issue is from 1974. I was seven when this comic came out and I can still remember buying this for a massive 10p from an old newsagents back home in Glasgow. I can still remember how the comic smelled, felt and most of all, looked like yet I stupidly around 15 years ago decided to sell a load of comics I should have kept. This was one of them.

The 100 page giants followed a simple formula. You’d have a new story for 20-30 pages (in this case the JLA/JSA team up written by Len Wein and drawn by Dick Dillon), a reprint from the 1960’s, a reprint from the Golden Age (1940’s and 1950’s) as well as anything else to pad out the package including articles about the history of comics. They were brilliant in that for kids like me back then that they’d allow you to read old comics that if you didn’t have even back then would have cost you a bomb.

The main story here is titled The Creature in the Crystal Cage, and is the new JLA/JSA team up. At this point Len Wein was part of a way through a classic run on the JLA that is still one of the best in that title’s history. Here four members of the JLA (Superman, Batman, Elongated Man and Green Lantern) team up with four members of the JSA (Wonder Woman, Sandman, Hourman and The Flash) for a bit of jollity on Earth 2.

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After a diversion to Sandman’s secret pad we get the tragic story of Sandman’s ward, Sandy, the Golden Boy (it’s the 1970’s) and how thanks to Sandman cocking up his new crime-fighting weapon was transformed into a giant silicon monster.

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Sandy has escaped his velvet cage and that gives the heroes an excuse to split up to try to find him.

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Over the course of the story the various heroes encounter Sandy in a series of exciting, not to mention fun adventures that ends up with the heroes finding and capturing Sandy, but yet, there’s a sense of melancholy in this thanks to the characterisation of Sandman, at this time a character that looked great but really didn’t register with me apart from the visuals. In this he becomes something else, more broody, more, well, post-modern as a hero trying to come to terms with a mistake he made that hurt the boy he was supposed to protect.  It’s a brilliant little example of great storytelling in a superhero strip from a writer near his peak and a great bit of art from the veteran JLA artist Dick Dillon, an artist that doesn’t get the praise he really deserves. He’s written off as being functional by many but he’s not just solid, he manages little flourishes, especially getting over the pain and angst going through Sandman by the end of the story.

Sadly Comixology only print this story. There isn’t the older JLA and JSA stories promised on the cover, and that’s a pity but this story is a classic of 1970’s superheroics that’s worth the £1.49 Comixology are charging. Considering the issue goes for around a tenner, that’s not bad for a story that brings back memories of happier days reading these glorious stories of escapism.