X-MEN: Len Wein (Mania.com)
By:Craig D. Reid
Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000
If you think Wolverine's creator enjoyed the great outdoors and beauty of the backwood trails of Canada while growing up, you're wrong. Len Wein was born and raised in the Bronx in New York City, attended college out on Long Island, Farmingdale specifically, and spent a lot of his childhood bedridden with illness.
That didn't stop him from creating one of comics' most popular characters, though, or in 1975 preventing the near extinction of the X-Men franchise, which had been languishing in reprint hell for 28 issues. He and artist Dave Cockrum created a whole new, distinctive mythology for the X-Men when they opted to add an international flavor to Marvel's repertoire of mutant superheroes.
As luck would have it, I recently ran into Len at a media screening of the new X-Men movie near UCLA. Even on such short notice, a few minutes to be precise, he happily agreed to speak to Fandom about his involvement in the comic book and share his views about the film. After all, if it wasn't for his relaunch of the title back in the 70s, the X-Men likely would've remained a footnote in comics' history.
FANDOM: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH X-MEN?
I started [my career] at DC, and little by little my roommate Jerry Connelly, who was at Marvel, lured me over. After working there as an assistant editor, Roy Thomas, the then-Editor-in-Chief, left and designated me as his successor. [Wein's phone rings and after a brief discussion, he continues.] That, in fact, on the phone, was my editor on the X-Men. I've just finished a story, my first X-Men story for comics in years, and he just called me to say he finished reading the script and his comment was 'a big delight.'
So anyway, I found myself at the age of 25 the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. The X-Men had never been a success. The stuff [coming out] at the time was actually reprints of the original stuff, and it never really cashed in. That's in the early 70s. They had talked for a while about the possibility of reviving the book a la The Blackhawks, a comic that ran from the 1940s to the early 70s about a bunch of pilots initially during the war, who're from many countries. They were all pilots and fought Nazis, and later on supervillains and crime. It was a very popular idea.
Roy was pitching the concept of maybe bringing the X-Men back as an international group of mutants. The idea just sat there for a while. I was doing The Hulk and in it I created 'Wolverine.' And, knowing in the back of my mind we might do this international X-Men book, I made the character a mutant. He was actually Canadian. I thought, he's the first international mutant, so if anyone is interested they can use that character.
A CANADIAN MUTANT?
[Laughs]. Well, to me he's foreign.
WHAT MADE YOU CREATE HIM?
It's one of those diagonal stories. I was writing a book up at Marvel called Brother Voodoo, during the height of the mystery monster heroes. He was a black superhero from Jamaica who fought villains with a supernatural bent, and a lot of the characters in the script were Jamaican with Jamaican accents. I have a good ear for dialects. Roy Thomas, the editor, has no ear for dialects, so he said 'I love what you're doing' and that he'd love to see what I could do with a Canadian accent. So he gave me the name 'Wolverine' and said make him Canadian. So everything you see with the character, the claws, the size, the person, everything except the name, is mine.
WHAT PART OF YOU IS IN YOUR CHARACTERS? WHAT PART OF WOLVERINE IS PART OF YOU?
Interesting question. Obviously there's a part of me in all my characters. If not, I can't connect to them--for example my creation of Swamp Thing. One of the [subsequent] comic book writers for that series once explained that one of the reasons Swamp Thing was so successful was that he was absolutely me. I said [jokingly sarcastic], 'Thank you so much.' He's a character of humanity who tries to overcome adversity, and I hadn't been a very healthy kid. So actually, I started reading comics in the hospital to keep me occupied.
What made Wolverine a hero to me in the initial stories, and that changed when Chris Claremont came in when he worked with the character, is that his natural instinct as Wolverine was to take those claws and gut you. His first response to things was, 'I will just kill you.' But what would make him a hero is that about a quarter of an inch from your skin, he would stop. He would be fighting against humanity to overcome his bestiality.
WHAT KIND OF EMOTION DO YOU HAVE WHEN YOU FINISH A COMIC BOOK OR SEE A FILM ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER. DO YOU GO, 'YEEEEEHHH?'
That was exactly my reaction when I saw the film. I saw a commercial a few days before I saw the film--it was basically all about Wolverine--and I was crossing the living room and my wife can attest to this, I just went, (gruntingly) 'Yeeessss.' Closed fist shaking, 'That's it. Yesss.'
SO I GUESS YOU WERE HAPPY WITH THE CHARACTER?
[Laughs] One hundred percent happy. Dead on perfect.
YOU ALSO HELPED CREATE STORM. HOW DID SHE COME ABOUT?
What happened with that is when they decided to go forward with this new X-Men book, Roy asked me to write it. I never thought I would write it. I thought someone else would do it. So I sat down with the artist, a terrific artist named Dave Cockrum, to figure it out. There were a couple of character already established in the Marvel Universe who were international mutants from other countries. I figured I would at least cameo them and bring them into the first story to acknowledge they're part of the international mix of characters, but I wouldn't keep them around. I kept some originals for continuity sake, such as Jean Grey and Cyclops. Then we sat down to create the rest of the X-Men. We created Colossus (a Russian), Nightcrawler (a German) and Thunderbird (a Native American), who was created to die to prove to the audience that this is not status quo.
Storm was sort of the last of the mix. We basically toyed with two characters, a black character called The Black Cat and a male character called Tempest, who had all the weather powers. But neither of them were fully developed. We liked the look of Black Cat and the powers of Tempest, but thought neither is really working for us. So finally we thought to combine the characters. We gave the weather powers to the Black Cat and changed her to Storm. The white hair was always part of the character. And the emotion behind Storm is that through her entire life she's been treated like a goddess, and when they find her, she's being worshipped by an African tribe and keeps their land fertile.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF HALLE BERRY'S PORTRAYAL?
The problem with Halle Berry as the character is that Storm is a tall character, but Berry is short. In fact, there are a couple of shots in the movie where she is trying to talk Wolverine out of leaving the school and she is clearly 5 inches shorter than he is. But in the comic, she's 5 inches taller than him.
FOR THE CASTING OF WOLVERINE AND STORM, HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD SOMEONE IN MIND?
Yes. For Storm it was [actress/model] Iman. She's tall, statuesque, exotic, has a great voice and she seems to have that majesty you see in Storm. So she would have been perfect. For Wolverine, I envisioned David Keith from U-571, High Incident as the many times married cop and as the cowboy toy in The Indian and the Cupboard with these muttonchops sideburns and his hair back. I said, 'Dear God, he looks exactly like Wolverine.'
IN YOUR EYES, DID THE X-MEN TRANSLATE WELL ONSCREEN?
Absolutely. It's the best adaptation of comics onto screen I've ever seen. I loved the first Superman movie and the first Batman films. I thought they were the best adaptations, but not any longer.
WERE YOU INVOLVED AT ALL IN THE FILM?
In no way shape or form.
DOES THAT BOTHER YOU?
It's very frustrating, absolutely. [Long-time, and recently returned, X-Men writer] Chris Claremont was involved. But in that TV Guide that just came out [about the X-Men movie], there's a one-page article on Chris. Now Chris followed me, he was my successor and I am very angry and frustrated that the article--it's not Chris's fault because he has always been the first guy to credit me and Dave with creating the books--but the article basically credits him for being responsible for the revival of the X-Men. It's in TV Guide, which means 25 million people will read it.
WHEN YOU CREATE A STORY, DO YOU CREATE IT WITH A MORAL IN MIND? AND FOR X-MEN, WHAT IS IT?
As with all my stories, ultimately, it's that with a good heart you can overcome adversity. It may sound cliche-ish, but most of my own moral code comes from the comics I grew up on. I grew up on comics where heroes were good and bad guys were villains. Like they used to say in Li'l Abner, 'Good is better than evil because it's nicer.' The good guys won because it was the right thing to do. I am a big believer in the right thing and doing what you have to do to overcome problems and adversity.
DO YOU HAVE A CAUSE OR PASSIONATE FEELINGS ABOUT SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN SOMEHOW BRING FORTH IN YOUR STORIES?
Put forth the positive role model and be positive. When I write things in columns or such, my sign off is, 'See you all next month. Be kind to yourself until then.'