The man passed away this past weekend, and many folks have memorialized him, in personal blogs, comics press, and even the mainstream media. Most mention his huge triumphs in the field. Len Wein created Wolverine, Swamp Thing, co-created the New X-Men, and edited Watchmen - all events that advanced, shaped, and transformed comics as an entertainment medium - and all true. However, that's not really what I remember him for. I remember him for the comics that shaped me and my thinking, and my love of comics.
In Justice League of America, a comic he was only on for a short time, he turned these characters from a group of heroes who sometimes worked together into a team of friends who were a finely tuned fighting unit, who knew each other, watched each other's backs, and even socialized together. Wein returned not only traditional Silver Age villains like Amazo, the Key, Felix Faust, T.O. Morrow, the Shaggy Man, Eclipso, (and indirectly the Queen Bee and the Lord of Time), but also revived Golden Age superheroes like Earth-Two's other super-team (a decade before the All-Star Squadron) the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and gathered the old Quality Comics heroes as the Freedom Fighters of Earth-X, a parallel world where Germany won World War II - soon to be featured in an animated series on CW Seed. In an age where young readers were being newly introduced to these characters in the reprints of the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars, Wein brought us new stories of these greats.
Speaking of the JSA, another story that resonates with me to this day is Flash #215, written by Wein during his short stint on that title, which I've briefly talked about before. With a dramatic Neal Adams cover and interiors by Irv Novick, in my opinion, the Flash artist, this story told the tale of Barry Allen waking up in bed with his Earth-Two counterpart's wife Joan, finding that he'd replaced Jay Garrick. After that weirdness, Barry goes on the find Jay in the limbo dimension and fighting the Vandal Savage, yet another Golden Age character that Wein breathed new life into. This remains one of my favorite Flash stories, and made me love Jay Garrick.
Also notable from this era were his Adventure Comics stories with Supergirl and Zatanna respectively, which I still love. I bet if he'd stayed on JLoA longer, he would have brought Zatanna on to the team much earlier than she ended up joining. While they were going on at roughly the same time, and I did not read them at the time, I did eventually read Wein's fantastic stories of the Swamp Thing, Phantom Stranger, and Korak, and dug them. And let's not forget that he also co-created the Human Target, a back-up feature I never understood as a kid, but loved as an adult.
Defenders, which he picked up on after Steve Englehart left the book. Wein would recruit Nighthawk to the team, one of my favorite Defenders, after an eerily familiar clash with Marvel's parallel universe evil Justice League, the Squadron Supreme (or was it Sinister? I always get confused).
Len Wein would return to DC Comics however as an editor. He was editing both Justice League of America and Flash ironically when I met him at a Creation convention around the time of those two titles' 200th and 300th landmark issues respectively. I told him how much I enjoyed his Justice League stories, but also expressed, perhaps too cockily, an opinion that the 200th issue shouldn't be so full of guest-stars as the 100th issue was. He took the left-handed compliment well, smiled, and said I would be pleased with Justice League of America #200. I was, the tale, which pitted the original members against all the later members of the team in a retelling and return to their origin, is not only one of my favorite stories, but also a lot of folks' too.