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Legendary comic book writer and editor Len Wein created some of the world’s most popular characters as a reflection of the health issues he had since childhood.
The Marvel and DC talent helped bring about Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Bruce Wayne’s business right hand, Lucius Fox. He also edited the Watchmen series, among other notable works.
Wein died Sunday. He was 69.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, his wife, Christine Valada, said her husband’s loyal and adoring fans meant the world to him.
“I think sometimes he was a little taken aback,” she told THR. “People have always treated him with a great deal of respect and affection.”
Valada opened up about her husband’s health struggles, which had plagued him since youth. But, ironically, those same struggles led to some of the comic world’s most beloved creations.
“Most people don’t know exactly how sick Len was throughout his life,” she said. “He was in and out of the hospital since he was three years old. And I have always felt his characters reflected a lot of what he went through. Swamp Thing was a reflection of this body that didn’t work for him. But then there was that healing factor of Wolverine, which kept getting him through it.”
The New York native, described as “very funny, very gregarious,” was a fan of the characters he created, but Batman was his No. 1 comic hero, Valada said.
However, he did create Lucius Fox, which “has been more lucrative than probably any other character,” she said. The character was played by Morgan Freeman in Christopher Nolan’s massively successful Dark Knight trilogy from Warner Bros.
His most famous creation is Wolverine, the clawed character who debuted in a 1974 issue of The Incredible Hulk.
As for whether he was properly compensated for his other characters after comic book films became a multi-billion dollar business beginning in the early 2000s, Valada said, “He was always like, ‘I know what I have done and the people who know me know what I have done.'”
Valada added, “In terms of the financial situation, DC’s Paul Levitz [the company’s former president], he did everything he could to make sure people were appropriately credited and compensated. Marvel has been a little late to that game. I will say this about Marvel, they have become very nice about inviting us to their big premieres in Los Angeles.”
Valada is a lawyer whose area of expertise is creators’ rights.
Her husband loved his work, but he wrote for himself, Valada said.
“He wrote the stories he wanted to to write,” she said, pointing out that the one time he wrote in order for fans to be happy was when he changed Thor’s love interest. He got an earful both when he made the original change and when he caved to fan displeasure and changed her back.
“And that was the point at which he said, ‘I write for me. I wrote the kind of stories I want to read,'” she said. “He felt that reading comics, as he did when he was a kid, would make him a better person and he wanted to pass that along to his readers as well.”
Wein and his wife hung out with the Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman on numerous occasions throughout the years, the first time being in 2003 at San Diego Comic-Con while Jackman was promoting Van Helsing.
Their first meeting involved a joke about Wolverine, who in the comics is short, while Jackman is known for being tall.
“And Hugh said to Len that first time, ‘I am sorry I am so tall,’ and Len replied, ‘That is OK. You play him short really well,'” she said. “And everyone knows about the 2008 Comic Con when Hugh jumped off the stage to shake Len’s hand for ‘giving him a career.'”
She continued, “The last thing Len saw in the movies was Logan and Hugh sent a poster and a piece of Wolverine art, which he autographed, to him,” Valada said.
Wein made the jump to the big screen, too, when he appeared in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past in the Congressional committee scene. He also randomly hung out on set for the scene where Jackman arrives in the 1970s, nude.
“So he got the full Monty of Hugh Jackman that day, and I said, ‘Truly wasted on you, dear.'”
The explosion in popularity of comic book films, largely kicked off by 2000’s X-Men movie, tickled Wein to no end.
“He would say, ‘We won. We took it over,'” she said. “And I hear people talking about how comics have taken over movies and I think, ‘Hey, it works.’ There are these great characters and great stories and that’s what sells tickets. If you tell a good story, like Wonder Woman this summer, people will come.”
Wein also had a high opinion of Stan Lee. The two men worked in close quarters in the ’70s at Marvel.
“I know that Stan has said that Wolverine is a character that he wished he had created,” Valada said.
As for his legacy, his wife said Wein liked to “paraphrase Woody Allen with, ‘I don’t want to live on in my work, I want to live on in my house.'”
“But that fact of the matter is he will live on through his work,” Valada said. “And his characters aren’t going anywhere. He liked to say that in comics, no one is really ever dead unless you see the body, and usually not even then.”
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