Legendary comic book creator Len Wein passed away yesterday at the age of 69. “Legendary” is no exaggeration either; the man co-created Wolverine, one of the most famous superheroes of all time. And if that wasn’t enough, he also co-created the bulk of the new X-Men that revitalized the franchise in the 1970s, including Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. Plus he co-created Swamp Thing, edited Alan Moore’s brilliant run on the book. He then edited Moore again on Watchmen, the most famous superhero graphic novel of all time. Over the course of his career, Wein wrote or edited nearly every major superhero at both DC and Marvel, leaving his mark on all of them. He was a fan made good, who used to tour the DC offices as a teen in the 1960s before finally landing a writing job there, and his love for the genre led to decades of great stories.
Wein is also remembered for one dark moment in the Batman universe. In the late 1980s, as an editor he okayed the shooting of Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, in an attack that left her paralyzed in Batman: The Killing Joke. However, most fans are unaware of his important role in revitalizing a different female character in the Bat-mythos, Catwoman. Throughout the 1970s, Catwoman was adrift at DC Comics. Her popular turn on the Batman television show in the 1960s had ended a decade-long hiatus for the character, but no one at DC was able to figure out what to do with her after that. Her depictions varied wildly, different costumes were used, and she had no sustained runs.
Then Len Wein brought her back in Batman #308 in 1979. He was the regular writer on the book, and reintroduced the character via her alter ego, Selina Kyle. She’d gone straight, leaving her criminal past behind, and she wanted Bruce Wayne’s help with her investments:
Bruce was suspicious and had his business manager Lucius Fox, another character created by Wein, investigate her. Selina found out and was angry, but Bruce apologized and soon the two began dating.
Selina became a regular part of the book for the next year or so. Her relationship with Bruce seemed doomed from the beginning, though; in a bit of foreshadowing, the duo dressed as Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon on one of their earliest dates:
When Selina started acting erratically, Bruce got suspicious, especially when someone in a cat costume stole valuable items from the Gotham Museum. He even came after her as Batman, and refused to believe her as Bruce when she said she wasn’t involved. It turned out her behavior was due to a mysterious illness and that the real thief was Cat-Man. She’d been telling the truth the whole time. Selina donned her Catwoman outfit again to help Batman nab Cat-Man, but afterward she broke up with Bruce because he didn’t trust her, then left Gotham City:
It was an excellent arc, one that successfully reintegrated Catwoman into Batman’s world while, in a clever twist, making Batman/Bruce the villain of the piece. His inability to believe in her reformation doomed their relationship, though Wein made sure not to end it too badly that she would never return.
And return she did. Over the next several years, new writers brought back Catwoman again and again. While some of the stories weren’t as good, with one even turning her into a crazed stalker when Bruce started dating Vicki Vale, she nonetheless remained a regular presence across the Batman line, raising her profile considerably. The changes in continuity following Crisis on Infinite Earths and Batman: Year One resulted in a new take on Catwoman in the late 1980s, and a solo series followed after Michelle Pfeiffer’s wildly popular take on Catwoman in Batman Returns in 1992. But I think it’s fair to say all of this might not have happened without Wein bringing Catwoman back into the fold. She was pretty near forgotten over the course of the 1970s, and her prominence in the early 1980s played a key role in setting her up for her future successes.
Wein will be remembered for his splashier additions to the superhero world. I mean, the guy co-created Wolverine. That’s a big deal. But for me, as soon as I heard about Wein’s passing I remembered the way he reintroduced a character that I love dearly, captured her proper ferocity and spirit, and made her relevant again. It’s a small thing in the lengthy list of his many achievements. However, after such a prolific career, I’m sure there are innumerable small moments being remembered fondly today, though with a tinge of sadness.