Posts Tagged ‘Len Wein’

Remembering Len Wein, and his Reinvention of Catwoman

September 11, 2017

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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DC’s Fresh And Contemporary New Minis To Be Written By 60 Year Old White Guys

July 6, 2015

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First things first, Amy Chu is fantastic. She’s writing a new Poison Ivy mini-series for DC Comics as part of a new line of minis that are set to debut in 2016, and she is the perfect choice of writer to do a fresh and contemporary take on the character, which is what DC claims they’re aiming for with this line. Chu’s an experienced writer outside of the Big Two with a lot of interesting credits, and she should bring a cool, new perspective to an old character and to the world of superheroes in general. Smart move, DC, and yay, Amy Chu!

But now onto the other seven titles. DC’s co-publisher Dan DiDio told USA Today that the goal of these minis is to “freshen up and contemporize” these characters, so let’s take a look at the titles:

  • Swamp Thing by Len Wein
  • Metal Men by Len Wein
  • Raven by Marv Wolfman
  • Firestorm by Gerry Conway
  • Katana: Cult of the Kobra by Mike W. Barr
  • Metamorpho by Aaron Lopresti
  • Sugar & Spike by Keith Giffen

These are all just the writers, by the way, because for some reason NONE of the artists were mentioned. It’s not like it’s a visual medium or anything.

Carrying on, several of these titles are being written by the men who created the characters decades ago, which seems an odd way to go for fresh, contemporary takes. Moreover, here are the ages of the six white men writing these titles:

  • Len Wein – 67
  • Marv Wolfman – 69
  • Gerry Conway – 62
  • Mike W. Barr – 63
  • Aaron Lopresti – 51
  • Keith Giffen – 62

I fail to see how a group of men with an average age of 62.3 years old are, to quote DiDio, “the best writers for these characters” when the task is to freshen up and contemporize them. All of these men are certainly talented writers and I respect their work and, for several of them, their legacies, but the last thing the superhero world needs more of is old, white guys reintroducing characters and trying to make them relevant and interesting. That rarely goes well. Especially when so many of them have such close ties to past incarnations of the characters. This is where you introduce new voices and new talent, find the NEW Marv Wolfman and the NEW Len Wein, not bring back the same old creators. This would be a KILLER lineup in 1987, but it’s not 1987 anymore.

Old white guy writers aside, I’m pleased to see that 3.5 of the 8 new series are led by female characters. That’s a definite plus. While only 1 of 8 series being written by a woman is disappointing, it’s nice to see women represented somewhere at least, even if they’re fictional women.

I’m not particularly optimistic for this mini-series line. DC has a lot of talk in the USA Today article about continuing the characters in other books if the minis prove popular, but I’m concerned that they might debut low and tumble from there. Most of the characters and creators just aren’t big grabs anymore. Scott Snyder couldn’t make Swamp Thing a huge seller, so I really doubt Len Wein is going to move some units. I think that Poison Ivy could do well, and Raven might have enough residual love as a character to debut okay, but other than that this seems like a lot of stale creators and stale concepts. It almost feels like DC is worried that their June #DCYou books didn’t go over well with their over-40 reader crowd, and so they’re course correcting with old favourites to win them back. Commit to the new, DC. Live in the future.

ADDENDUM:

I got a lot of interesting feedback about this piece yesterday, some thoughtful and some amusingly rude.  I went on Twitter last night to reiterate my larger point, and I’ve also done so below in the comments, but here’s a transcript of my Twitter response, in a more readable paragraphed form, so that everyone can now read it when they read this post:

I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that guys like Wein, Wolfman, et al. shouldn’t be getting work.  They’re legends. However, a line written primarily by white men who’ve been in comics for decades sends, intentionally or not, a bad message about diversity.

I understand that comics is a rough industry for older creators, and my problem isn’t with them for doing the gigs.  But it’s also a tough industry for women and POC who have been rarely afforded the opportunity to break into the Big Two in the first place.

My issue is with DC for not putting together a more diverse and representative line.  Hire some old white guys, sure, but ALSO hire woefully underrepresented folks getting their first shot at superheroes.  Doing just the former doesn’t send a great message.

And for everyone going “But DC’s June #DCYou books!” Yes, ONE TIME DC put together a slightly more diverse lineup. SLIGHTLY.  That doesn’t mean they can stop doing that now, or that it’s cool to even things out with these new minis.

The Evolution Of The Costume Change

November 27, 2010

Today I was reading Comic Book Legends Revealed, as I do every week, and the latest installment investigates who came up with the idea of Wonder Woman twirling her lasso to change into her costume.  Editor Julius Schwartz took credit for the idea but writer Len Wein says that it was actually his, and ultimately CBLR sided with Wein.

This post gave me the idea to look back at how Wonder Woman has changed into her costume throughout the years.  I am all about the evolution of Wonder Woman, usually in terms of feminism and gender dynamics and the like, but in terms of costume issues is a good time too.  Plus, you know, fun pictures!!

We start with William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter, all the way back in the 1940s.  It appears that they had no special means for Diana Prince to become Wonder Woman.  Instead, she just snuck out of sight and tore off her regular clothes to reveal her costume underneath.  Rather uneventful really.  Here is a great panel from Wonder Woman #8, where a sleeping Wonder Woman, alerted that Steve has been captured, flings off her nightgown with one hand and tries to put on her boots with the other:

Interestingly, while Marston and Peter didn’t have any particular gimmick for the costume change, they may have actually given us the first instance of the famous spin change.  In Wonder Woman #6, Diana introduced Wonder Woman at a charity event, and then exited and returned to the stage so fast that it looked like she was actually passing herself as she came back dressed as Wonder Woman.  The resulting panel is reminiscent of the spin change popularized on the Wonder Woman TV show:

In 1958, when Ross Andru and Mike Esposito took over the art duties on the series, Wonder Woman got her first stylized costume change.  They drew several Wonder Womans in a panel, each at a different stage of undress, ranging from a fully dressed Diana Prince to Wonder Woman decked out in her uniform.  The idea was to create a blur effect, showing how fast the change was, as we can see in this panel from Wonder Woman #103:

The mod era Wonder Woman had no need of a costume change, so the next big shift didn’t occur until 1974.  In the method examined today in “Comic Book Legends Revealed”, Diana twirled her lasso around herself, changing her regular clothes INTO her Wonder Woman outfit.  This panel from Wonder Woman #212, drawn by Curt Swan, shows its first appearance:

The lasso twirl was quickly followed by the TV show in 1975, which used twirling of a different sort.  Rather than twirl the lasso, Diana twirled herself, spinning while an explosion of light burst in front of her, and then emerging as Wonder Woman:

SIDENOTE: CBLR suggests that Wein’s lasso twirl “was later adapted (though slightly tweaked)” for the TV show, but I disagree (very politely, of course).  Lynda Carter has always claimed that the spin was her invention, and its original format is quite different from the comic book.  The iconic spin/light flash suggests a magical sort of change, as does the comic book, but in the pilot it was essentially just Lynda Carter taking her clothes off while spinning.  Producer Don Kramer even described it as “a slow motion strip tease.”  You can see it here:

This, for some reason, was very expensive to shoot, so they changed it to the light flash that is so famous today.  This original intent, combined with Wonder Woman being the spinner AND Carter’s claims, suggests to me that the twirling similarities between the comic and the show were just a coincidence.

ANOTHER SIDENOTE:  Is it just me, or did Lynda Carter look a lot like Katie Holmes in that clip?  I’m going to now start the rumour that Katie Holmes is being considered for David E. Kelley’s new Wonder Woman show.  Nay!!  She is the frontrunner for it!!  If we’re gonna start a rumour, let’s go big.

In modern times, it has been the iconic Lynda Carter spin that has been the norm for Wonder Woman.  However, in the few issues of Perez’s 1987 Wonder Woman relaunch that I have on hand I couldn’t find a panel of her spinning.  The only costume change I could find was from Wonder Woman #4, where Wonder Woman flung off her plaid shirt as she flew into the air:

Today, though, the spin is the default move.  This panel from Heinberg’s Wonder Woman relaunch, drawn by Terry Dodson, shows the classic spin move:

While Nicola Scott’s cover for Wonder Woman #43 directly references the series, showing Wonder Woman with her arms stretched outward in the middle of a flash of light:

Incidentally, a couple Christmases ago my sister got me a Wonder Woman notebook, and it’s cover has one of those hologram things where you move the cover and the picture changes (there must be a word for that, but I have no idea what it is).  It shows the Wein/Swan style lasso change:

Not only is it cool, but it was handy during boring classes.  If the lecture got dull, I’d take out my notebook and provide myself, and usually the people sitting behind me, with some mild entertainment.  Plus all the pages of the notebook have fun Wonder Woman pictures on them… it’s a classy notebook all around!!

So there you have it… let me know in the comments section if I missed any keys steps in the costume change’s evolutionary process.


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