Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus—all names instantly associated with the X-Men whether you’re a lifelong mutant devotee or a newcomer familiar with the team's multimedia presence over the past few decades. But those four characters have not always been at the forefront of Marvel's mutant movement. A little over 40 years ago, they didn't even exist, and the X-Men as a franchise had been placed on life support, maintained in name only as a reprint title for the team’s 60’s adventures. The Marvel Universe had left the X-Men behind, relegating them to cameos in their actual hit titles.
That all changed with GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1.
Released in the spring of 1975, this double-sized single issue re-introduced the X-Men as a team of international super heroes bound together by their genetic gifts and a desire to help the world. Len Wein, incoming Editor-in-Chief and regular writer of DEFENDERS and INCREDIBLE HULK, reinvented the team alongside legendary artist Dave Cockrum as a ragtag group of do-gooders with personalities as colorful as their costumes.
In this three-part interview with Len Wein, we'll revisit this milestone issue in detail, uncovering everything from the creation of the new team and beyond!
Marvel.com: What was your position at Marvel at the time that GIANT-SIZE X-MEN came about in May 1975?
Len Wein: I was quarterback at the time. That was my position. [Laughs] No, seriously, by the time this whole thing came around I ended up—when we actually started producing it—as Editor-in-Chief. I had been [previous Editor-in-Chief] Roy Thomas’ assistant and when it all actually began—it started before I even got to Marvel, I think, the vague idea of doing this new X-Men. There was a businessperson from upstairs whose name I will never remember who had noticed that in a lot of the foreign countries that the Marvel books were being distributed in, the books were selling very well. He had this idea of, if we do an international group of X-Men, we can possibly sell really, really well in the countries where the books do well if we include characters from those countries. So that had been the initial idea. I think someone had given it to Roy and Roy said, “Oh, so we can basically do the Blackhawks,” which were an international team of fliers over at DC and before that at Quality [Comics]. And that’s how it started.
Marvel.com: Did you already have a relationship with the 1960’s X-MEN series? Were you attached to them at all?
Len Wein: Back in those days I read everything, so I had read all of the original X-MEN books. I was never a huge fan of that book. It was the book that [creators] Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] probably left earliest in the run of books they created. And once they left, it—for the most part—went rapidly downhill. It had a couple of other shining moments; there were a couple of issues by [artist Jim] Steranko in the middle there, and of course the Neal Adams/Roy Thomas run that was the end of the originals was just great.
Marvel.com: You said the idea of re-launching the X-Men started before you even got to Marvel. How did you get the job of making it happen?
Len Wein: Roy gave it to me. I actually had not expected to be the person writing that book. In fact, when I created Wolverine [in INCREDIBLE HULK #180], I was aware of the potential of the book coming along, and so I made Wolverine a mutant specifically so that whoever ended up with the gig could have a Canadian mutant to play with and see how it went from there.
Marvel.com: Dave Cockrum was already brought on board before you got involved, from what I understand.
Len Wein: I think so. It was relatively close together, but I think Dave got there first.
Marvel.com: He’d already had a number of characters designed like Storm and Nightcrawler and Colossus. How did you go about working with those designs?
Len Wein: He had a number of designs drawn, most of whom had nothing but the visual. He was a great visual designer and he spent a lot of time, as any young artist—and God knows we were all so young back then—just in his spare time sitting over the breakfast table or wherever, sketching out possible characters. The only one he had then that was fully fleshed out was Nightcrawler, who he had designed when he was drawing the Legion of Super-Heroes for DC and hoped to make a Legionnaire, but Murray Boltinoff, the editor at the time, said, “Nah, he's too damn creepy and looks demonic and [we] can’t use him.” So he sat [on Nightcrawler] until the X-Men came along, and when we sat down together—Dave and I—to figure out who they were going to be, the one thing Dave said was, “He's gotta be one of them.” He showed me the visual and I went, “Done! That’s not hard. You betcha. I love this guy.” He was probably the first member after Wolverine that became an X-Man.
The others were all just visuals. There were no characters with them. Storm, in fact, wasn’t even Storm. I'll explain that in a minute. Colossus came along next. The basic costume was a little dizzy. We simplified it a bit by eliminating a couple of minor elements. We decided to make him Russian and I came up with the name Colossus. And then there were two other characters. One was a character named Tempest, I think, who was a weather wizard. And then there was a very cool visual, but not so cool character, called the Black Cat, that was what Storm was originally. We could not make the two of them work. We pretty much had the group as we wanted it and we were just having trouble getting a finger or a handle on who the Black Cat and who Tempest were. And we went to Roy, who was still editor at the time, and said, “Roy, this is your job. What do we do? We’re really blanked. We can’t get these two to work as well as we want it to.” And he said, “Well, one’s a great visual, the other’s a great power with a not so great visual, why don't you make one character out of them?” And thus came Storm.
Marvel.com: And history was made.
Len Wein: Exactly! Dave took the basic Black Cat costume, added the cape and a few other elements to it and, in fact, if you look at those early issues, when she's using her powers she has these kind of cat’s eyes. That is our leftover from the incarnation of the Black Cat because we just thought it was so damn cool we didn’t want to get rid of them. [Laughs]
Remember, we were all kids back then. The funny part of all of this, we decided, together Dave and I decided that Ororo would be Kenyan and Nightcrawler would be German and Colossus would be Russian. Wolverine was already established as a Canadian. We put in an American into the group that was Thunderbird, but Thunderbird was designed to be killed off in the end of the second story. The whole idea being that it had never happened before that we could remember and we thought, “This is great, we can come up with a character and kill him off and the audience will never get complacent.” They’ll never go, “Oh, they won't kill him, because you can't kill your heroes!” So we killed one right off the bat and—thank God—he’s arguably one of the very few characters in the history of the business who actually stayed dead. They brought in his kid brother later on with virtually the same powers but changed the name to Warpath from Thunderbird.
Marvel.com: And Warpath has a very different personality too. Thunderbird’s personality was very specific.
Len Wein: John Proudstar kicked the bucket and stayed in the bucket.
Marvel 75’s celebration of the All-New, All-Different X-Men with Len Wein continues tomorrow as the writer reveals how Sunfire and Banshee got into the mix! Get more 75th anniversary goodness at marvel.com/75 and join the conversation on Twitter with the hash tag #Marvel75!