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.
Writer Len Wein—who had just created Wolverine a year earlier in INCREDIBLE HULK #180—and artist Dave Cockrum had reimagined the team as a ragtag group of international do-gooders with personalities as colorful as their costumes. In the second installment in our three-part interview series with Wein, we'll learn just where Storm earned the name Ororo, and how 1960’s bit players Sunfire and Banshee got promoted to full-time X-Men!
Marvel.com: Like the title indicates, GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 is a giant-sized issue that introduced a lot of new characters. Did this comic take longer to create? Were you guys on a tight deadline with this one?
Len Wein: Not really. It had been talked about for years. There wasn’t really a tight deadline, and we didn't take that long. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve been doing this now for almost half a century, sometimes there are months where it gets harder to write and my wife says, “Why? It should be easier, you’ve been doing this for half a century.” And I go, “The problem, honey, is that I’ve used up all the words.” In these later days, when I’ve termed that phrase before, I've used that image, I’ve done this. So you have to spend time coming up with new things that you’ve never written. Back then we had not done anywhere near as much as we’ve done [since] so it was a lot easier because it was all new to us too.
Marvel.com: With this roster of characters coming from all over the globe, how did you do research on those particular places? Now we have the Internet and we can just go find out facts about Germany, but I imagine it must have been more difficult to research Kenya and Russia in 1975.
Len Wein: The weird turn of the story, and I’ll answer your question in just a second, is that the whole idea of doing this as an international team with certain characters from certain countries, is a great concept. But the guy from upstairs never came downstairs to tell us which countries [Marvel Comics] were successful in. So Dave and I decided on our own who was gonna be from where, that we liked the team logic, in terms of mixing it up. To this day, if I had made Storm, I want to say Ugandan as opposed to Kenyan, it might have sold much better, but no one told us where we were supposed to get these characters from.
And as far as research, I have always researched every time I do a new book, every time I take a character to a new place. Nowadays, as you stated, [it’s] much easier. I never have to leave my office. I can sit here and Google and Wiki or do whatever. But those days there used to be this ancient, archaic kind of building called a “library” and I would go to the library! I’d spend a day in there. That's where I got Ororo! I started researching the Swahili language and Ororo means beautiful—that’s where she got her name. I’d spend a day or two in the library researching, making notes. Just like it was back in the days of Lincoln!
Marvel.com: When we first meet Storm in GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1, you have a caption that says, “Her eyes are crystal blue and older than time.” I was wondering how old you intended for Storm to be at that point?
Len Wein: Oh, about 18 or 19.
Marvel.com: I didn’t know if you were implying that she might be more divine or an actual goddess or something like that.
Len Wein: No, no, that was just artistic license.
Marvel.com: Actually the very first new character that we meet in GIANT-SIZE is Nightcrawler, the character that you said previously was deemed too demonic for DC. Was there a reason why you specifically started with Nightcrawler in this issue?
Len Wein: Not that I can remember, no. It may have just like a great way to set up the problems that mutants were having, but I don't recall after 40 years.
Marvel.com: He is the first X-Men whose powers are physical to the point where he can't blend in with everyone else. That makes him a really good entry point character. Do you remember what fan reaction to Wolverine was at that time? Had Wolverine’s first full appearance in INCREDIBLE HULK #181 been out long enough that you maybe had a sense of his popularity?
Len Wein: Yeah, it was six months to a year earlier. And they liked him. I mean, nobody was going, “Oh my god, this is such an amazing character!” It was just another character and they liked him. It was my never my plan, originally, or Dave Cockrum’s, frankly, to star Wolverine in the book. If you look at the cover to GIANT-SIZE, the guy who’s up in the center and in the primary super hero colors is Colossus. We thought he was gonna be a star, we just were crazy about him. And things worked out as they worked out.
Marvel.com: In this issue, Colossus is characterized as a good-hearted kid that loves his family and is very awestruck by everything around him. Was he intended to be the audience’s entry point character into this new world?
Len Wein: Yes. He’s an easy-going farm boy. That's all he really was at heart, he started out with more than he could deal with.
Marvel.com: Yeah, he even has this great reaction to the clothes he gets from Professor X. He's like, “The fabric is so amazing.” It's very relatable.
Len Wein: It’s unstable molecules!
Marvel.com: It lets you get away with so much!
Len Wein: Exactly.
Marvel.com: You also brought Banshee and Sunfire to the team after having appeared in the 60’s. What led you to bringing those two characters back as official X-Men this time?
Len Wein: Well, the idea of an international X-Men team! We had an Irishman, we had a Japanese warrior, that's perfect! Let’s add it to our mix! I never intended to keep Sunfire around. He was a pain in the ass but I wanted a Japanese guy in that first story. I kept Banshee around because I loved writing an Irish brogue.
Marvel.com: This is also the first time we get to see Banshee’s personality come into play because mostly in the sixties he was a mind-controlled henchman.
Len Wein: Exactly.
Marvel.com: So what kind of thought did you put into Banshee's personality and fleshing him out?
Len Wein: I just wanted someone who was essentially an easy-going guy who was “Hail fellow, well-met!” Your classic Irishman. I like writing Irish accents and I thought that it’d be fun to play with him for a while. And he was different visually. He wasn't really a good-looking guy. He had kinda that old, it’s been punched once too often Irish face.
Marvel.com: I do have to say, personally, I'm from Tennessee, so I remember reading that he was recruited in the Grand Ole Opry and that really meant a lot to me as a little kid, “The Grand Ole Opry's in the Marvel Universe! That's amazing!”
Len Wein: Yeah, that's because I thought it was fun to have an Irishman who loved country music.
Marvel.com: I loved it. Also, are there cameos in his panel at Grand Ole Opry attendees? Are you in that panel?
Len Wein: Yeah, I’m in there. So is Dave and Dave’s wife Paty. We’re all in that shot!
In the final installment in our celebration of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, the team faces the threat of Krakoa—the island that walks like a man! Get more 75th anniversary goodness at marvel.com/75 and join the conversation on Twitter with the hash tag #Marvel75!