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, those characters 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 1975’s GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1.
Writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum had reimagined the team as a ragtag group of international do-gooders with personalities as colorful as their costumes. This new team found themselves bound together by their genetic gifts, desire to help the world—and little else! But by adding in personality conflicts, Wein made this group of heroes more human than any of their Marvel peers.
In the final installment of our three-part interview series with Wein, you’ll learn why Cyclops stuck around as part of the new team and just how hard it was for the writer to say goodbye to the characters he helped bring to life!
Marvel.com: Of all the original X-Men, you kept Cyclops around as a main character. Was that because he was the leader of the original team and you wanted to have him conflict with this new team?
Len Wein: Exactly. The problem [is] he’s more interesting in terms of personality and his powers—it’s a cool power there, it’s never been argued—but he’s kind of a stick-up-his-butt guy and I always liked the idea of giving the rest of the team somebody right up front who A) has all the experience they don’t because he's been there since day one and B) is kind of a “My rules, I do this because the Professor tells me to,” pain in the ass. I wanted them all working with a guy who knew what he was doing and is, by nature, a born leader—but would not make their lives easy.
Marvel.com: That also carries through for the rest of the new team itself. Storm is kind of befuddled by Colossus, and Nightcrawler and Sunfire don't get along. As a writer, was that more interesting for you to write a team where they don’t necessarily get along?
Len Wein: Yes, absolutely. The reader gets to follow the journey that way. I am also a big believer in a team dynamic. One of the things that always drove me crazy—and this is off the topic to a degree and off the company to a bigger degree—but I can not count the hundreds of people over the years who have come to me and tell me that my run on the Justice League of America, when I was doing that book, was their favorite of anybody's run. And it was partly because when I took over that book, I said, “Okay, here's a dozen heroes. They would die for one another without a blink. They can’t all like each other all the time, which it’s always been that way before that. Green Arrow’s this close to being a revolutionary, Hawkman’s a cop! They’re not gonna get along! They will die for each other because they are teammates and they know they have each other's backs, but when they are sitting around over coffee, they hate each other!”
Marvel.com: I think that really comes through in GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1. There are little things like when Banshee and Wolverine are teamed up, you get one panel of Banshee carrying Wolverine and Wolverine just goes, “Cripes, do you have to screech?”
Len Wein: Exactly.
Marvel.com: It really makes you feel like you know them after just one issue. It’s really great.
Len Wein: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Marvel.com: The first villain that the team fights is Krakoa, the Island That Walks Like a Man. What led to that character’s creation?
Len Wein: I swear to God, I don’t remember. I remember the name Krakoa comes from Krakatoa, the legendary island that blew up in the 1800’s. Literally blow up. It’s gone. It created this sound heard around the world, actually. Biggest volcanic explosion in history—well, in our history. They were probably commonplace millions of years ago. So the name comes from that. The idea—I don’t remember where Dave and I came up with it. Chris [Claremont] is occasionally credited as co-plotter of the book with us and implored the fact that all he did was contribute the idea, when we were having a hard time figuring out, “How do you kill an island?” suggesting we kind of squirt it off the surface of the Earth.
Marvel.com: Krakoa had a great twist wherein you reveal that the island itself is the mutant they're searching for. That's a very high concept and cool idea.
Len Wein: Thank you. We’re just brilliant, what can I say?
Marvel.com: During the battle on Krakoa, we get our first whiff of sulfur and brimstone when Nightcrawler teleports. That's a really interesting touch that’s also stuck around.
Len Wein: That was a tribute to his demonic look. But I mean, teleporting—he’s not even the first teleporter! I think that goes back to the Vanisher in the second issue of the original run. [Nightcrawler] made teleporting cool.
Marvel.com: I would definitely agree. You only got to write the original X-Men for a couple of pages in the issue. At the time, did any part of you wish that you could have gotten more of a crack at Angel, Iceman, and Jean Grey? Or were you happy just sticking with the newbies?
Len Wein: Weirdly enough, a year or two before the X-Men [re-launch], there were plans to do an Iceman solo series in AMAZING ADVENTURES or one of those multi-type character books. And we actually—[artist] Ross Andru, God rest him, and I—wrote and drew a first issue and then they decided not to do the book. So it’s sitting in the drawer somewhere in the Marvel archives.
Marvel.com: Oh man, I would love to read that!
Len Wein: I would too because I have no clue what I wrote 45 years later!
Marvel.com: I imagine you were very passionate about these new characters as you helped create most all of them.
Len Wein: Oh, absolutely. I gave up the book with a great deal of reluctance. And frankly, had Chris not been so enthusiastic about taking it over and giving me a sense of confidence that at least the book was going to go to someone who cared about it as much as I did, I wouldn’t have given it up. I was Editor-in-Chief at the time and I could really only write one book a month without losing what little was left of my sanity during that period. And I was a huge Hulk fan and my longest run was on that book and I wanted to keep that going for as long as I could, so when Chris sat outside my office and I’m pondering out loud, “Which book do I give up?” Chris is going, “I'll take the X-Men! Me! Me! Over here! I'm the guy waving! Me! I’ll take it!” And that’s how he ended up with the book.
Len Wein: He dialogued those issues. The plot is mine and Dave’s, but he dialogued those issues.
Marvel.com: GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 took a forgotten property and successfully re-launched it, and the series hasn't stopped being successful since. What do you think made this issue so special?
Len Wein: I’d like to believe it was the characters. I have a feeling, with the exception of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams’ run and Steranko’s brief run, I don't think anybody working on the book—and this is just my own position, I could be a thousand percent wrong, I don’t want to denigrate anybody else's effort—but I think that for most of the people who worked on that book after Stan and Jack and before Neal and Roy, it was a job. I don’t think they had any particular passion for the characters. And God knows Dave and I, God rest him, had a lot of passion for those characters.