The legendary co-creator of Swamp Thing is set to take on his creation again and in a move that could only warm the heart (or responsometer) of true blue DC Silver Age fans, he’s also been given an assignment to write a new series for the Metal Men! I caught up with Len in San Diego to talk about this exciting new chapter in his long career.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: After how many years now do you get to take another crack at scripting Swamp Thing?
Len Wein: 40 years! That doesn’t hardly seem possible.
CB: Absolutely not. I don’t know about you, but I’m still 26.
Wein: I’m 19. (Mutual laughter.) I only wish my body felt that, too.
CB: There have been a couple of iterations of the character in the past, some very well known runs. I presume you’re going to take your own direction?
Wein: I am, indeed. I’m wanting to go back to basics. He have evolved so far out of the character that Bernie (Wrightson) and I created, that I want to take just a couple of steps closer to where he started out. In fact, I think the first mini-series we’re doing; the six issues, is basically about the Swamp Thing finding its humanity again.
CB: Okay, so more back to the essence sort of thing.
Wein: Yes, exactly, although I’m keeping some of the cool powers.
CB: Sure. Isn’t the conventional wisdom to always take advantage of someone’s good ideas?
CB: Has an artist been tapped yet to work on the series with you?
Wein: It hasn’t been announced yet, but we’re hoping Kelly Jones is going to do it again. He did the two-issue Convergence Swamp Thing that I wrote this year and it was just perfect. Thirty years ago when Bernie bailed on the Swamp Thing project I suggested Kelly Jones to draw the book and it was nixed for reasons that aren’t important now. But I got to prove I was right.
CB: It’s always nice to be vindicated. It happens so seldom. (chuckle.)
Wein: Yes, it is.
CB: Is there anything else you can talk about on this particular project?
Wein: It’s very early in the process. They just announced it on Monday (July 6, 2015) and I’m not having my first meetings with my editors until Saturday (July 11th) so it really is very early in the process. We kind of know where we want to go, but beyond the specifics are all very vague.
CB: Is there a rough timeline of when we can expect to see something in print?
Wein: First quarter of next year.
CB: It’s remarkable how swiftly they can move on these things.
Wein: You betcha!
CB: Is that a boon or is it difficult for a creative?
Wein: When I was running Marvel back in the early ’70s the executives came down from upstairs and said things like, “The bottom line’s not working out, so you need to add six books to the line.” And I went out with my staff and talked over lunch what could be done and who was available to do what and came up with six books over lunch. Then came back, assigned them all to various writers and artists and within two months they were on the stands.
When I pitched the Nevermore mini-series with Batman and the Edgar Alan Poe crossover I did, three years from the day I pitched it until it was finally given the green light. So it’s a different world entirely.
CB: It certainly is. Now the Metal Men assignment that was announced concurrently was a bit of a surprise.
Wein: I love those characters more than I can say. That book when I was a kid, the very first issue (Showcase #37) made me cry. It was the first comic book that taught me you can actually work with people’s emotions in these stories. So I’m thrilled to working with the characters.
CB: Speaking of that original series, I’ve got a personal love for it myself and it was such a privilege and a delight to talk with Mike Esposito and to learn about the behind the scenes stuff while he and Ross Andru were the artistic team on the book.
Wein: They were some of the most amazing stories in comics. Whoever was supposed to be doing that issue of Showcase and fell behind for reasons that aren’t important now, on Friday afternoon said, “The book isn’t going to be done on time. I don’t have a book.” So Bob Kanigher, God bless him, said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” He came in Monday morning with a script for the first Metal Men. He cranked the whole damn thing out on the weekend by himself.
CB: It’s such an incredible story.
Wein: It is.
CB: Even though there are a few colorful tales about Kanigher…
Wein: There are many. (chuckle.)
CB: But he delivered the goods.
Wein: He did. When I list the people who influenced me as a writer, the only comic book writer I list is Kanigher. Because he taught me about emotion. How you can play with people and play with stories. Every single year there was that one Sgt. Rock story that touched me. Every year there were things like the first Metal Men. Like I said, I actually wept at the end when they all died.
CB: And it was almost treated like a one-off. They kept ending up in the smelter or rusting away at the bottom of the ocean or whatever. I’m assuming there was enough of a demand for them. I remember being genuinely surprised when it got canceled.
Wein: A couple of months after the fact, they came back with a few more issues of Showcase and then they ran for about 75 or 80 issues.
CB: That sounds about right. It just kept going.
Wein: Going and going and then weirder and weirder as it went along. (Mutual laughter.) I couldn’t have cared less. I loved it!
CB: Sure. They’re iconic characters and I think you nailed it when you said the emotional aspect really carries the day.
Wein: They’re all perfect.
CB: So I presume maybe that will be some of your inspiration in the original iteration of the characters?
Wein: Oh, God, yes. But this one is all about artificial intelligence and what is it’s place in the DCU.
CB: Is Doc Magnus still part of it?
Wein: Doc is still part of it. Chemo will be along as well. You’ve got to adore Chemo. One of the great, weird villains of all time.
CB: Just from dumping a bunch of random chemicals into a gigantic plastic form.
Wein: Nothing ever stopped Bob Kanigher. Ever.
CB: (Laughter.) No matter how absurd or off the beaten path.
Wein: This is the man who gave us Egg Fu, remember.
CB: I’d nearly forgotten. (Chuckle.) Len, you sound like a kid in a candy store.
Wein: I’m very happy. I’m very excited about both projects. I’ve got a place to go back to that I haven’t been in 40 years and a place to go that I’ve never been. So I’m looking forward to both of them.
CB: I was trying to recall. I know Walt Simonson had a run on them at one time. Is that the only other one since the original run?
Wein: There may have been one other, but I’m not sure. I think Walt’s run was written by Marty Pasko.
CB: I was struggling to remember who the writer was, but I think you’re right.
Wein: And there was the Metal Men strip that came out in the Wednesday’s funnies, too. I think there was also a Metal Men run as a backup in some other book. I don’t remember which one.
CB: Have you been re-reading in preparation?
Wein: There’s stuff that should be waiting for me when I get home that I’ve asked for, so I start re-reading next week.
CB: It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Wein: I know. They pay me for this! Thank God!