To anyone attempting even a cursory history of the Justice League of America book, the name Len Wein looms large.
Not only did Len write the book, making numerous, long-lasting changes, but later he also was its editor, guiding the book during what some (like me) consider its finest moments.
Len was generous enough to talk with JLA Satellite and offer some of insight on his dual tenures with the World's Greatest Superheroes:
JLA Satellite: How did you end up writing JLA?
Len Wein: Honestly, at this late date, I no longer really recall. If I had to guess, though, I'd say that I was probably the next guy in line. I'd started doing some writing for Julie Schwartz by then, and we were getting along really well. Also, I made it a point back in those days to be in the office almost every day, so I could well have been the first guy to walk past Julie's office when he needed a new JLA writer.
JLA Satellite: Did you pursue the assignment? Did you always want to write JLA?
LW: I was always a fan of the book, but I don't think I rally pursued the assignment. With rare exception, I never really pursued any assignment. They usually came to me.
JLA Satellite: How was it working with Dick Dillin? You threw a lot at him right off the bat--33 heroes in that year's JLA/JSA team-up!
LW: Dick Dillin was one of the sweetest men I ever worked with. He was a real honey of a guy, big, bearish, in fact, he looked very much like Hendrickson from the Blackhawk book Dick penciled for so many years.
There was nothing I could ask Dick to draw to which he would not rise to the challenge. 33 heroes, 330 heroes, whatever I asked, Dick would draw and draw wonderfully. I imagine he might have muttered some under his breath over some of the bigger mob scenes, but he never complained to my face. I miss him to this day.
JLA Satellite: There were a lot of membership changes under your tenure. Elongated Man and Red Tornado joined, Phantom Stranger sort of joined, and Hawkman left. Was that your doing or were membership changes something editorial asked for?
LW: Actually, all the new members joining was entirely my doing. Julie just went with the flow. Oh, and thanks for noticing that the Phantom Stranger only sort of joined. He was offered membership but vanished, as per usual, without actually accepting the offer.
Over the years, other writers have just assumed PS was a member, but in my world, he never really said yes.
JLA Satellite: Did you have particularly favorite characters you enjoyed writing for more than others?
LW: I loved writing the Green Arrow/Hawkman relationship, certainly. It was probably the thing I was proudest for having brought to the book.
When I took over the JLA, it had always bothered me that these characters all got along so well. In fact, most of their personalities were almost interchangeable. I always felt that, like in any combat unit, these people would absolutely die for one another without a moment's hesitation, but wouldn't necessarily like one another at leisure.
Here was Green Arrow, the ultimate '70s radical Liberal, always at odds with the establishment, and there was Hawkman, interstellar policeman, epitomizing the establishment. These guys would never get along.
JLA Satellite: You brought back a lot of unused DC characters during your run--the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Quality Comics characters, etc. Did you read those comics growing up and want to use those characters?
LW: I'd seen random issues here and there of many of these characters as a kid and thought it would be a kick to get to play with them. Bringing back the Seven Soldiers was just trying to find something big enough to warrant being the 100th JLA story. And I've always had a soft spot for the Quality characters. I mean, c'mon, the Human Bomb? How cool is that?
JLA Satellite: You were writing lots of comics at this time, most famously Swamp Thing, which was about as different from JLA as possible. Was one assignment harder, easier, more or less fun than the other?
LW: They both were fun and both had their challenges. As I went along with the JLA, I'd find myself coming up with new ways to challenge myself in the writing. I'd come up with the basic scenario for the issue, then figure out to break the JLA into teams. I got more creative as I went along.
One issue, I broke up the JLAers according to their costume colors. In another issue, I split them up alphabetically. I'd create the threat, then break up he teams, and then have the challenge of trying to figure out how, say, Aquaman and the Atom were going to defeat Darkseid. It kept the book fun for me and, thankfully, the readers as well, it seems.
JLA Satellite: You had a relatively long run as writer(about two years) on the title, and you were bracketed by a lot of different writers working on JLA. Why did you stop writing the book?
LW: As I recall at the time, I ran out of ideas. I'd done so many big stories, I was having a hard time coming up with smaller ones.
Also, Marvel was busily luring me away from DC at the time, so it became, in essence, struggle to find a JLA story or go write Spider-Man. Though now, after so many years, I'd love a crack at writing the JLA again.
JLA Satellite: Me, too! As editor, you presided over my--and a lot of people's--favorite era of JLA, roughly issues 185-220, including the blockbuster 200th issue. Whose idea was it to have such a massive 200th issue, with so many characters and artists?
LW: Oh, mine. After all, I had to come up with some way to top what I'd done with issue #100. As an editor, I'm incredibly proud of that issue. We had an amazing array of artists and Gerry Conway's script weren't exactly chopped liver neither.
JLA Satellite: You were editor when Dick Dillin passed away after drawing the book for so long. After that, there was a succession of artists doing the book for a few issues each--George Perez, Don Heck, Rich Buckler. Were these "try-outs" for each artist, to see how sales reacted, or was it based mostly on who was ultimately available?
LW: I seem to recall George doing the book for quite a while. In fact, each of those guys did a decent stint on the book. When Dick Dillin passed away suddenly, George Perez--who loves drawing mob scenes--became the obvious choice to do the JLA. When George moved on, other artists followed.
JLA Satellite: What projects are you working on now?
LW: Well, aside from doing occasional issues of The Simpsons and Futurama for Bongo Comics, I'm writing a video game that should be out next Spring and I just got back from New York where I talked to Dan DiDio about a number of new projects, though it's way too soon to speak about any of those.
I probably could've come up with another hundred questions for Len, but I decided the man has done enough for me already, as a JLA writer/editor, and now taking time to talk JLA with me for the blog. Thanks Len!