Marvel Legend Roy Thomas on His Storied Comics Career, the Future of Comic Book Movies, and More –

By Adam Barnhardt – November 2, 2021 06:23 pm EDT
Having written at both Marvel and DC, one might consider Roy Thomas as one of the primary molders of the Bronze Age of Comics. Throughout his years at both publishers, the creator had his hand in developing hundreds of characters, from Wolverine to the All-Star Squadron, both Power Man and Iron Fist, and dozens and dozens more.
Even beyond the creation of some of Marvel’s most popular characters, Thomas was the first creator to take over as Marvel Editor-in-Chief from Stan Lee after the latter was promoted to Publisher at the House of Ideas. Better yet, Thomas has written virtually every character at the publishing house from Spider-Man to Dracula, Dr. Strange, Conan, the Squadron Supreme, the Avengers, Morbius, and more.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Thomas and chat about his illustrious career, so keep scrolling to read through our full chat with the comic legend. I hear you just got back from the signing before we hopped on here. What book do you think you typiucally sign most these days?
Roy Thomas: They had a lot of leftover copies of the Infinity Incorporated books, so I was signing a lot of the DC stuff. But also, there’s always a lot of Wolverine now that people know that I co-created that character. And when I’m drawing, the thing I draw the most is one of the early masks of Wolverine. I do these really awful drawings.
The other is Ghost Rider, which is funny because they’re not two characters that I wrote. I co-created in a certain way, especially Wolverine, and Ghost Rider, I helped my wife, Gary Friedrich, Stan Lee, and Mike Ploog, all four of us working on it. And it was Gary’s original idea. And those are two characters I didn’t really write much at all. But I get The Vision, or Red Sonja and Conan. Sometimes people leave it to me, and then I draw Captain Carrot.
Forbush Man isn’t a big request?
I’ve never drawn Forbush Man. I could do it, because I do head shots, it would just be a pot with eyes.
I mean, everyone gets a movie now. We’ll get the Forbush Man movie some time.
You’re right. He’ll probably have his own series soon.
When speaking with creators, everyone has their own journey. There are different ways to break in and no two ways are alike. At what point in your life did you realize comics was your calling?
I never thought of it as something I was likely to make a living in until the day I got a letter, this was in early 1965 at the age of 24, when I got a letter from Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman line coming to DC, offering me a trial job starting that summer as his assistant. Before that time, I’d tried to write one or two strips for Julie Schwartz. I was invited to try to write at least one of them, and did, about Elongated Man when he was first starting out. It was the idea I could write an occasional strip from Missouri, because I knew you had to live in New York to do it. And I was not adventurous enough or ambitious enough to move to New York in the hopes of finding a job, or being able to support myself. I just wasn’t that adventurous.
Before that time, sure I was always interested in comics from the age of at least four, but not in terms of thinking of it as a living. It’s a comic. It’s not something that people back then, maybe now they might, but back in the 1940s or 50s, or even early 60s, people didn’t think about getting into comic books. Even the people in comic books felt it was a dying field. Even at the height of DC and Marvel revival in the 50s and 60s, it still was not really a growing field, exactly.
Even before making a living and getting to do something like that full-time, do you recall your first paid work? Were you just floating on cloud nine once you got that first paycheck?
Well, I’m trying to remember because I know this, but I keep getting confused because there were two things I did close in order. Because soon after I got the Weisinger offer, he asked me to write a, I thought it was a strip but I realized after it was just a proposal. It was a synopsis for a Jimmy Olsen story, an eight or so page Jimmy Olsen story, which I did. And I don’t remember if it was his idea or mine because Mort would give you ideas which he had usually stolen from somebody else. And he would say, “Oh this was a great idea I had.” Of course, Otto Binder had given it to him two days before and he said, “Oh that’s a crappy idea,” and then he gives it to me like it’s his.
But anyway, whatever it was, one of us decided that Robin would’ve already infiltrated some group that Jimmy was infiltrating to get a story or something, some group of juvenile delinquents. And I kept telling him, “We need more than eight pages for this.” And he said no. When I finally left, it ended up being an 11- or 12-page story, so one of my first arguments with a DC editor, I was right but I lost anyway. And the other thing, just within a few weeks of that, I got a chance to write, along with a lot of other people, Charlton would encourage us to write sample strips for Son of Vulcan, or Blue Beetle, or Captain Atom.
And I wrote Son of Vulcan, because I figured that was the most obscure and everything, and then when they bought that one immediately, I wrote it over the weekend and then I thought, “Boy, I’m going to be rich now if they buy it.” It’s like 20 or so pages. Well they paid $4 a page, even in 1965, that was not big money. But hey, I basically almost doubled my salary as a high school teacher. And then a week or two later I wrote the Blue Beetle, and I could’ve gone on writing one or two a month and making extra money. But once I got first the DC, and then the Marvel job, neither of those companies would want me writing for Charlton, even if I had the time. Why would you write for their ace? We want you to write our stuff.
So I helped other people, Dave Kaler and later Gary Friedrich and Denny O’Neil get into Charlton and everything, through Dick Giordano who would become the editor there. And I even ghosted one or two things there myself. But those are the first two things.
In a prime Roy Thomas era, you sit down to write. What’s your quickest turnaround on a csript?
Well it would vary, really. It depended on just how difficult it was. I was never a real fast writer. A few times, in those days I would stay up and write a whole 20-page, comic. That’s just the dialogue because I had already done the plot earlier. Otherwise it would’ve taken longer and I probably couldn’t have done it. Overnight I would do it, but I didn’t do that usually. Gerry Conway, he was fast. Stan could do it. I was not that fast of a writer. I labored over stuff more. I just wasn’t that fast. But the thing is, it’s hard to tell because I very rarely wrote a comic book as a unit. I usually wrote four or five pages of one comic, and then something else came in and I had to write that while I was writing for the rest of it. Even if I had the whole book, something might come in that was more important. Not necessarily because it came out first, but because there was a letterer, or even more so an inker at the end, waiting to get this work.
And so the production manager, who handled all the scheduling at Marvel, would say… He told Stan the same thing. “Today, you have to write at least the first half of Sergeant Fury, and the last half of Thor,” or something. And Stan, he said that was the production manager’s job to keep this stuff flowing to the right people, keep all the inkers busy and so forth. And I did the same thing. I just picked it up. It was a heck of a way to work, so it’s hard to tell sometimes how long it took, because if I worked on it it would take me two or three days for something like this. Two or three, four days. But sometimes less, sometimes more.
Looking at your resume, it’s certainly not a one-pager. You’ve touched most everything under certainly the Marvel umbrella, and some on the DC side.
I never wrote Howard the Duck.
So that’s what I wanted to ask. Was there ever a character you always wanted to get your hands on that you never were able to? Was it Howard?
No, because I didn’t really want to get my hands on Howard the Duck. Actually I did. I think it was that alien, Rintrah, that was in Dr. Strange. He turned into Howard the Duck in a couple of panels in one story, and I had to write that. But that was because I wrote them as Alf, the character from the TV series, that Marvel was doing a comic about at the time. But then they got worried about putting him in Dr. Strange. They didn’t know if they had the rights so they made me change it and rewrite a whole thing and make it Howard the Duck with different dialogue. So I ended up writing both Alf, that didn’t get published, and two panels of Howard the Duck.
If I wanted to write a character, I probably wrote it at Marvel or DC at some time or another. I even wrote the characters like Superman and Batman, that I didn’t want to write.
There are rumors that Rintrah is going to be Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so cross your fingers.
Oh really? I was thinking the other night when I was looking over the issues, I just love that I did with Jackson Guice back in the early 90s. That was a wonderful and very good selling run of Dr. Strange, Ralph Macchio the editor, put the two of us together. And I was really pleased. I didn’t know who he was. He barely knew who I was, but we had a really good time together for a year or so, just a lot of fun. And Rintrah, I found, was a real delight to write the Sorcerer’s Apprentice kind of character. I liked writing him a lot.
This is kind of picking a favorite child or something like that. Who’s your favorite character to write? Who fell to you the easiest?
Oh, I probably liked writing Conan as much as any character. It wasn’t my favorite book to write. My favorite book to write was All-Star Squadron because that had 87 characters. But probably Conan. But I enjoyed others. I liked writing The Vision. He had a certain speech pattern, and later I started doing these squarish balloons, and that was kind of fun at a time when that wasn’t done much. But I don’t think there was anybody that close to Conan that I enjoyed writing. I mean, I enjoyed writing other characters that I really liked, like Hawkman. There was not that much unique about him. I just like Hawkman and the way he looked.
But I enjoyed most of them at one time or the other. And I hated the Legion of Superheroes as a concept, but I wrote some of that too and it was actually not that bad. I gave it to Paul Levitz, who had much more of a feel for it than I did. But most of the characters, even Superman and Batman, characters I didn’t want to write, you could enjoy doing them if I got a chance, and you got a good artist you’re working with, and find a good story, and the editors both encourage you a little bit and leave you alone. Or better yet, make me the editor. Anything can be enjoyable, almost any character. I could’ve enjoyed writing almost any character at Marvel or DC, or some other company.
You bring up Conan. I mean, you brought him into Marvel Comics. I think you wrote a Conan story not too long ago. I saw something in 2019 and 2020, both Conan and the Invaders I think. So, you’ve written the stories recently. Do you plan on keep churning out these little bits until the end? Do you know a final story you want to tell?
I’ll write Conan or the Invaders, or something else. It doesn’t have to be something I’ve identified with for Marvel or for DC. All they have to do is ask me. I don’t go around seeking work anymore because I’ve tried that off and on over the years and I get little vague encouragement, or I get one story. See, I’m not geared to doing a single story, and I don’t give a damn about doing a single story, or one- or two-part stories. I’m geared to the monthly book. I always have been ever since I’ve been in the field. Monthly, or maybe bimonthly. And you do every issue, and I didn’t do every issue for long runs, but I did, what? 70 issues in a row, plus a few annuals, of The Avengers. I either wrote or edited all the issues of the Invaders. I did the first 115 issues of Conan, plus the first 60 or so Savage Swords, and the first eight King Conans. I’m geared to doing a regular book, and I do it month in, I do it month out, and I build it.
Somebody says, “Oh we want you to do two issues of Conan.” Well, first I have to wake up, because I appreciate the offers. Nothing against the people who made me the offer, but I’m not geared that way, and I can only get up a modicum of enthusiasm for it. Because it takes you a while to get into a story, especially when you haven’t done one in a while. And by the time you get into the story, 20, 30, 40 pages, it’s over. And then you wait around for a year to think they need to give you another assignment. Right now, they haven’t deigned to give me an assignment, and I’m not going to deign to call them. Because I figure they know me, they know what I can do. If they want it, fine.
If they don’t want it, my feeling is, at the age of almost 81, having written hundreds of Conan stories, just to use that for an example. It doesn’t have to be Conan, but if I have to write one more Conan story, or one more comic book for that matter, to maintain what little tiny legacy, or whatever, I might have in the comic book field, it’s already too late for me because I’m probably not going to suddenly come up with one or two stories that change the universe. I’ve done the great majority of my work, if I could do a few more it’d be great. I think I have something to offer, at least as much as some people in the field. Couldn’t possibly sell fewer copies than some of these books are selling. But it’s up to them. They know that I would like to do it. They know I’d like to do more Invaders. They know I’d like to do All Star Squad at DC. They know I’d like to do more Conan.
In fact, even particular series ideas. If they want me to do them, I’ll do them. If they don’t, well I’ve got about 80 things I can do before I have to go knocking on their doors and worry about it. I’m independently middle class now. They don’t need me, I don’t need them. If we get together it’s great. It’s like that girl that you want to date. But if you don’t date her, you’ll find another girl, or you’ll get by without. Whatever.
You’ve been in the business longer than most today. Is there an urban legend you think needs to be put to bed, or course corrected a little bit?
Well, you hear everything. Stan was a guy who liked credits, so maybe he sometimes forgot to mention other people, and then out of that comes this legend he was always going around hogging credit from everybody else. There’s some truth in it, but there’s not a lot of truth in it, and there’s a lot of bull in it too. That’s one of the main things about him. He let himself open for that by the way he did. When he was talking to an interviewer outside the comics field, somebody who didn’t really know comics, he wasn’t so likely to mention an artist, even working for Marvel, because he’d feel, well he mentions one artist, somebody else gets mad. And they’re not going to know the names anyway. They didn’t care. They just wanted to talk about Stan Lee and Marvel, and they didn’t care about Jack Kirby the way that you and I do. They didn’t care about Steve Ditko. They only cared about Stan Lee because he was the face of Marvel. If he went away, there would’ve been somebody else’s face.
And so out of that, he let himself get saddled, eventually, with the reputation that he was hogging credit. And as I said, there’s some truth to it, and a lot of it is just people… I don’t know about you, but I’ve usually found that when you have a partnership of any kind, even an unequal partnership like the ones in comics between editor, writer, and artist, say, that the only thing you can ever be certain is that each partner did 90% of the work. And if you don’t believe that, just ask them. [laughs]
You mentioned Wolverine. You mentioned Ghost Rider. What’s something you created that you think is overlooked?
They need to do a Red Wolf series or a movie. Something with Red Wolf would be nice.
There you go.
I want to see more of The Vision. I don’t care if he’s green or white or whatever color. I think they didn’t do enough with The Vision. Of course, bring back Wolverine. And get over this idea that only one person can play Captain America or Iron Man. Good as they were, and they were great, nobody ever really thought before 2008 that one actor particularly could play Iron Man and nobody else. How many James Bonds have there been? Somehow, the series has managed to survive and thrive now for almost exactly 60 years. I mean, sure it’s a little hard but you could find a way to have a new Captain America that was even Steve Rogers, or somebody else. I mean, I’m not against the Falcon, say, becoming Captain America, but you don’t have to automatically go that kind of route. There’s all kinds of routes you could go.
If you can’t do Iron Man, okay so do War Machine and paint him red instead or something. There’s all kinds of ways to do it. You could even start calling him Iron Man. And you don’t have to change his race or his sex, or something else. Just hire a new actor, like James Bond from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, and seven or eight people in between. I just think Marvel is missing a bed if they’re totally locked into the idea that once one actor quits being a character, you can’t ever use that character again. Of course, that’s one advantage the comics have always had over the movies. They’re not tied into a particular actor, they’re not tied into a particular artist or a particular writer. The characters go on forever. And you could find a way to do that in movies, just like they have with James Bond and other characters. Tarzan was another character for many, many decades.
You bring up Bond, and my next question is about that. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is just this massive franchise that has made more movies in a decade than Bond has in half a century. You’re working at Marvel, you’re working at DC. Early on in your career, did you have any inkling that comic books would become more? That these characters that you’re writing could become more, whether it be radio or television or movie?
No, because the technical aspects just weren’t there. As a matter of fact, it was almost the opposite. And I remember Stan saying more than once, and maybe Kirby said it too because they often thought around… They didn’t always think differently. I remember Stan saying once in particular that he felt the comics would last just as long as they could do things that no movie or TV show could do. Maybe that’s one reason nobody cares as much about comics as they once did because you can now get that kind of thing, maybe it costs a million dollars and they only come out with a few of them a year, but the fact remains you can get that same kind of thing now on the screen. But until the last couple of decades or so, you were not going to be able, even with the occasional Superman movie or something, you weren’t going to be able to do the kind of thing that a Jack Kirby comic book can do, because it would’ve cost zillions of dollars to do.
It still does, but now they’ve found a way to make it work. But the problem is now that comics are not unique in doing that. In some ways, by going into the other fields, they’ve kind of undercut the comics. But of course, the main purpose of all these companies, DC, Marvel, or any other comics company that gets into the business, their interest for themselves, for the conglomerate owners, is to make a profit. So therefore, if they find that they make more of a profit licensing the characters to movies and TV and streaming and various things like that than they do to putting pictures on paper, either by drawing or PCs or whatever, well that’s the direction they’ll go.
I hope they find a way to find the comic book, whether it’s a little pamphlets that are 32 pages, 36 with the covers, or whether it’s all in graphic novels or whatever. I’m kind of a print freak, and I don’t want to see those comics die. I don’t read them that much anymore, but I love the farm and I don’t want to see that go out, as if you have to be tied to particular actors or some kind of animation movie. I want to see pictures that people draw, and you follow the whole thing, and you make the time flow at your rate by depending on the speed at which you read the story. And you can stop and go over it again. That’s a whole different experience from seeing a movie. Comic books are not just movies put on paper, and they should not try to be, which I think they increasingly are to their detriment.
I mean, speaking about adaptations, there’s been some pretty vocal creators, at least I know Jim Starlin wasn’t mincing his words a few years ago. Ed Brubaker’s another one more recently.
Starlin never minces his words. That’s what I like about him. I don’t know Brubaker so much, good writer though.
And they’ve talked about the treatment from the studios and such. I mean you’ve created probably more characters than anyone else in the history of comics.
Yeah. Although Starlin is getting a lot of his in there in big ways, so he’s definitely one of the most. But I’ve got a lot of characters in one way or another and I’m happy about that, and I make a little out of it. Marvel and DC are nice about that when they use something.
Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you. Do you feel like you’ve been treated pretty adequately by the movie machine?
Yeah. When I see the complaints, I mean I understand because I don’t know about you, but I’ve met very few people who think they’re paid enough. I’ve never felt I was, and I’ve done pretty well for myself. I don’t think Stan did, and he died with eight figures in the bank, and he still didn’t feel he was probably paid well enough. Although he sued Marvel just a decade or so ago. But everybody thinks they weren’t paid enough, and maybe they were right. But sometimes they forget there are a lot of other things involved. I knew some artists and writers, and I think the artists were more open to this, who, they just felt like the publishers had no use at all except to publish their precious drawings or their precious words or whatever, like they didn’t contribute anything.
But when you put up money to publish something, I mean you’re the one that’s taking the risk. If those books don’t sell, you’re not going to be able to go to that artist and say, “I want my money back that I paid you to draw that story, because that book you drew didn’t sell.” The publisher’s taking a risk, and he’s taking a risk. And if the artist is not taking the same kind of risk, he’s not being an entrepreneur. He’s being paid a page rate or some money up front. He gets a percentage or whatever it is. Then he really shouldn’t complain that maybe the publishers have a somewhat different interest.
It’s not like one is all good and one is all bad. But you got to be able to try to see all sides. That’s why I got caught in the middle when I was Editor-in-Chief. I had one foot in the creative community, which thought I was all management. And the people in management, even Stan and certainly some of the other suits there at the time, they thought I was too much arguing for the creative community and everything. Jim Shooter had the same problem later on, I think he dealt with it more successfully as time had passed by and so forth. But we both had similar attitudes. We both felt that it would be good business to treat people well. Paul Levitz felt that way at DC, and there were a number of other people that have done it.
But you have to have a reason on both sides, above and below.
During your time as Editor-in-Chief, was there a project where you’re looking at sales numbers come in and it ended up just totally blowing your mind, where you’re like “I did not anticipate this selling as well as it did. I thought this was going to be dead on arrival?”
Well, no not really. I mean, everything you put out, you hope is going to sell is pretty well. When Stan suddenly decided to do romance comics and see if the superhero fans would buy romance comics if they were drawn by John Romita and Gene Colan and Steranko, and people like that, it was just a chance. And it didn’t work out, but you have to throw all of these things up against the wall and see which ones stick. We didn’t know if Conan would work out. It sold real well. I mean, the next seven issues each one sold less well than the one before, and then eventually it turned around with some help of some ideas of Stan’s, even though he never read the book. And then it was a huge success and went on at Marvel, what? About 30 years? And is back again.
If you’d had people in charge in the late 90s who were as smart as they thought they were, they would not have let Conan go. I know because somebody in a position of know told me that they’re never going to get as good a deal as they had had in 1970. If they let it go and get it back, they’ll get a good deal. I’m delighted that Marvel’s doing Conan. They’re doing very well, and they’re reprinting all my old things. They’re doing a very good job of it, but the fact remains they should never have let it go in the first place. Dark Horse had it for some years. They did some fine stuff, but Marvel shouldn’t have let it go. Just like they shouldn’t have let Star Wars go.
That was two mistakes. I don’t know why, it just happened to be two projects that I had particularly brought them that they let go, because they didn’t own them. And well, okay. They still don’t own them, but they found out they could be worthwhile anyway. But I’m trying to think if there were other things. I always hoped that the World War II superhero comics that I did, like Invaders and All Star Squad would sell better than they did, and they did sell okay. And All Star Squad had a few good years and everything, and if not for that damn Crisis on Infinite Earths, could’ve survived forever. But DC then didn’t want to, really. Made you kill it and revive it and change it and things like that.
But no, usually it’s just that we did some horror/mystery things in the early 70s, but we knew some of them would sell and some of them wouldn’t. So we put out 20 or 30 books. It was really the old, same policy that Martin Goodman had had, right? Martin Goodman was famous for, if one horror comic sells, the next month there were 20 of them. If you had Dracula, then you had to have Werewolf by Night, and you had Morbius, and you had Man-Wolf, and you had the Living Mummy, and you had Dr. Voodoo. And some of those characters are going to sell and stick around, and some aren’t, and once in a while you’d get some weird thing off the wall, like Howard the Duck, that does well for a while that’s something that’s just some quirky work that somebody like Steve Gerver made up and you suddenly say, “Maybe it can sell.” And for a little while it did.
I was going to ask you about those horror characters. There’s even Man-Thing, the Hellstrom Siblings, and probably even more.
Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider, of course.
Son of Satan, which was better than the Helstrom series. They should’ve followed the comic books. Somebody doing the series should’ve read the comic book. Maybe they could’ve made a good series out of that.
You are not alone in those thoughts.
Yeah, they could have even left the extra L.
Yeah, there’s 20 different ways to spell it.
Yeah, right. I don’t know. I’ve been talking about this ever since I had a friendship with a guy who was the assistant editor on the first Hulk movie at Universal in the middle 70s. I was on the set of it one day as Lou Ferrigno was playing the Hulk for the first time, and the idea was: If you take something that was already good, whether it’s Marvel Comics, or it’s Dune, or it’s Wizard of Oz, or it’s Gone With the Wind, whatever it is that pre-exists. And you take it and you make a movie, well okay you’ve made a good movie, but people will say, “Wow, you had something good to work with. You had a great novel, you had this great concept.”
But if you can say, sincerely or not, “This was a piece of crap,” like they said about the Hulk. I mean, the guy who did the Hulk show, he just buries the Hulk various times. He thought, “Oh, I paid no attention to that comic book. I went to things like Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” And gee, obviously Stan Lee and Jack Kirby could never have been smart enough to think of something like that. These guys have to think they’re reinventing the wheel every time they do something in order to justify their enormous salaries, I suppose.
I mean, the introduction of Hellstrom and these horror characters, is that what led to their creation? I mean, are these characters you thought of along the way or did you see the horror comics starting to sell well and you started focusing on them?
Yeah, and also we had to do an awful lot of books. I mean, the program was such that it called for a whole mess of books, each one of them making a relatively small profit, and if you put them all together they make a reasonably large profit. If you did fewer books, you’d think maybe you could sell more of them, but it didn’t seem to quite work that way. So Marvel and DC kept putting out book after book after book after book. Some of them wouldn’t sell, and some of them would. But they would be born in all kinds of crazy ways. I mean, Son of Satan, Stan just wanted to do a book called Mark of Satan, and I talked him out of it because I said, “I don’t think a lot of our readers, the religious, Christian readers, they don’t mind Dracula as a hero, but I don’t know about Satan, hero, villain, main character of the books.”
So he said, “Okay, you come up with something to do with Satan.” So I thought about it, came back and said, “Well what if it was Son of Satan. He’s a human being. He’s like Rosemary’s Baby becomes a hero.” And I mean I didn’t use that phrase, but that was what was in my mind. And then I had Gary Friedrich and Herb Trimpe do Son of Satan. And whatever else it was, and I made up the name Damion Hellstrom, but whatever it was it was better than that show. That was so dark, I can’t even see what’s going on. I could only watch two or three episodes and I gave up, and I really wanted to watch it. I’ll still finish it someday, but I’ve got to have a flashlight before I do that.
You found yourself in the background of the Netflix’s Daredevil series.
Yeah, Marvel was nice enough. My manager John Cimino here was writing to them, and I was writing to them, just to try to get a movie cameo. It wasn’t like Stan was doing all of them. It had Len Wein in there, and Chris Claremont. They deserved it. But I felt they were using a lot of my characters in Iron Fist, and so forth. Maybe I should do a cameo there. And they didn’t seem to be inclined to arrange something like that, but I don’t know. They thought it was too political a situation or something. I don’t know what it was. I wasn’t going to push it because why should I? But they were nice enough to give me a chance to be in one of the other shows, and I took Daredevil because that was the one that was up first, even though I hadn’t co-created that character as I had, say, Cage and Iron Fist.
And they gave me a chance to be in it, and I was very happy to do it and had a lot of fun doing it. Went out to an old, one-time real prison on Staten Island, where it’s very cold and very wet. One extra actually fell down and hurt herself during a break because the floor was so slippery. It was really weird conditions, but it was a lot of fun and so forth. And it was very nice to be in there. I still would like to do a movie cameo, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
There you go. The Daredevil show, the Luke Cage show, did you end up watching Iron Fist?
Oh I watched all of it. Yeah. Iron Fist had a few problems here and there, but I really liked the actor who played Iron Fist. I liked the general concept of it and everything. Maybe some series were better than others, like the Jessica Jones was one of the best with the revival of the Purple Man, so wonderfully played by David Tennant. Just wonderful. Saw him in a few others things, too. But they were all reasonably good. Of course, The Defenders wasn’t that popular, that brief series, but I thought that was great because I’m an old superhero group fan, and I thought that was wonderful. But I really liked them all.
And of course I spent a lot of time talking that day to the actor who played Daredevil. And I’m overjoyed, because I know he would’ve liked to be in a movie, I’m overjoyed at least as Matt Murdock, I guess he’s going to be in one now or something, which will be nice. I really like the series. They were kind of dark. They were not as dark as Helstrom. We didn’t know how dark a series could be. But they were a little dark sometimes, and they had their own kind of quirks. Trying to be realistic, but they would use the “S word” a lot, but they never used the “F word,” so how realistic is that?
But they were trying to be gritty without going all the way. But they were good shows, I think. And they only ended because Disney decided they were going to do their own thing. They could’ve gone on for longer. I would love to see what happened to them, to see what happened with Cage. I wish they would bring some of those into the Marvel movie universe, preferably with the same actors if they can. I’d like to see of them be there and everything, but that probably won’t happen. But you never know. Hey, I never thought I was going to see Ultron in a movie.
Or The Vision. Or any of these characters. Black Knight, in particular. Black Knight less than any of them.
Right, Black Knight. Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re doing anything now.
Yeah, that was the big surprise, Guardians of the Galaxy. That was not exactly something we were expecting to see as a major movie.
This version of the Defenders, do you feel like it keeps up with the spirits of the initial “no-team” you started writing?

Well, it was just a concept. It was just a name, so it wasn’t really the same name, but on the other hand they didn’t have the rights to Submariner back yet, and the Hulk is now an Avenger, and Dr. Strange was somewhere else. So they just came up with a new team of Defenders. But sooner or later, it seems like, as opposed to in the old days, but everybody sooner or later is a defender, and everybody is sooner or later an Avenger. As a matter of fact, I think everybody sooner or later is a member of the Fantastic Four even.
So it didn’t bother me, and so forth. It was just a name. They could’ve just as easily called them something else, of course.
I’ve been meaning to ask you this forever, but when it comes to Wolverine, is Incredible Hulk #180 or #181 considered the first appearance of Wolverine?
Obviously, it’s #180 because he’s in that last panel. It’s just that the other is a full story and the one’s a panel of it. But the first appearance is in #180, obviously. Because that pose as John Cimino has pointed out in an article he wrote recently, was taken almost directly from John Romita’s character sketch and so forth. So that’s the first one. But of course, at the same time, if you were really trying to collect the first Wolverine, you’d rather get a book that doesn’t have one panel. What you should really do if you were a real collector, you got to get both of them.
You don’t need that third issue when he’s in a page or two, but that would be good to get too. But you certainly need the first two, and if you can get the third why not? Get the trifecta.
When you guys created Wolverine, on that sheet you talked about earlier, was he always intended to be part of the X-Men? Was he always going to be a mutant?
No and no. There wasn’t an X-Men at the time. The X-Men didn’t have a book. He was intended to be a hero rather than a villain because I wanted to create a Canadian hero. But of course, so many of the Marvel heroes, people knew they start out as villains. Hawkeye, Black Widow, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Many of them started out as villains, just misunderstood and they fight the heroes. But then the heroes are fighting the heroes, so what’s the difference? Whatever Wolverine does, two issues later he can be a hero. So, yes the idea was always that he’d be a hero, but I didn’t think that far ahead. I just figured toss him out there, see what happens. I called in Len, gave him that, told him the name, he’s Canadian, he’s short because a wolverine’s a small animal. But he was always intended to be a hero, but we weren’t thinking about bringing in the X-Men.
Then a mont later, suddenly I’m in this meeting with Stan, John Verpoorten the production manager, Stan, and Al Landau, who was running a company that sold our pages abroad to different countries, said, “If we had a group that had different members from different countries that we wanted to sell comics in…”
And then I used that excuse because I wanted to bring back the X Men. I said, “Yeah we should do that with the X-Men, have one or two old members bring in a bunch of new guys.” My idea is they were going to be in a ship… I mean, I never told anybody this. But my idea in my head was they’d be in some ship inside a cloud hovering over this place and that place looking for mutants and so forth. And it was just a different version of what they actually did. And I got permission. That’s how you did it. You didn’t spend 30 minutes and write memos and go through things and have a committee of three editors say, “Oh this is a good idea. It has these pluses and these minuses.” Stan just said, “Do it.” And so I assigned Mike Friedrich and Dave Cockrum to do it.
And when Len took over after I left, he appointed himself the writer. And since he had been the co-creator of Wolverine, and since he was Canadian, it made sense to bring him in. And luckily he brought in two other characters of mine because I’d always been interested in foreign characters becoming superheroes, the Banshee and Sun Fire, and then made up a bunch of new ones. Cockrum was very inventive in that way, as was Len. And all of a sudden a book that was supposed to break even in this country and make money abroad, suddenly over the next couple of years did a lot better than break even in this country. But that’s what happens when you get a good idea, which we gave it, and then a good creative team, which got put together over the next few months.
In your files or in your head how many creations, or how many teams of characters, do you think you have that never hit paper?
Not too many. Sometimes I’d save a name for a while that I was going to use, but eventually somebody comes up with it. Like I always wanted to have a character called The Wraith. But this was decades ago. Well, there have many characters now called The Wraith. And there were some probably before too. Sooner or later, unless it’s a word you make up, it’s probably going to be used. Or it probably was used even if you don’t know it. I made up The Banshee, and I found out there had been a Banshee in the old comics and so forth, whole different character. Sometimes I deliberately took an old name and put something new with it. You’re just coming up with ideas. We were always working by the seat of our pants. Stan, Jack, Stan would make up what he thought, Jack would go off and do his interpretation which was often something quite different from what Stan had in mind. Steve Ditko was going off in his own direction.
And while most of the rest of us weren’t as creative as those three, the fact remains we’d have ideas too, and some of them would be good ideas, some bad. Same with Stan, same with Jack. Not ever Jack Kirby idea or every Stan Lee idea, or every Ditko idea, was genius, even the people themselves at their best were.
Any regrets throughout the years?
Yeah, I’d fire a people that I didn’t fire, and hire a few people I didn’t hire. I would find a way to make All Star Squad more popular so that I’d still be writing it today, and they’d never have any excuse to discontinue it. And maybe I’d have found a way to… I don’t know. On the one hand, I left Marvel and that led to me writing All Star Squad and I could never regret that. On the other hand, I’m kind of sorry I lost Marvel because when you leave a company, then you come back sometimes you don’t have quite the same situation. That happened with Jack [Kirby] at Marvel, and it happened with me in a way. I call it the Ub Iwerks syndrome. You know Ub Iwerks?
He was the number two guy with Disney. He was the guy who did a lot of the drawings, probably even signed Walt’s signature. But then he went off, after a few years he got tired of just drawing the junior member of the team even though he was doing well, and he went off and started his own company to make cartoons. Well without Walt, he didn’t quite have the magic so a few years later he had to come back. But of course, he’s never going to be as important to Disney as he might’ve been if he’d stayed.
But I’d do a lot of things different. To quote a line from a favorite play and movie of mine called Mary, Mary, “If I did something over I am prepared to make a lot of different mistakes this time. I would just like not to make the same ones.”
And thus is the creed of life, right?
Yeah. Yeah. You don’t know what the good ideas are. I mean, nobody knew, me, Len, anybody else, even Stan who didn’t know what Wolverine was, or John Romita who thought it was a female wolf when he first started to draw it, nobody knew Wolverine was going to be one of the most popular characters in the world. He was never intended to be. Nobody knew the X-Men were going to become one of the most popular concepts. That just happened. It didn’t just happened. I mean, it was particularly Cockrum Cochran and Chris Claremont coming in. [John] Byrne contributed quite a bit to it. Those guys and so forth, and Len’s initial part. You never know. I mean, a lot of the things were throwaway characters. Whether Spider-M
an was intended to be in a dead book, or at least just another idea. But maybe Stan always had a certain idea about him. Martin Goodman didn’t. To a lot of people, he’s just another character.
But when you look back now you think, “How could anybody not have recognized that the Spider-Man story, and the concept together in that 11-page story in Amazing Fantasy #15, is one of the best superhero stories ever written and drawn?”
This interview was edited for elnegth and clarity. You can reach our writer @AdamBarnhardt on Twitter to chat all things Marvel.
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