Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
While we here at your favorite weekly X-Men interview column regularly talk to modern creators shaping new classics, it’s not every day we get to chat with a genuine comics icon. That’s why when Marvel announced that Roy Thomas would be writing the first two issues of an all-new X-Men Legends volume, the classic creator shot to the top of the X-Men Monday wish list. As the second person to ever write the X-Men, Roy introduced many characters and concepts that are essential to Marvel’s mutant lore.
Fortunately for all us X-Fans, Roy was more than happy to chat — and boy did we chat! As a result, this will be the first of two X-Men Monday interviews featuring Roy Thomas. (You’ll learn more about what you can eXpect in the second one at the end of this week’s edition!)
This interview, though, is all about Wolverine and X-Men Legends. What role did Roy play in the creation of the world’s most popular mutant, and what can readers eXpect from Roy’s all-new Logan story? Read on to find out (and see four eXclusive pages of Dave Wachter preview art)!
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Roy! It’s an honor to have you here. For the modern X-Fans who maybe aren’t aware of Wolverine’s real-life origin, what role did you play in bringing the character to life?
Roy: Well, in 1974, a couple months or so before I stepped down as Marvel editor-in-chief, I was just thinking of ways to increase sales. And mostly, that was Stan Lee’s job. But as editor-in-chief, I was supposed to come up with maybe a good idea for a direction to go with this. I thought about the fact that we had several percent — maybe 5%, 10% — a certain amount of our readers were Canadian. I’d been to Canada a couple of times and had a few friends from there. And there had never been, as far as I knew, a definitely Canadian character in American comic books.
I knew there had been that whole line of Canadian comics during World War II with Nelvana of the Northern Lights. But Marvel, DC, and the other companies back in the ’40s and ’50s had never had a Canadian character. So I thought it was about time. Obviously, the idea was to maybe sell a few more comic books, but I was also the person who had made up the Banshee right after I started on X-Men as Irish and Sunfire as Japanese. So I figured it was a natural thing. I was always trying to expand things one way or the other, so a Canadian character made a lot of sense.
So then I started thinking about what should we call it? We named a lot of things after animals. I don’t know if there was Captain Canada by that time but I didn’t want anything like that. So I thought about different animals. You couldn’t have a moose — that wasn’t very glamorous. And besides, Archie had a Moose. So I thought of a couple of possible names. Badgers and wolverines are a couple of animals that lived in the northern United States, but also in Canada, so those would make sense. I mean, it could have been a wolf or something else, but for some reason, badger and wolverine came to mind. But badger is just not that good a word, you know? It sounds like you’re annoying somebody — you badger somebody. But wolverine had that kind of wolfish sound to it. And Dave Cockrum had drawn a character called Wolverine back then and showed it to me once, I guess. I don’t remember it, but he said he did. I think it was going to be a Legion of Superheroes character once, but it didn’t matter. I mean, I knew what a Wolverine was since I was 5 or 6 years old. I always collected animals. My first big hero was Frank Buck. I always wanted to be a big game hunter or something when I was a kid.
So I thought Wolverine was a good name and I knew about wolverines. The two things that I especially knew were they were small animals, basically, and they were really fierce and known to take on animals 10 times their size. I mean, they’d bring back an adult deer or something. So I called in Len Wein, which made a lot of sense because most of the characters at Marvel were in cities in the states — mostly New York. Len was doing The Incredible Hulk, who was always wandering around the country and could be anywhere — including out of the country. I brought in Len and it worked out very well. He was about to do some stuff that would take Hulk to Canada. That ended up being that Wendigo story. I said, “I want a character called Wolverine who’s short and Canadian.” I liked the way Len did accents.
And after that, John Romita was asked to design the character. And I don’t think either Len or I had much input on that. John has said he didn’t know what a wolverine was. He thought it was a female wolf, so at least that wolf connotation I had was working for him. John looked it up and saw the claws.
So Len and I kind of inherited that and I just turned it over to Len and I never thought about it again. You know, I kind of vaguely proofed the story when it came in, but otherwise, it was just another character. So now we had a Canadian character and we made a couple of ads in the book, plugging the fact we had the first Canadian superhero in the United States. Other than that, I left it to Len, who did a good job. And then, of course, it really took off a couple of years later when Len decided to put him in the X-Men right after I had left my role as editor-in-chief. I had suggested bringing back the X-Men with a new international team and he used my three characters in Giant-Size X-Men — my three foreign characters along with some new ones he and Dave Cockrum made up.
But then, of course, it was really Chris Claremont coming in and working with Dave Cockrum and then later John Byrne in the early days that really started making the X-Men become a book that people looked at and paid attention to.
AIPT: Thanks for sharing all that. And, obviously, a huge part of Wolverine’s appeal are his adamantium skeleton and claws. You actually created adamantium in the Marvel Universe as well.
Roy: That was entirely Len’s idea. I think he mentions adamantium at the very beginning of that first story, doesn’t he? The claws were Romita’s contribution.
AIPT: But adamantium itself was something you created for an Avengers story — Avengers #66. What’s the real-life origin of adamantium?
Roy: Well, I was doing a story — the second Ultron story — and I just wanted a metal that was harder than anything. The only metal we really had was vibranium, and I never cared that much for that name. It was good, but it wasn’t what I needed. And so I wanted to get something that really sounded hard. And the thing is, back in the early ’60s, there were other places I could’ve got it from, but I know in this case, specifically, where it came from. I had a translation I really liked of the Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound. The translation by a scholar named Richmond Lattimore uses the word ‘adamantine’ several times, which I’ve seen other places, but that’s the only place that ever registered with me. I knew the word adamant, but adamantine was the word. I just love the feel of it. So I decided adamantium was just a good name for a metal. So I tossed it in the story.
I’m not that wild about a lot of names I made up. I’m nothing compared to what guys like Stan and Jack Kirby could do. But once in a while, I come up with a good one. Adamantium was one of those. And someday before I die, I’m hoping that somebody discovers some super-hard new element and names that adamantium, and then I’ll feel I can die happy.
AIPT: [Laughs] You’ve done a lot of other great stuff too! So let’s fast-forward to the recent past — how did the opportunity to revisit Wolverine in X-Men Legends #1 come about?
Roy: Well, Editor Mark Basso asked me. I got an email one day from him. I had worked with him on a Conan thing or two, including the 10-page story for that King-Size Conan about a year ago. And once in a while, when something comes up, Mark would contact me. I’m always happy to do it.
So I said, OK, it’s X-Men, and the idea was that it should be from the time I was writing X-Men, which was two periods. I could make it either one of those two, but I decided that it might make more sense to have it after those two, somewhere between there and Giant-Size X-Men. And suddenly I thought, hey, I’m the guy that had the original idea for Wolverine and I haven’t written the character that much. He was an X-Man — why not go back to that?
There’s that first story that Len did where they introduced Wolverine and it sells for a zillion dollars. I wish I had taken home 10 or 20 copies of it. He tosses in this character, Wolverine, and he’s a good-looking character and Len writes him well and everything. But he just kind of comes in and he fights the Hulk. And the interesting thing about it is probably the fact that he’s got this Canadian organization behind him, which is a nice thing Len came up with to tease that it was more than just a guy showing up to fight the Hulk. And so I thought that maybe it would just be good to show a little more about that. And Mark made me aware that other people have filled in some of the details. So some of the stuff I was thinking about doing I couldn’t really do because somebody else had done some of that.
In The Incredible Hulk #181, you leave off with Wolverine unconscious several pages before the end of the story. He’s lying here, he’s beat. He’s maybe not down for the count, but he’s down. And when you pick up with The Incredible Hulk #182, Wolverine’s standing virtually right beside the Hulk. They’re not fighting, but they’re not buddies. You don’t know what happened. There’s just a jump between the two issues. So I thought, well, I’m going to fill in that gap because that’s the kind of thing I do.
And then, of course, the idea came to me that, while I’m at it, why not take care of the situation about his mask? I was talking with my manager, John Cimino, and he thought that was a good idea. So I threw that into the mix. I’ve seen a lot of references to the mask thing. People are always kind of remarking on the fact that Gil Kane drew the wrong mask on the cover to Giant-Size X-Men. But I guess at the time he did that, they were still working on the story inside. Dave Cockrum changed the mask because he liked what Gil had done. He changed it from the original mask to this other version and it wasn’t like it was an important change. The character would’ve been probably just as popular — just as great one way or the other.
But at the same time, that’s the kind of thing that I like doing. These silly little things like that and seeing if you can make a story of it. My criteria is if you can do it without forcing it so that it makes sense.
AIPT: When writing Wolverine, did you revisit any comics to make sure your voice for him matched what others had done? Or were you writing Wolverine the way you always pictured him?
Roy: Well, I very rarely wrote Wolverine — I think I wrote him in Secret Defenders in the ’90s and once or twice in Avengers West Coast. But I didn’t really write him much and that was a decade or two after he’d been established. I never had any desire to write Wolverine, but now that I’ve become kind of identified with him, it occurred to me that I should and that’s it.
I’ve read some of Chris Claremont’s stories because back in the ’80s, Gerry Conway and I wrote a draft or two of an X-Men film for Orion that never got made. So at that time, I sat down and read the first couple of years or so of what Chris had done with Cockrum and Byrne. But that’s the only time I’ve ever really read much of anything about Wolverine or the X-Men since 1974.
AIPT: Aside from Wolverine, X-Men Legends #1 features a surprise character from your X-Men run — Jack Winters, aka The Living Diamond, aka Jack O’Diamonds! What made you want to include Jack and develop his character a bit further?
Roy: Well, I wanted to use somebody that not much had been done with. People kind of ignored that character after I blew him up in my story. [Laughs] I don’t know if anybody brought him back and used him.
AIPT: Cyclops fans know him. He’s an essential part of Scott Summers’ origin.
Roy: Oh yeah, because I had come up with the idea of an X-Men origin series in the back of the book and once we had that going, that was just the first character I thought of. I know where he came from. The basic origin in my mind is an issue of All Star Comics — my favorite comic book of all time. There were diamond people from the center of the Earth. The funny thing is one of them was named Exnam, which is just X-Men spelled sideways. But they were just diamond people from the center of the Earth who came up to conquer the world. And they looked very much like that. They’re just walking around made out of diamonds. So that became Jack O’Diamonds.
AIPT: Jack may not be the most iconic comic book character, but you have co-created so many Marvel characters who are now household names. Carol Danvers, the Vision, Iron Fist, and so on. Wolverine is obviously a global icon. Where does he rank in the pantheon of Marvel characters you helped bring to life?
Roy: Well, it’s easily the most important, which is of course funny because if I knew he was going to be so important, I would’ve written that issue. [Laughs] I would have I said, “Len, you’re taking a one-month vacation from the Hulk, I’m going to write this story.” [Laughs] But it wouldn’t have been exactly the same character. He would’ve looked the same because Romita would’ve drawn him, he would be Canadian, he’d have been short, he’d have been called Wolverine, and he’d have been mean. But other than that, it would’ve been a different story. And he probably would’ve had different powers. The claws wouldn’t have necessarily been adamantium.
He would’ve been a different character, but would he then have been something that Chris and Dave and John could set on the path to becoming one of the major Marvel characters? I don’t know. Probably. I think it has less to do with what Len or I or anybody exactly created than sort of just the whole conglomeration of things that came in at the start. And he just happened to be there at the time to go into the X-Men, and then you had this team of Claremont and Cockrum, and then later Byrne that set X-Men on the path to being one of Marvel’s major franchises. That would’ve happened, I think, no matter who wrote the story. But Len wrote it and he’s definitely the co-creator of the character.
AIPT: Roy, thanks so much for taking the time to discuss the real-life origins of Wolverine and adamantium, and give us a taste of what we can eXpect in X-Men Legends #1 — on sale August 10!
As I mentioned before, X-Fans, there was a lot more to our chat with Roy. Keep reading X-Men Monday in the weeks ahead for part two of this interview, in which Roy discusses advancing Cyclops and Marvel Girl’s romance, the origins of Sunfire and Candy Southern, that ’80s X-Men movie that never was, working with the late Neal Adams and much more.
NeXt week, though, creator Jason Loo makes his X-Men Monday debut to discuss his recent — and eXcellent — contributions to X-Men Unlimited!
Until neXt time, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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