Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
This past May, I had a chance to speak to Marvel icon Roy Thomas about his upcoming two-part Wolverine story, which kicks off in X-Men Legends #1 — on sale August 10. Roy was eXtremely generous with his time, and the conversation ended up running over an hour… which meant lots of time for additional questions about Roy’s contributions to the X-Men mythos beyond Wolverine’s origins. If you missed the first part of our conversation, definitely give X-Men Monday #156 a read. If you’re all caught up, let’s dive into the rest of my chat with this real-life X-Men Legend!
AIPT: I have to ask about my two favorite X-Men characters. When you took over writing X-Men from Stan Lee, you actually advanced Cyclops and Marvel Girl’s will-they-won’t-they relationship beyond their very intense thought bubbles.
Roy: Well, I had to get her away from Professor X lusting after her.
AIPT: [Laughs] Yes, that was weird.
Roy: We didn’t want that to go on.
AIPT: Was furthering Scott and Jean’s relationship just something you did to keep the plot interesting?
Roy: It just seemed like a natural progression. They were obviously interested in each other and I thought they should be a couple. And it seemed obvious to me that they were a couple — I just advanced it a little further because that’s what happens with romance. I wasn’t doing it consciously, I don’t think, except it just seemed like the natural thing to do. I didn’t think about it much. That’s just the way the issues wrote themselves. I didn’t want it to just stand still and I didn’t feel like breaking them up. So I just kept having the romance kind of gradually increase. But then I didn’t stay on the book long enough to really do that much with it.
AIPT: Well, that romance endures to this day! And speaking of romance, you also created a supporting character who went on to have several appearances across Marvel titles: Candy Southern, Angel’s girlfriend. What can you share about this character’s creation… because she’s actually become quite popular among X-Fans.
Roy: Why is that?
AIPT: There’s a very popular X-Men podcast called Cerebro and Candy is among the characters the host Connor Goldsmith is really passionate about.
Roy: What did she do?
AIPT: [Laughs] Well, on each episode, Connor and a guest discuss a specific X-Men character at length, including their publishing history. Candy got her own four-hour episode [with writer Sara Century — listen here]. There are even Candy Southern T-shirts as a result [featuring original art by Valentine M. Smith].
Roy: I should get one of those. The only thing I remember when you mentioned her — she went out with Warren — that makes sense. I just wanted a really good-looking extra girl who wasn’t a mutant in there, you know? I think Stan introduced one or two girls that Iceman and Beast went out with. And I did more with them, but Warren’s this good-looking guy and he didn’t have any girlfriends. And you know where the name came from, right?
AIPT: I’ve heard things but you tell me the definitive origin.
Roy: Well, there was a book named Candy. I’ve never read it, but it was a woman’s name. I don’t know if it was kind of a racy, funny book or something. And it was by a writer named Terry Southern, who was fairly popular at the time. So we dropped the Terry and had Candy Southern. And that’s almost all I remember about Candy Southern, except that she was designed to be a good-looking girl — the kind of girl that you figured Warren Worthington III would go out with.
AIPT: She went on to appear in comics beyond X-Men, like The New Defenders.
Roy: Did she ever get superpowers like Patsy Walker?
AIPT: No, but she is dead now.
Roy: She’ll get better. It’s just a flesh wound, as they say in Monty Python.
AIPT: Well, with her new popularity, I see a lot of X-Fans clamoring for her return.
Roy: Yeah, bring her back. Candy Southern’s gotta come back.
AIPT: While we’re discussing your co-creations, you brought some much-needed diversity into the X-Men universe with international characters like Banshee and Sunfire. Was that something you set out to do when writing the series?
Roy: I wasn’t looking to do it by race or anything in particular. Eventually, if I’d stayed on the book, I would’ve probably added a Black mutant or two and so forth. But at the time, I just thought mutants are supposed to be a worldwide phenomenon, and by sheer coincidence, all these X-Men — except for maybe Magneto — were white Americans.
So I liked the name Banshee and I thought that would make a good character, except Stan wouldn’t let Banshee be a woman. Stan said you can’t have five X-Men fight a woman as the X-Men wouldn’t look good. She should actually have been like the character that’s Banshee’s daughter — Siryn — which is a terrible name for the daughter of an Irish hero, but never mind. But it should have been like that and she should have been very powerful. But Stan wouldn’t let me do it.
As soon as I took over, I wanted to have a Japanese or Japanese-American mutant. And Stan didn’t really want me to add anybody because he was worried that — I don’t know, maybe the artist wouldn’t draw them looking sympathetic enough or something. He was worried how they would turn out, you know, rather than anything else. And I never brought it up to him again. And then, when I came back to X-Men, I said now it’s time for that character. But that character, whether he was called Sunfire or something else, would’ve been in there a couple of years earlier.
I just liked the idea of diversifying because we have a big audience in the world. There were a lot of people in the United States and around the world that weren’t white men or white women, so we should have more diversity. We weren’t going crazy trying to look for excuses to do it, but whenever an opportunity presented itself, we would do a little of it. I did Banshee, Sunfire, and Wolverine and other people did some and I’m kind of pleased with the fact that we did a little something back then, even if it was a slow start.
AIPT: Sunfire is actually on the main X-Men team right now.
Roy: Is he again? Because after two or three issues of the revival, Chris Claremont wrote him out for a while. So he’s back now?
AIPT: Yeah, the mutants held an election to see which mutants would become the new X-Men and Sunfire was one of the characters selected.
Roy: Oh good. Does he still wear that same suit?
AIPT: It’s a little different — they redesigned it, but it has a similar feel to it.
Roy: Just curious. Yeah, Don Heck gave him that mask — kind of a weird dragony kind of mask — it wasn’t just a standard mask.
AIPT: Even Banshee is appearing in the current comics. It must be great to see these characters you helped bring to life are still fixtures in the books so many decades later.
Roy: Yeah, but I was annoyed… was it X-Men: First Class? They had a Banshee that had nothing to do with my Banshee and they killed him off, I think.
AIPT: [Laughs] Yeah, he was kid Banshee.
Roy: Yeah, I don’t even count that. Bring him back anyway. He’s in the multiverse. He comes to the multiverse with a heavy brogue. No, but I’m pleased to see them all there. How’s Wolverine? Is he still in comics?
AIPT: [Laughs] He’s around.
Roy: In the movies, he’s dead right now, but he’ll be back.
AIPT: While we’re discussing movies, you worked on an X-Men script with Gerry Conway that never made it to theaters.
Roy: Back in 1983 or 1984.
AIPT: I’ve read about it. [And you can too, X-Fans — here’s a great piece on it over at Polygon!] The script was based on Chris Claremont’s X-Men stories?
Roy: No, it was an original story. The stories written by Chris were the ones we were going over — that first couple of years of his stuff with Dave Cockrum and then John Byrne — what was available at that time. I read those two or three years or so. Gerry was probably more familiar than I was.
It was an original story, strangely enough for a Canadian company called Melvana after not just the goddess, but the actual comic book character in Canada called Melvana of the Northern Lights. And this Canadian guy who had co-written a book I’d read about Canadian comic books by sheer coincidence — his company Melvana had a deal with Orion, which was still a major player. But what we didn’t know was it was sort of on its last legs — it faded out completely over the next year.
So this movie was probably never going to be made, but they had the rights to X-Men. He wanted to make it, so Gerry and I did one synopsis that was close to what we wanted to do. A totally different storyline got used. And then they came up with all these things. Instead of it being Magneto, who’d be the villain, it becomes some magician kind of character. They decided we had to have a Japanese character in there, but instead of it being Sunfire or even a female version of Sunfire, they become some new character. Why? I don’t know, maybe they thought there would be a big Japanese market for the movie and they wanted a new character. Gerry put it the best when we did a little interview about it in Alter Ego. He said, if there’s something in the movie that resembles Marvel’s X-Men, we probably put it there. If there’s something in the movie that doesn’t resemble Marvel’s X-Men, we probably only put it there under duress.
We had a nice relationship with those people. But I don’t think they really knew how to get a good X-Men script out of us or anybody else.
AIPT: It sounds like a frustrating experience. At the time, did you know it was hopeless or did you think it still might happen?
Roy: No, we thought it might happen. By that time, we had written a Conan movie that was either out or coming out. It wasn’t really our Conan movie anymore, but as our agent said, if you turn off the sound, it’s the movie you guys wrote with none of your dialogue. That’s basically pretty close to true.
The X-Men movie just kind of died. And that was kind of sore but on the other hand, that was probably not the movie that was going to start an X-Men franchise. It would’ve been good for us, but I don’t know if it would have been good for the X-Men. I’d be continually explaining, “No, this is why Magneto is not in it.” “This is why that Japanese woman is in it.” “This is why that happened.” “And that’s why that happened,” you know? So maybe it’s just as well. We got paid. We always got paid. I was happy about that.
AIPT: Somewhere in the multiverse, that movie was made.
Roy: Yeah, Earth 26,000.
AIPT: Well, we know the X-Men are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is there anything you want to see from the new cinematic X-Men?
Roy: Sure, I’d love to see Sunfire and Banshee and Wolverine, whether played by Hugh Jackman, preferably, or somebody else as a young one. I would hope Hugh Jackman would play him again, but if he doesn’t want to, god knows he’s done enough. Except, he couldn’t manage to make himself quite short enough, but other than that, he did pretty good job.
AIPT: Going back to the comics, you also wrote a really bonkers issue where the X-Men met Frankenstein. How does an idea like that come about? Is it just the random story of the week to fill pages?
Roy: You’ve hit upon our deep dark secret. Well, no, I was trained to a great extent and picked up other things through osmosis from Stan. And Stan, whether he was working with Jack Kirby or with Steve Ditko or with Don Heck or Gene Colan — whoever he was working with, he was pretty much a seat-of-the-pants writer.
So when it was time to write, sometimes I’d set things up to advance — it’s a continued story or I knew where I was going. But a lot of times, all of a sudden it’s time to plot another one. So what am I going to do? Well, I like Frankenstein. One of my favorite movies is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. So how about the X-Men meet Frankenstein? So that’s what it became. I think now they’ve said that that’s not the real Frankenstein monster or some kind of crap, but you know, it was the real Frankenstein’s monster. All this other stuff since then, that’s the stuff that’s not real.
AIPT: [Laughs] You revealed he was an alien robot.
Roy: You know, so many of my things come from either literature I read or just as likely they come from other comics. And one of my influences in that case — although he wasn’t a robot — was an old Batman story, which I loved back around 1950 or so. Batman and Robin would go back in time. There was that guy, Professor Nichols, who would hypnotize him and they would go back in time and have an adventure. And they went back to the time of the Frankenstein novel. And I don’t know in that particular story, Frankenstein’s monster was just some big guy and so forth, but it was supposed to be the real story behind the Frankenstein story. And that was in my head when I decided, well, I’m going to do another real story behind Frankenstein. In my case, it’s going to be different. I made him a robot. I don’t think it was a great story or anything like that.
AIPT: Oh, but it’s fun!
Roy: It was fun to write. Stan made one change on the cover. We had this nice cover, but Stan said it’s not quite exciting enough. He’s there like the Hulk waiting for you around the corner. He said, have his hand grasping that metal and he’s just, you know, shredding it or pulping it behind there, which shows how strong he is. So Stan was always adding these little touches like that, but otherwise he kind of left the stuff to me.
AIPT: Your X-Men run with Neal Adams is held in very high regard among comics fans. Given Neal’s recent passing, I was curious if you wanted to share anything about working with Neal on those iconic stories?
Roy: I wasn’t a huge X-Men fan. I was happy enough to get off the book. I was much happier doing the Avengers. But Stan asked me to come on because the sales kind of dropped. I said I wasn’t doing that great of a job in the first place, but Stan said do it, so I did it. So I started it and I did one issue. I wasn’t happy. I was back, but I didn’t really want to do it. I was inheriting a story. I think Arnold Drake had made up Scott Summers’ brother, but he didn’t even say whether he was a mutant or anything yet. So I had to deal with all that. And then, Neal came in.
He told Stan he wanted to do some loser of a book or something, you know? And it ended up being X-Men, which was not as Neal said about to be canceled in two issues because Stan would not have known that. Martin Goodman canceled books, not Stan, but it was obviously on the cusp — it was in trouble. And I remember I had liked Neal’s work. I’d seen a couple of his war stories and I guess Deadman by that time and so forth. I told him, “If you want to write it, you could write it.” But I ended up staying on to write. What he didn’t realize was if you get Roy Thomas the writer, you got Roy Thomas the associate editor, which meant I was directly responsible to Stan. I was never just going to be his junior partner. If anything, I was a senior partner because if we had an argument, guess which one of us won, unless he went to Stan over my head, you know?
But we got along. He came in in the middle of this Egyptian sequence and I always liked Neal’s work, but I remember that he came in one day and started working on the splash page. He was working in the office and I see he’s got a picture of the Abu Simbel temple down there, which is what he was drawing on the splash page and he’s drawing free hand. It looks just like the goddamn photograph. And he wasn’t dependent on photographs because he took things that sort of looked like photographs, but he stretched the muscles in some ways. He was just as anatomically daring as Jack Kirby was and so forth, but he made it look more real. And I thought, my god, this guy is even better than I thought he was. He’s up there with John Buscema, you know, and the people that I thought were really good, so I was really happy to work on it. And from that time on, we kind of plotted things out.
Neal was never just an artist for the book. He was never the full writer either, but he was in between, you know, he was the co-plotter. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but a lot of it and really a very powerful character with powerful views. And we would just go out to lunch, whether it was about Avengers or X-Men, and sit there, have our pizza or burgers, and talk for an hour or two. And, you know, I’d say things and he would say things, and then he’d go off and draw a story. And when I came back, I was never surprised exactly what it was, because it seemed like sort of what we talked about. So he was one of the most monumentally talented people up there with Kirby and a handful of other people as far as an influence in the field.
And I’m really honored to have been one of his more important writing partners. I’m really pleased with the work we turned out together. I didn’t expect to see him pass away so soon because he was actually about six months or a year younger than I am. But that doesn’t make that much difference at our ages, I suppose. But I was sorry I hadn’t seen him in a year or two. But we communicated actually, as my manager was reminding me, through his son at a convention in the last year who came up and said hello. And then he called his father to say hello to us, trying to patch up any of the little disagreements over who did what in the “Kree-Skrull War.”
All that other stuff — it’s just comic books. It’s just words and drawings on paper. Neal did his thing. I did my thing. It came out fairly well together. Neal always came out well with just about everything. I’m just sorry we never got a chance to work together again after those early years.
I’m really sorry to see him gone. But he won’t be forgotten because the work is still there. I think as long as people are looking at stuff from that period, the ‘60s and the ‘70s, they’re going to be looking and say, oh, this X-Men was very influential in what Giant-Size X-Men introduced several years later and the Avengers stuff with the “Kree-Skrull War.” And while the “Kree-Skrull War” predated him, his realization of it artistically and the additions he made to it made it a better thing. I think that and what he did with Batman and the Green Lantern and Green Arrow stuff and so forth, Neal’s going to be with us for a lot longer than you and I are liable to remember
AIPT: You’re right, and nicely said. One last question: are there any Marvel stories you still hope to tell, whether with the X-Men or other Marvel characters?
Roy: Well, I’m never done with any character if somebody has an assignment, whether it’s Avengers, X-Men, Wolverine, Conan, you know, anything that comes along that Marvel wanted or DC — if they still have my phone number. I’m happy to write something. I don’t have a burning desire in my belly anymore. I’ve written a lot of comic books. Some of them were good, some of them not so good, but if I have to write at my age, if I have to write one more comic book in order to secure what little tiny niche of comics history I occupy, it’s already too late for me, you know? I might write another brilliant story, but I’ve written enough stuff that if I write any more or don’t write any more, it’s probably not going make any great difference in the greater scheme of things.
What I really would like to do probably more than anything else — if somebody would give me the Invaders, my own little corner of World War II. And let me go off and write, you know, 4,000 issues of that or something. But, you know, I’d probably find a way to bring Wolverine into that too.
And I want to write an autobiography. I mean, I told Stan Lee’s story. I should be able to do my own. But the problem is Alter Ego, which is my comics history magazine. As long as I’m doing that and a couple of other things, it doesn’t leave me much time as I want for the autobiography. And if there’s any one thing I’d like to do, I’d like to work on that. Just sit down every day and write about my own life. How great is that? You know, what little I can still remember.
AIPT: I hope you can find the time — that’d be a fascinating book. And, if anyone really important at Marvel is reading this, I hope you get that 4,000-issue Invaders run.
Roy: OK, well from my lips to God’s ears… or your lips to God’s ears. Somebody’s lips to God’s ears.
AIPT: Thank you so much for taking the time to share these stories, Roy. Remember, X-Fans, X-Men Legends #1 goes on sale August 10. We shared some eXclusive preview art from the first issue in X-Men Monday #156, but here are a few more looks at the X-Men Legends stories to come, courtesy of X-Men Senior Editor Jordan D. White.
Speaking of Jordan, neXt week, our favorite X-Men Senior Editor returns to answer X-Fans’ questions about all the mutants who also happen to be dads. That’s right, the neXt edition of X-Men Monday is all about X-Dads — just in time for Father’s Day 2022!
Until then, X-Fans, stay eXceptional!
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