The Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS) is a Los Angeles social and networking club for artists and writers working in comic books, comic strips, editorial cartoonists, gag cartoonists, and all other forms of print cartoons. CAPS was founded by Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, and the late Don Rico in 1977. Every year we present The Sergio Award to a deserving recipient. Previous honorees have included Jack Davis, Russ Heath, Stan Lee, Drew Struzan, and the man himself, Sergio Aragonés. This year, we are presenting the Sergio to Roy Thomas in recognition of his 50-plus years in the comics industry. Here is my tribute to Roy.
My first Roy Thomas comic was also my first Marvel comic. I was a wee lad in third grade, a big devotee of the Batman TV show, and had thus far successfully badgered my mother into buying precisely one comic from the spinner rack at Young’s Market. (Justice League of America #44, if you must know). Some time later, I found myself parked on a naugahyde couch awaiting my turn in the barber’s chair, when my eyes fell upon the cover of Uncanny X-Men #29, in which the merry mutants faced off against the Super-Adaptoid, a big green android who could absorb and duplicate any hero’s super-powers. This issue was actually part three of an extended tale, but I was able to pick up everything I needed to know along the way, despite having never heard of the X-Men or the Avengers, whose powers the Super-Adaptoid had already acquired. The story primarily revolved around a truculent mutant named The Mimic, whose power was the same as the Super-Adaptoid’s, but with a limitation: he could only copy another mutant’s abilities, and then only when in reasonably close physical proximity to them.
I seriously considered liberating that comic from the barbershop, but mom was watching, so I had to use the lesser option and commit it to memory (and then buy it online some 40 years later). I’m happy to report that the story held up.
That is a defining characteristic of Roy Thomas stories; they hold up.
After I discovered the entrepreneurial adventure of collecting and cashing in the abundant soda bottles that people discarded on the nearby beach, and was therefore able to begin buying my own comics with my own money, I quickly learned that the name Roy Thomas was a pretty solid guarantee of an interesting and exciting comic story.
Like most comic fans my age, I found Marvel stories a lot more enjoyable than DC comics (the DC books seemed condescending and formulaic, especially the Superman ones, though the books featuring some other members of the Justice League were less so, a difference I later learned was simply the fact of Julius Schwartz being a better editor than Mort Weisinger. But I digress.) Marvel was the more intelligent, more sophisticated, more compelling comic brand, and Roy Thomas was the best writer they had in the place. I read stacks of Roy Thomas stories featuring nearly every character in the Marvel stable.
Years later, when Roy went across the street to DC, I followed him. Arak, Son of Thunder was my reward for my loyalty; I reveled in the genius of a Native American viking in Charlemagne’s court (is there any part of that concept that you don’t want to read?), and I loved the deep dives into real-world history, folklore, legend, literature, and obscure (to me) pop culture history, and I ate up Roy’s work with gusto. Aside from Arak, there was also Roy’s expansive exploration of the decades-spanning alternate reality of Earth-2, where the All-Star Squadron, Justice Society, and Infinity Inc. hung out. Roy was really making his mark on the DC multiverse.
Then Marv Wolfman damn near killed him. Sorry, Marv; I love your work, big Teen Titans fan, and I understand and respect what you were trying to do with Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the thing that sticks in my mind 30 years later is Roy Thomas desperately trying to stitch together the tattered remains of Earth-2 to salvage a functional Golden Age history to support the handful of JSA characters who escaped limbo. There’s Roy in the pages of Young All-Stars, trying to pull a Wonder Woman doppelgänger out of thin air, frantic to rebuild some semblance of a back-story for his Infinity, Inc. cast of second-generation heroes. It wasn’t pretty.
I think it was this quixotic mission of Roy’s that led to his reputation as being obsessed with continuity-tweaking. Well, that and the several noteworthy stories that revolved around patching up contradictions, errors and omissions in old comics that many fans didn’t even remember; an issue of Invaders included a digression to explain why Namor wore the wrong swim trunks in another story some years earlier, for example. Over time, this quirk, which I think was really just Roy enjoying the puzzle-solving aspect of reconciling these glitches in the matrix, led to a lot of fanboy snark. (But then what doesn’t engender fanboy snark?) One story that circulated, usually cited as proof of Thomas’ continuity obsession, was that he had once pitched DC on a story to explain why Jimmy Olsen and Johnny Thunder wore the same outfit: green suit, red bow-tie.
I was about to repeat this urban legend myself in a Facebook discussion a while back, when I realized that it was just a rumor I’d heard, and didn’t know where it originated; at that time I was on a mission to kill hoaxes, urban legends, and “fake news” on Facebook, so I couldn’t very well go repeating an unsourced rumor about a guy I didn’t even know. It happened that I had Roy’s email address, so I decided to reach out.
Hi Mr. Thomas,
I hope you’ll pardon the intrusion. I’m a friend of Scott Shaw!, I scanned some of his art for you a few years back, so I still had your email. A quick question…
I had heard a long time ago that you once wrote a story based on the fact that Jimmy Olsen and Johnny Thunder wear the same green suit and red bow-tie; is that an urban legend, or does that story actually exist? If the latter, what’s the reason why they dress alike? (Aside from the color limitations of golden and silver age comics production.)
The answer I got back was the most quintessentially perfect I could ever have hoped for. It is the pure, distilled essence of Roy Thomas:
I’m afraid that not only is that story a myth (so far as I can recall), but Johnny Thunder NEVER wore a red tie, until sloppy colorists decided to treat him like Jimmy Olsen. His bowtie was invariably yellow in the Golden Age comic.
I firmly believe that if Johnny Thunder had dressed the same as Jimmy Olsen, Roy would have written a story to explain it. I further know that I would want to read it, and that it would be unique and clever and thoroughly entertaining, and would involve some fascinating element of history, science, or folklore, that I’d never heard of before, because Roy Thomas puts in the effort to build stories that hold up.
Thanks for 50 solid years of great entertainment, Roy!