A Conversation with
Roy Thomas (Part 5)
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Part 5 | Part 6
Can you comment on your DC years for us?
Well, it started off really well, then went swiftly downhill.
I found it increasingly hard to get a chance at some of the better artists for my projects. Jerry Ordway came out of nowhere. Todd McFarlane? My wife and I glommed onto him ourselves. Todd's work came in over the transom, so to speak. He literally mailed it to us. Jerry and Todd were good.
I felt that DC basically tried to shove off people onto me that didn't fit their other books. Some of those people were really talented people, but they weren't the artists who could sell some oddball title like World War II super-heroes, although they did good work. As this went on, the sales declined.
For my part, I didn't have much interest in doing mainstream characters. I did
Arak because it was different. The All-Star Squadron was a period piece, not the standard super-hero thing.
Infinity Inc., although set in the present, maintained the Golden Age connections. Somehow my desire to do different things didn't fit into DC's main focus.
In the first issue of
Alter Ego, Jerry Ordway told us that fans were always asking him, "Why are you doing Captain Marvel? Why aren't you doing Superman or Batman? Why all these old heroes?"
For me, royalties aside, why would I want to be another in a long line of
Batman writers? Superman and Batman are good characters, but what do I have to add to that? (Well, now that you mention it, I did add something I'm pretty proud of:
Superman: War of the Worlds graphic novel.) It would be fun to do some Batman things, but writing more Batman adventures about Batman being grim simply doesn't appeal to me.
I would rather take a character that I could control, like
Conan. I CAN do that with the right people. I enjoyed doing [the
Avengers West Coast issues of] "Operation: Galactic Storm" at Marvel. That was a good team! For the most part, I prefer characters whose destinies I can control.
wasn't the sole reason. Were you approached about writing Crisis? That would have seemed like a perfect fit.
I was approached about what was going to happen. A lot of that changed as it went along, almost every time to my disadvantage. That was not Marv Wolfman's original intention. It was not his decision to wipe out the history of Batman and Superman, which I found then—and I find now—ridiculous.
Were you aware of any creators speaking up about the changes at the time? Obviously there was no hope of stopping the changes, but at a minimum, was "tempering" the changes ever an option?
was stealing the headlines, DC Challenge was released. Did you author an issue of that?
Yeah, I did an issue with Don Heck.
I thought that would be a big hit.
I don't know what the sales figures were.
DC Challenge was kind of a gimmick, which lacked unity by virtue of what it was. I don't want to say it did badly, but it wasn't something DC wanted to repeat.
Would you be interested in doing the new JSA?
If it were the REAL JSA, not the one they've got now. Robinson's JSA is the JSA in name only. To the extent that that's the JSA, I could have called Infinity Inc. the JSA. DC is using a character from
Infinity [Atom-Smasher, formerly Nuklon], but they HAD to change his costume.
Personally, I'm disgusted with that attitude. They should have just left him alone and used an all-new character. I don't like to see characters that I created changed. I'm willing and available to do things with these characters. From time to time, I submit ideas for them. I certainly don't count things done to Jade, Obsidian, and Nuklon in recent years as valid. I'd prefer to explain away changes to my characters with the "clone defense."
[Laughs.] Would you be referring to the homosexual overtones concerning Obsidian in Gerard Jones's
I would be more apt to hear what was done to him than to actually READ it. Obsidian is not their character, so what do they know about it. Anything anyone does on a title can be undone by the next writer. It has no validity.
It is to your credit how you wove other companies' characters [acquired from Quality Comics and Fox Comics] so seamlessly in
All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.
I could see the seams showing sometimes. Sometimes I might have been force-feeding them. I did think of it like a tapestry. I thought of
All-Star like a pageant that took place in the past. I just tried to connect the dots. Some things fit better than others did.
As a few examples, DC had to yield to the temptation to add the Atom's new powers and costume in the middle of WWII instead of 1948. DC's timeline has the Injustice Society debut much earlier than they actually premiered in print 50 years ago. I did a Monster Society of Evil in
All-Star Squadron with Mr. Mind [a Fawcett character who never faced the JSA].
But when you step back, there were 55 adventures of the Justice Society. Nothing James Robinson or I or anybody else, for that matter, [says] can change that.
Was it the dearth of artists or the interference that you didn't get at Marvel that soured you on DC?
I wasn't getting any interference from DC until the
Crisis. There were several years with little or no interference at DC. I couldn't bring Captain Marvel in as much as I would have liked due to monetary reasons. I enjoyed something resembling carte blanche. Despite not being, technically, editor of
The All-Star Squadron [Len Wein was], I had an understanding with the people that hired me that I was in charge of storylines. Eventually, I was made editor of
The All-Star Squadron because of Dick Giordano. Both relationships were good.
I don't mind being part of a team when I respect the other members of the team. Sometimes that happens; sometimes that doesn't. I don't like being on a team when I feel like I'm intellectually slumming.
Your gut reaction to the Siegel & Shuster/Superman decision?
I think it's great. DC has taken these characters and has done something with them. I think DC as much as Siegel and Shuster have added a lot to the value of these characters. I don't think DC should be cut out cold. But it's nice to see the heirs of Siegel and Shuster get more money out of it.
There were lawsuits at Marvel, too. Carl Burgos and Joe Simon sued Marvel back in the '60s over the Human Torch and Captain America. Those suits were settled amicably, though Jack Kirby working for Marvel at the time didn't help.
As a creator, it's nice to own some part of the characters, even if you can't control them. I own a piece of
Infinity Inc. and a few characters in All-Star Squadron that I created for it—the Tarantula that I redesigned with Jerry Ordway's help [and who is now appearing in
Nightwing], Amazing-Man, Firebrand. Then there's Arak, Captain Carrot, and Jonni Thunder (the detective, not the JSA member).
If DC does something with them, I get money out of it. That ensures that the company and the creator both get their needs met. That kind of retroactive arrangement would be nice for some of the older creators of the original characters, but most of them are dead or about to die.
Bottom line: The company has invested a lot of time, energy, and money into those creations, but I can see the companies being forced to pay more money for that to the estates of Siegel and Shuster. Somewhere in the middle is the answer.