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The Greatest Roy Thomas Stories Ever Told!

Every day in November we will reveal the greatest stories ever told starring a particular character or written/drawn by a particular creator (and throughout the month, you’ll get daily chances to vote for NEXT week’s lists). These lists are voted on by YOU, the reader!

Here is the list of characters/creators featured so far (along with the rules on how to vote).

Today’s list is the Greatest Roy Thomas Stories Ever Told!

Enjoy!

Sorry for the delay!

As you might imagine, for someone with such a long and varied career as Roy Thomas, coming up with a consensus for his greatest stories was quite difficult. There were about five Conan issues that received #1 or #2 votes on people’s ballots and then did not appear on anyone else’s ballot! I can only imagine how many people have a special Roy Thomas-penned issue that just resonates with them personally.

In any event, with all the great diverse works Thomas did over the years, I know people would be curious as to what just missed the top ten, so with that in mind, I decided to give you all six honorable mentions for Thomas’ list.

Six rather than five because most of the votes for his X-Men work split his issues with Neal Adams into two distinct storylines. If I combined them, then obviously that would make room for another story in the top 15, so rather than do that, I figured I’d just show you what would have been bumped up had I done so. Without any further ado, here is the list!

16. All-Star Squadron #21-26, All-Star Squadron Annual #2 “The Ultra-Humanite Saga”

This epic storyline involves the Ultra-Humanite collecting a series of powerful items in a quest to get his brain situated inside the body of Robotman. With most of the more powerful members of the team taken out, the remaining members must band together to defeat the despotic villain. This storyline also introduced Infinity Inc. as the young heroes appear in a time-traveling situation.

15. Savage Tales #2-3 “Red Nails”

Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith combined for this acclaimed adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s final Conan tale, as Conan and a female warrior get caught up in a dramatic struggle within an ancient walled off city. Smith’s artwork is stunning and Thomas adapts the story beautifully.

14. Thor Annual #7, Thor #283-299 “The Eternals Saga”

The storyline actually lasted until #301, but Thomas was only directly involved through #299 (he had left for DC, so the last few issues were written by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio, who had taken over scripting the series off of Thomas’ plots when Thomas left, but they had to finish the story themselves).

13. Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 “Morbius!”

Thomas became the first writer to write Spider-Man’s ongoing series other than Stan Lee in this tale, where Thomas had the unenviable position of having to deal with the cliffhanger of Spider-Man #100 – Spidey having six arms!! This story is best remembered, though, for the introduction of Morbius, the Living Vampire!

12. Avengers #69-71 “Kang vs. the Gamesmaster”

This three-parter, with art by Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger, introduced the Squadron Sinister (who later inspired the Squadron Supreme) as pawns in a game between Kang the Conquerer and the Elder of the Universe known as the Gamesmaster. This clever little tale was an attempt by Thomas to have an unofficial crossover with the Justice League of America (read here for more details).

11. Thor #272-278 “Ragnarok”

Thomas became one of the first Thor writers to play with the idea of Ragnarok (the foretold final days of the Norse gods) in this storyline that also introduced another version of Thor. John Buscema and Tom Palmer were the main artists of these stories.

10. Captain Marvel #17-21

Thomas and Gil Kane (with Dan Adkins on inks) revitalized the Captain Marvel comic book by a clever homage to the original Captain Marvel – the Kree Captain Marvel and Rick Jones switch places in a similar fashion to how Captain Marvel and Billy Batson did back in the 1940s. Thomas brought the book out of the doldrums and the new costume by Kane was fantastic.

9. Conan the Barbarian #4 “The Tower of the Elephant”

One of the greatest one-off stories of the 1970s, The Tower of the Elephant had stunning artwork from Barry Windsor-Smith and Sal Buscema, as Conan gets involved in a bizarre situation when he attempts to rob a tower.

8. Infinity, Inc. #1-10 “Generations”

This sweeping 10-part storyline introduced the concept behind Infinity, Inc. – young “legacy” heroes of the Justice Society who form their own team, led by the younger members of the Justice Society (Star-Spangled Kid, Power Girl and Huntress). During this storyline, the young heroes are forced to fight their mentors as the JSA is turned evil by the Ultra-Humanite! Dann Thomas co-wrote the story and Jerry Ordway and Mike Machlan did the artwork.

7. Avengers #66-68 “vs. Ultron”

The first two issues of this sprawling brawl between the Avengers and Ultron were drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, with Sal Buscema closing out the three-parter. This is the storyline that both introduced adamantium and gave us an Ultron made up entirely of the nearly indestructible metals! One of the Avengers’ most difficult battles!

6.Conan the Barbarian #23-24 “The Song of Red Sonja”

In Conan #23, Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith introduced Red Sonja, and in #24, she is given a spotlight issue as Conan (and we readers, as well) becomes enthralled with this fascinating female warrior.

5. X-Men #60-63

After first introducing the energy vampire known as Sauron, the X-Men follow the villain to the Savage Land where they get caught up in a scheme that Magneto has going on in the area (involving the mutates of the Savage Land, who make their first appearances here). Neal Adams and Tom Palmer do the artwork.

4. Justice League of America #193, All-Star Squadron #1-3 “Formation of the All-Star Squadron”

Roy Thomas joined DC Comics with this ambitious examination of DC’s Golden Age by the introduction of the All-Star Squadron, a team designed to give Thomas access to all of the great Golden Age characters that DC had in their possession during the early 1980s. The initial storyline involved the evil time traveling Per Degaton and was set against the backdrop of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The art was done by Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway.

3. X-Men #55-59

Thomas joined X-Men as this storyline introducing Cyclops’ brother, Alex, had just begun, but Thomas took it to another level as we learn why the Living Pharaoh is so interested in Alex, as Alex’s mutant powers manifest and he becomes the mutant known as Havok. That is not until Alex and Lorna Dane are captured by the Sentinels, who have returned under the command of Larry Trask. Neal Adams and Tom Palmer join as the art team early on and draw the story, which ends with a dramatic twist as Trask himself is revealed to be a mutant!

2. Avengers #57-58 “Behold, the Vision!”/”Even an Android Can Cry”

These two issues are a master class on comic book storytelling, as Thomas first introduces the mysterious Vision, has him fight the Avengers, has him betray his master, Ultron, and save the Avengers. This then leads to the classic story “Even an Android Can Cry” where the Avengers consider the artificial being for membership in the team. His reaction to the news confirms the title of the story. John Buscema and George Klein do the art (plus a little work from Marie Severin). This is the story that has the classic “Ozymandias” ending with Ultron’s head that blew the minds of many a young comic book reader at the time.

1. Avengers #89-97 “The Kree-Skrull War”

This epic storyline went through a number of peaks and valleys as Thomas brought Earth’s Mightiest Heroes into the midst of a conflict between the shape-shifting Skrulls and the war-obsessed Kree. Sal Buscema, John Buscema and Neal Adams were the pencilers for the story (which had a host of inkers), which managed to do a masterful job of fitting in character-driven sequences in the midst of thrilling action scenes. It is a keen mind that is able to balance both small and large scale approaches within a single storyline, and that’s exactly what Thomas demonstrated on this classic story.

26 Comments

not surprise this list wound up happening for roy has such a long run of work worthy of the list hard to just narrow it down.

Wow, I would have thought that the list would be mostly Conan, with Red Nails at number one. Still great to see his Avengers run getting so much love. That Ultron issue, reprinted in World’s Greatest Comics a few years later, was one of my first two comics at age 5. I was sold for life.

I’m a little underwhelmed by the selections from his DC work, honestly. I like the opening stories from All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. but I do think both had its better stories later on. Honestly, I would have placed the Brain Wave two-parter which preceded the Infinity Inc./ Ultra Humanite story much, much higher. I think that’s Thomas’ best DC work.

I knew this list would be all over the place, given the scope of Thomas’ work, but I’m surprised at how much my own choices complied with the general consensus (6 of my picks in the top 10, 2 more in 11-16 – would have been more if I had included some of my favorite Conan stories, which are all listed here). Not that I’m one to complain, given my own voting decisions, but I share Matt’s surprise that there’s not more Conan stories here (and none drawn by Buscema!), especially the stuff from Savage Sword…

I’m quite fond of the Morbius issues of Amazing Spider-Man. They had a really cool homage to Dracula with Morbius arriving on a ship just like Dracula did and slowly picking off the crew one by one. If I’m not mistaken didn’t this issue pave the way for the comics code allowing stories with vampires in them to be published?

His X-men stuff and his Avengers issues are also great. I knew that the Kree-Skrull War would be number 1. Ultron is my 2nd favorite Avengers villain (the first is Kang). Ultron was pretty cool, but I thnk he took the story of Oedipus a little too literally.

Good to see Thomas’ Avengers work getting some attention – my favourite comics growing up. A minor correction though, Avengers 57-58 were inked (beautifully) by George Klein not Tom Palmer.

What I’ve always found intriguing about the A-SS#1 cover was that obsucred photo of Captain Triumph on teh table. Too bad he couldn’t get worked into the series.

They later realized that Capt. Triumph did not debut until Late 1942/early 1943.

I knew what the top two would be (not really a mystery at the top of this list), but I’m also surprised at how low Red Nails was… I thought it had a decent chance at #3. I’ve always thought it was regarded as the ultimate Conan story, as well as the most beautifully drawn (and, I would argue, the most beautifully drawn pre-1980’s American Comic Book Story, period).

I wonder, Brian, if you had not given us #s11-16 off the bat, what sort of outrage might have occurred in the comments about the absence of Red Nails. I also wonder if Red Nails’ ranking was a large part fo the reason you revealed 11-16 from the get-go.

The Crazed Spruce

November 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I loved All-Star Squadron back in the day, and it’s great to see it represented on the list. (Thomas did pretty much invent the retcon with that series, after all. Or at least the term.) Too bad “The Trial of Robotman” didn’t make the cut, though. Or his Jonni Thunder miniseries. (Especially since the character design was based on his wife, Danni.) Or any of his What If or Secret Origins stories. All in all, though, I can’t really argue with the final list.

I can’t even look at Ultron without thinking about the song “Sad Ultron” by the nerdcore rapper Adam Warrock. It posits the theory that Ultron is actually a really nice guy, but he is forced to be evil because everyone judges him by the built-in frown on his face. Even if you don’t like hip-hop, I recommend checking it out. It’s hilarious.

I didn’t vote because I have a hard time thinking of the Conan stories as being “written” by Thomas. He did a great job adapting them, but I can’t give Thomas full credit.

I didn’t vote just because I was too overwhelmed by the options, but I’m definitely happy to see those Avengers stories, particularly his Grandmaster, Ultron and Vision stories (Vision’s inclusion was predictable, as mentioned above, but deserving).

Roy sure wrote a kick-ass Hank Pym. He was practically the leader in those issues, esp. in that Ultron one. And of course, Kree/Skrull War has one of the all-time great Ant-Man adventures…

I also thought of Thor #300, but I guess technically he didn’t write that one. But I loved his issues leading up to it!

AverageJoeEveryman

November 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I got the TPB’s for the Eternals Saga expecting something awesome, what I got was a tedious couple hours of a sick day. Could not understand how Thor + Eternals + Thomas did not equal interesting.

My fave from the amazing Mr. Thomas… Worms of the Earth.

Can we really count “The Tower of the Elephant” as a Roy Thomas story?

The rules specifically note when voting to count “written or co-written.” Adapted is surely “co-written,” no?

I am pleased to see two stories from All-Star Squadron make the cut. I would not have picked the opening story from that series as one of my two favorite All-Star Squadron stories. My other pick would be Crisis on Earth-X and I would rate it below the Ultra-Humanite Saga, but not by much.

I’m not surprised in the least bit that Kree-Skrull War topped the list.

Great as they are, I do wonder if the X-Men stories would rank quite as high if they had not been drawn by Neal Adams.

His Avengers run deserves its representation here: it set the standard for post-Stan Marvel writing. The fact that his run also featured John Buscema’s best-ever work on the title (whose later run with Stern doesn’t even come close) doesn’t hurt.
Also, I have absolutely no time or respect whatsoever for the view that he should be vilified for his love of playing with continuity & retconning, and that he’s somehow responsible for every excessive or incompetent use of such things in the years since.
Finally, I’ve never liked Conan (the character or his stories; no problem with the talk show host) the least little bit, whether in the form of comics, movies, or the original Howard prose, so I have no problem at all with this listnot being “mostly Conan.”

Sigh. No Captain Carrot.
Recently re-read Kree Skrull War in the TPB – still awesome.

“The rules specifically note when voting to count “written or co-written.” Adapted is surely “co-written,” no?”

No. The story was written…then later Roy Thomas retold the story. I wouldn’t consider a cover of a song as a co-writing credit. The greatest song the Lemonheads ever wrote is not “Mrs. Robinson” even if it is the song they are best known for. I wouldn’t say that Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation and direction of Hamlet was one of Mr. Branagh’s greatest stories. Is Kenneth Branagh a co-writer of Shakespeare?

Ed (A Different One)

December 1, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I’m incredibly guilty of being under-read on all things Roy Thomas. One of comics’ all time great creators/writers as this list attests to. For whatever reason though, he always seemed to end up on titles I didn’t have much interest in as a kid, or just weren’t carried in those very few, meagre comics outlets I had access to growing up.

That being said, Morbius is a character that always bugged me. He’s fascinating in many ways, but I always hated how he just seemed to mop the floor with Spider-Man whenever they squared off. To me, the prospect of a spider-empowered human squaring off with a “living vampire” seemed cool as shit and I always thought it would be a great fight, but they always seemed to come across so one-sided and, hence, disappointing (at least in the conflicts I’ve read – including the one’s cited in the list above). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind seeing Spidey getting his ass kicked every now and then, but at least make it interesting.

Maybe I’m just not reading the right issues . . .

In those, Conan stories did thomas reuse any dialogue or descriptors? because if he only used the events in the story he did an amazing job.

and if you think it doeasnt take great skill and passion to adapt something, to make it work and capture the story, you are mistaken.

“and if you think it doeasnt take great skill and passion to adapt something, to make it work and capture the story, you are mistaken.”

That’s not the point. Is Hamlet the greatest story Kenneth Branagh ever told? Regardless of how well done the movie is, it is not “his story”.

I was just making a point that Roy Thomas has many original stories we should be considering and celebrating the original work of another as his own just struck me as odd. If I had a ton of original work to my name and some adaptations I did were held up as the greatest stories I ever “told” I’d be disappointed.

I wish you’d put The Makkalet War (Conan 19-26, I think) instead of just The Song of Red Sonja. The last page of the last issue is worthy of Moorcock or Leiber.

Kristian Kriesel

January 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm

C’mon guys Arak is his best work by far in particularly the first 15 issues. Streets ahead of anything else anyone has ever done.

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