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SC resident who created Ultron enjoys seeing his character hit movie screens

Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence, really, really hates his ‘father’ Tony Stark.
Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence, really, really hates his ‘father’ Tony Stark. TNS

St. Matthews resident Roy Thomas got to walk the red carpet two weeks ago for the Hollywood premiere of “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He saw his name in the credits as the co-creator of the Ultron character during his years as a writer and editor at Marvel Comics. What he's really looking forward to, however, is a few weeks away.

“I can't wait to see it in an IMAX theater in 3D with a big tub of popcorn,” Thomas said. He'll do that at a Columbia theater.

As a writer and editor during the early years of Marvel Comics in the 1960s and 1970s, Thomas played a role in the creation of a number of now iconic characters - including Ultron, the Vision, Yellowjacket, Ms. Marvel, Doc Samson and Valkyrie. When Marvel creator Stan Lee moved to the publisher role in 1972, Thomas succeeded him as editor in chief for the next three years.

In 1968, Thomas had taken over writing chores for the Avengers from Lee. Two of his first new characters were Ultron and the Vision, both of whom play major roles in “Age of Ultron,” which opens in theaters Thursday. Attending the movie’s recent red carpet premiere – “Nobody was taking pictures of us” – made him reminisce about those creative early years.

“At the time, I was just doing a job and having fun doing it,” Thomas said. “Now 50 years later, it’s strange to see them on the big screen.”

Thomas has enjoyed the recent Marvel character movies and gives “Age of Ultron” a thumbs-up review. It’s slightly less accessible than the first Avengers movie because it has so many character, he said, but “I always love a good movie, and this is one.”

The movie Ultron has many of the characteristics imbued by Thomas in comic books – a robot who develops his own intelligence and rebels against his creators. One major difference is the comic book Ultron was created by Hank Pym, also known as Ant-Man. In the movie Marvel universe, Ant-Man has yet to be introduced to the storyline. So the movie Ultron is created by Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man.

Those sorts of changes bother some comic book purist but not Thomas. “The comic books exist as comic books; the movies exist as movies,” he said.

Some early Marvel writers have sued to get more financial rewards for the movie versions of their creations. Thomas is getting some remuneration for the movies, but his major payback is the pride of having played a part in the creation of some memorable characters. Another of his characters, “Iron Fist,” will be the subject of a Netflix series next year.

“They’re getting desperate,” Thomas joked. “They’ve run through Spider-Man and The Hulk and all the characters created by Stan and Jack Kirby, and they’re getting to our characters. If had known this was going to happen one day, I would have created more characters.”

Thomas moved to St. Matthews in 1991, drawn by the wide open spaces after visiting his wife Dann’s father, who managed an Orangeburg manufacturing plant. Though he had grown up in rural Missouri, Thomas made his name at Marvel in New York. He was living in Los Angeles when he and Dann decided they wanted to return to the rural live on a big spread full of animals in South Carolina.

Thomas, 74, still maintains a presence in the comic book world, writing the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip and editing Alter Ego magazine.

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