Captain America Week

Cap Week Q&A: Ed Brubaker Pt. 1

Go in-depth with the award-winning writer on his entire CAPTAIN AMERICA run to date

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By Kiel Phegley This summer promises to be one of the biggest in the storied 70-year career of Captain America, but before the fireworks start to fly, we tapped writer Ed Brubaker to take a look back on how his now-historic run with the character led to the upcoming milestone issues #50 and #600 in part one of an extra-sized, two day Q&A. With nearly five years of Cap storytelling under their belts, Brubaker and artistic collaborators including Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice, Luke Ross and Alex Ross have launched CAPTAIN AMERICA to the top of every fan's reading list by mixing together the best elements of the character's long history into a super hero spy epic—and that was before they killed their star! Since the death of Steve Rogers in CAPTAIN AMERICA #25, Brubaker's story has proven that the Sentinel of Liberty can never die with former sidekick Bucky Barnes taking up the mantle. But as Brubaker explains, many of these twists and turns were never meant to happen, from Bucky's suiting up in the red, white and blue to the waves of timely cultural references that have made the book a critical hit.
 

CAPTAIN
AMERICA
#50 pencil art
by Luke Ross

Marvel.com: I tried to find another example of this in the past, but I actually think you're the first comics writer who has to do two back-to-back milestone issues on the same title. Ed Brubaker: [Laughs] That might be. Conveniently, we get to go right from issue #50 to issue #600. With issue #50, I just wrote a regular-sized story and made it a stand-alone issue that got to the heart of Bucky and Steve a little bit—or Bucky's relationship to being Captain America. I tried to make it really an all-Bucky issue because I knew that with #600 coming out a month later, it'd be this huge issue that led into the big summer of Cap. All the beats for #600 I've known since issue #25, pretty much. So when it was decided we were going back from issue #50 to #600, I was like, "Well crud, what am I going to do for issue #50?" But then I came up with what I thought was a really cool stand-alone Bucky story. I know they're putting some extra material in #50 as well, but it was kind of like, "What do you do?" [Laughs] Issue #50 is about the many birthdays of Bucky Barnes and examining his history and his relationship with being Bucky and now being Cap. It sets up some of the stuff that's going to come after #600, and #600 is really almost an issue of AVENGERS or an issue "the Marvel Universe" as much as it is CAPTAIN AMERICA. You know how those issues right after #25 were all about the absence of Steve Rogers or the absence of anyone in a Captain America outfit? #600 is more like that. It takes place on the one year anniversary of Steve Rogers' death. You get to see the way the world has changed in the Marvel U, and it focuses on a bunch of different characters [that] are reacting to it. We even got Mark Waid to do a story and Roger Stern to do a story. Most of it is me. I wrote 40-some pages for this issue, but I think we all decided that if we've got two anniversary issues, #600 will be the real anniversary because it's a much higher number. [Laughs] Marvel.com: You've had a general plan for CAPTAIN AMERICA since issue #1, but after #25 and the death of Steve, it felt like you had to make a big course correction just in terms of discovering new story avenues. Did you find that you had more characters and ideas to write about than you'd initially planned? Ed Brubaker: Yeah. It really became this huge, sweeping epic story with a ton of different characters each taking the forefront from time to time. It's been even since issue #1 the story of Bucky because I always knew we were bringing him back, but I hadn't planned at issue #1 that Bucky would become the new Captain America. That came organically after Steve's death. There wasn't really a plan for that, but as the story kept going, it was like, "This makes sense." I always know when I'm writing a story where I'm going and where the ending is going to be, but I don't always know all the steps to how it's going to get there. So I give myself some room to play around with the structure.

CAPTAIN
AMERICA
#50 pencil art
by Luke Ross

Marvel.com: Looking back on the earlier issues and how things have developed now, it feels like one of your favorite parts of the series has been the flashback elements. That works for CAPTAIN AMERICA in general, but what was it that worked for you in synching up the World War II moments with the present the way you did? Did it reveal more about the characters, or do you just like WW2 stories? Ed Brubaker: A little bit of both. Mostly when you're writing any character that has that much history, anything that goes on in your life has some reflection. Any [decisions] you make now are dependent on the things you did that got you to this place. With someone like Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes who spent five years in a war, that's going to impact them. In the first issue, [Steve] said, "I still dream about World War II." And people who fought in World War II that are still alive probably do still dream about it even though they've been through multiple lifetimes since then. It's one of those horrifying things that haunts you. People who go to war are haunted by it, and I thought that was a real big piece of who Captain America is, and you can't understand who either Bucky or Steve are if you don't understand the world they came from; Bucky was a military brat like me who grew up on bases, and Steve was a skinny, picked on kid, like most comic book fans, who grew up during the Depression and then became this big, patriotic hero because he was afraid of fascism and saw what Hitler was doing and wanted to do something about it. They each come from this specific era, and you have to show that part of them to see who they became in modern times. Marvel.com: Did it help when Bucky moved into the Cap role because since he was the Winter Soldier you no longer were stuck in the same five year period that people have been referencing for decades with WW2? Ed Brubaker: Yeah. You get the 50's, you get the late 60's and the 70's. You get the whole gamut of flashbacks if you want them. It's convenient. [Laughs] I really like that multi-faceted storytelling. It's really fun to go from a scene where Captain America is fighting super villains or A.I.M. to a flashback of the Invaders in World War II fighting Nazis or the Red Skull. At least half or more of issue #50 is flashbacks to birthdays Bucky had during the war and a little bit of Winter Soldier stuff, too. It's kind of a new reader-friendly update on who these guys are and why Bucky has chosen to take up Steve's mantle now that he's dead. Marvel.com: Over the course of the series, you've gotten to use a lot of Captain America supporting players from Falcon to Crossbones to Batroc the Leaper. Are there other people or villains you still want to get in but haven't had the chance to use yet?

CAPTAIN
AMERICA
#50 pencil art
by Luke Ross

Ed Brubaker:
Totally. I'd love to use Zemo or even the new version of Zemo, but he's always running around in his own book. [Laughs] I don't want to have to deal with that. But I love all those old characters. I've barely gotten to use Hydra because I knew [Brian Michael] Bendis had his whole "Nicky Fury knows that Hydra is really Skrulls and they really own S.H.I.E.L.D." which I knew about since my first issue. That's when Brian started talking about Secret Invasion and how S.H.I.E.L.D. was owned by Hydra and all that they're doing in SECRET WARRIORS now. He had that planned since the summer of 2004. He was talking about that when he was working on SECRET WAR. [Laughs] But my favorite Cap stuff is the [Jim] Steranko stuff, and you know, I still haven't gotten to deal with Baron Blood yet. I want anything from any era of Cap that I really dig. As much as that one issue where he shoots the Ultimatum guy and then has to go on TV and apologize—I hate that specific issue, but I kind of love Ultimatum and Flag Smasher and these big groups. I love the idea of Captain America taking on whole groups of people because it seems really what he's there for. When he's just fighting Batroc the Leaper or a couple of guys, you know there's no challenge. But when Captain America jumps into a room with an entire army of people, it feels like that's what he was created for. Marvel.com: And the present day plot bouncing between Lukin and the Red Skull and Sharon seems to keep building and building. While there have been a lot of cool solo moments for characters, that major arc feel is what seems to leave the biggest impact with the series. Ed Brubaker: Definitely up to issue #43 and to some degree still as there are so many leftover plot threads from that story like how Sharon killed Lukin and thought she killed the Red Skull and it turns out not. He's in some crazy robot body now. I had that all figured out since issue #1, the whole thing with Lukin's corporation. They were my stand in for a Halliburton or Enron corporation—the idea that these corporations were able to buy America and our politicians and get away with whatever they want. War profiteering and all that stuff. Even the stuff that came out last year where we got written up in "Rolling Stone" because we were supposedly tied into pop culture for talking about oil prices and the market crashing, that was all planned from the very first issues of the book. Lukin bought Roxxon Oil in like issue #9 which was in 2005. I was planning on his big plan being the destruction of the economy. He wanted to destroy capitalism. [Laughs] Marvel.com: So overall, have all these changes and curves in the road fit together pretty smoothly with your bigger plans for the book? Ed Brubaker: I really think all the stories kind of build organically from the previous stories. With everything I've done, you can see a real character progression. The first

CAPTAIN
AMERICA
#50 preview art
by Fred Hembeck

year of the book was about Steve trying to find Bucky, and once he does he sort of saves him and curses him at the same time accidentally. The next year of the book was really about Steve trying to save Bucky after realizing he's cursed him while Bucky is freaking out. It's a search for Bucky, but it's a tour through Cap's whole world. He gets to go to London and hang out with parts of the Invaders again and those people. Then Civil War hit and everything changed, but even in those issues you see the Red Skull's plot being built. I always said the first year was about Bucky, the second year was about the Red Skull, and everything after that was really about Steve and America—what he meant to the Marvel Universe version of America. And once the big "Death of Captain America" 18-issue epic was over, Bucky had really embraced being Cap, and the next arc was Bucky having to face his own past and the things he'd done as the Winter Soldier. You can't just run around in a Captain America mask when you're a war criminal, effectively. Those things have got to affect him. And now we're on to the next development with that. They all grow organically, and I hope we're raising the stakes with each one. The [most recent] China storyline was showing how Bucky as Cap acts. He's much more of a James Bond kind of character in a way. It's much more of an espionage book in some ways, and when he has to go dirty, he immediately takes off the Cap costume and puts the Winter Solider back on. [Laughs] It's like "Hmmmm...Steve Rogers never really had that as an option." Marvel.com: That's a thing I wanted to ask about because when Steve died, the initial reaction was, "When's he going to come back?" But now that Bucky has really taken that role in a big way in the recent arcs, the discussion has become more of "Well, who needs Steve?" Did that surprise you? Ed Brubaker: Bucky seems to be the Little Engine That Could. Everyone who was completely resistant to the idea of Bucky coming back totally embraced him as a character after about a year. There's probably one or two that didn't, but most people were like, "Wow! They pulled it off. Unbelievable." And then when Bucky became Cap, it was the same thing. "Oh, this is terrible." But now, the book is selling better with Bucky as Cap than it ever did with Steve as Cap. It's funny. I get more comments now from people where at first it was all, "Bring Steve back! Bring Steve back!" but now the comments are "Don't bring Steve back! We like Bucky as Cap." That's kind of funny. People have really come around to him as a character I think. And that was one of my goals: how to make Bucky viable as a character.

CAPTAIN
AMERICA
#50 cover by
Steve Epting

I talked to Stan Lee a little bit about this when I met him because he was the guy who suggested killing Bucky off in the first place in AVENGERS. And he didn't like Bucky because Bucky was a kid sidekick, and he said to me that he thought the reason Bucky worked as the Winter Soldier was because he's an adult now. He's the guy who's gone through all this stuff and is a Marvel character with the feet of clay. He's been put through the wringer in this way so he's not just a kid sidekick. He's a tough old soldier who's been a pawn of the Soviets. He's a character searching for redemption and a man out of time like Steve was. We always forget that the way they portrayed Cap and Bucky in the war was totally weird because to make it realistic Steve was probably 19 and Bucky was like 16, so they were like brothers more than anything. And there were plenty of 16-year-olds fighting in that war. My stepfather was one of them. CAPTAIN AMERICA #50 ships on May 20 followed by CAPTAIN AMERICA #600 on June 17. Check back tomorrow for more with Ed Brubaker, including his special story with Gene Colan in CAPTAIN AMERICA #601 and word on what more the summer holds in store for the Sentinel of Liberty! Also, head to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited for classic Cap comics! Check out the official Marvel Shop for everything Captain America! Download episodes of X-Men: Evolutionicon now on iTunes!

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