Marvel Custom Solutions

Free Captain America Comic for U.S. Troops

William Harms and Michael Avon Oeming team with Marvel Custom Solutions!

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By Justin F. Gabrie

For the past seven years, Marvel Custom Solutions and the Army & Air Force Exchange Service have been producing a series of comics specifically distributed through Exchanges located on U.S. military bases around the world. According to their website, for more than 116 years the Exchange’s mission has been to support the men and women of the armed forces and their families during military operations, humanitarian missions and other endeavors globally.

Support, such as inspiration, helps our troops cope with day-to-day conditions in foreign lands and who better to do just that than our own star-spangled sentinel of liberty, Captain America.

Captain America: The First Avenger preview art by Michael Avon Oeming & Nick Filardi

Marvel’s long partnership with Exchange began with the first comic released on April 2005, NEW AVENGERS, which featured the New Avengers and Fantastic Four. Since then, other characters that have shown up throughout the years include Thor, Ghost Rider, The Silver Surfer, the X-Men, The Hulk, the Young Avengers, the Agents of Atlas, Nick Fury, Ares, She-Hulk, and Deadpool. This first Captain America theatrical tie in-story saw publication in Exchange #11. Due to its popularity, fans demanded his solo return.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, the twelfth installment of the free Exchange comic book was written by William Harms, drawn by Michael Avon Oeming and colored by Nick Filardi for release to CONUS Exchange stores in early December 2011 and OCONUS locations later that month.

Editor Bill Rosemann led the charge in putting together the creative team tasked to make this issue come alive; the credentials of his recruits illustrate why they succeeded in that task. Harms has a number of Captain America stories under his belt and serves as the writer of InFamous; Oeming, best known for his work on POWERS and Mice Templar, has a frequent collaborator in the form of Filardi.

The story, set in World War II, focuses on a 1943 Army recruit who finds a Captain America comic and his challenging adventure therein. We meet our protagonist during the rigors of boot camp since many view it as one of the most challenging periods in any soldier’s life, away from home for the first time and constantly being pushed mentally and physically. The creators found it a great way to show the before and after for the soldier who finds the comic and how it directly impacts him, providing the young private with the mental and emotional strength to persevere.

The story within the story focuses on Captain America's mission into the Allied campaigns waged in northern Africa.

"We wanted to set the story in Egypt, so I had to delve into the timeframe and the events the Allies participated in and their mission there,” explains Harms, a known history buff. “I love research, [it’s] a lot of fun. And since our audiences comprise members of the military and their families, it’s really important for that part of the story to be accurate because they really know their history.

Captain America: The First Avenger preview art by Michael Avon Oeming & Nick Filardi

"I thought about the Egyptians who are caught up in the fighting between the Allies and the Axis, and how they’d respond to that. Since Egyptians don’t have tanks or planes, they reach back into their history and summon a creature to keeps its people safe. And that’s something that Cap understands. It also helps give the story a 'golden age' pulpy feel which I’m a big fan of. And seeing Mike rock the creature on the art-front—a real treat."

Deciding on a big brush style to create a lot of texture and motion, Oeming took his cue from Harms' writing and went to town:

"William had it in the script; all I had to do once I dug up some reference: make it feel real!"

Harms builds on the important theme set by the framing sequence for an original story built from the ground up.

"Cap faces [an] extremely powerful foe, one that wouldn’t go down with a massive fight,” he says. “By seeing Cap struggle and then persevere, the young Marine realizes that everyone has struggles in life, even someone like Cap. But he also sees that if you want to succeed, you need determination and the willingness to push yourself."

“Man, nothing beats drawing Captain America,” Oeming exclaims. “You know, some characters are just cool. Some have a look. Some are written so well they feel real. A few, like Cap has all of those things and a rich history. Jack Kirby [a WWII vet himself] co-created and defined a character that has been a staple of comics and a visual icon for America. I consider it an honor to get to be a small piece of that."

And every great story needs a great cover. When looking for an artist to illustrate such a piece, Rosemann turned to industry vet Butch Guice.

"When we approach each issue for the Exchange, our goal [is] to create the finest Marvel comic possible and who better to kick off the show than the legendary Butch Guice,” the editor notes. “That camera angle! The character pose! The detailing! So good! And, wow, aren’t Bettie Breitweiser’s colors awesomely atmospheric? You can practically pick the flying sand out of your teeth!"

Captain America: The First Avenger cover by Butch Guice & Bettie Breitweiser

During the project, the creative team became acutely aware that the comic means to inspire real life soldiers, not just the one in the story.

“Captain America is great for this type of tale because he’s someone who persevered through a lot to get where he is, an angle requested by the U.S. military," says Harms. "It’s not the Super-Soldier Serum that makes him Captain America; it’s what’s in his heart. And that’s what helps him succeed: his never-say-die attitude. I think that directly correlates to physical fitness, especially pushing yourself past what you think are your limits."

"William writes great ‘tough guy with a conscious’ action stories, perfect for Cap, who inspires this soldier to look within, dig deep and push onwards, just as he’s inspired so many readers through the decades,” elaborates Rosemann. “Meanwhile, Michael and Nick are an unbeatable visual tag team. Mike’s a master at storytelling, dramatic staging and fluid action—he draws the Cap cartoon I’d love to watch! Add them all up and you have a creative team that the soldiers of the U.S. Military deserve!"

Oeming also did not treat this as just another assignment.

"My family has a history of serving [in the military],” he says. “My half-sister, Nina, my Uncle Jim and my father all served. So I kept in mind two things: How would a soldier feel reading this, and how does it reflect on the origins of Captain America? In a way, there’s a Cap in every soldier, so [it was] very important to me to make this story connect to both soldier and character. I hope we’re able to do a bit of that by showing how hard training could be and how a soldier has to reach down deep inside to have not just the physical strength, but the willpower to get through it."

The free comic is available now at all Exchange outlets.

About AAFES: The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is a joint command and is directed by a Board of Directors which is responsible to the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force through the Service Chiefs of Staff. The Exchange has the dual mission of providing authorized patrons with articles of merchandise and services and generating non-appropriated fund earnings as a supplemental source of funding for military morale, welfare and recreation programs. To find out more about the Exchange history and mission or to view recent press releases please visit our web site at http://www.shopmyexchange.com.

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