By Kiel Phegley
While fans may not always see the twists, turns and tragedies coming, Ed Brubaker always has a plan.
From this week's CAPTAIN AMERICA #39's expansion on the mystery of the Cap of the 1950s to the surprise heists and holdups featured in his creator-owned CRIMINAL and from the courtroom capers of DAREDEVIL to the giant-sized adventures of UNCANNY X-MEN, Brubaker has proven a master of laying the seeds for unexpected shockers in all of his Marvel output.
Today, the writer lays out the upcoming turns in all of his books including what led him to hold the crazy Captain America in reserve, why his latest crime thriller will be different than any he's ever written and how his upcoming X-Men arc will make everything old new again.
Marvel.com: Last month we had the reveal that the Captain America we were seeing on ice was in fact the crazy 1950s Cap revived and not Steve Rogers. A lot of fans haven't read this character's past appearances. When did you first encounter the character, and when did you start planning on making him a part of your broader Cap story?
He's always been part of my plan. [Laughs
] He's in my original pitch. The first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA that I ever read I bought when I was about five years old and living on a military base in Gitmo. When I got my first allowance—like the first week I was ever given allowance—it was 50 cents. I remember going down and buying two comic books and a candy bar. I bought CAPTAIN AMERICA v1 #156 [the final showdown between Rogers and the returned '50s Cap] and MARVEL PREMIERE #15 which is the second appearance of Iron Fist. I still have the [CAPTAIN AMERICA] issue. I've bought this issue like five times, and I've never paid more than cover price for it, which is 20 cents.
So he was always a character that I thought was this really cool, twisted character. And I really hated the way that they killed him off. They killed him off in the same story arc that they killed Sharon Carter in, and Mark Waid [later] brought Sharon Carter back, and I read the series where he died a couple of times and I thought, "You know,
you never actually see him die. He just lights himself on fire and screams, and then you never see him again. In comics, that could mean severe burns." [Laughs
] And if you've got the super soldier serum—and it's the messed up version that he got that makes him stronger and crazy—then I could see Doctor Faustus having saved the body somehow and storing it away in stasis so he could heal.
So it was always part of my plan. And [Executive Editor Tom] Brevoort and I have talked about this. He's the "what could have been" version [of Captain America]. The worst case scenario version.
Marvel.com: And you've been building towards this take specifically since back in CAPTAIN AMERICA #7 where this Cap's Bucky, Jack Monroe, was killed by the Winter Soldier. Did you initially plan to have the '50s Cap pop up closer to that story?
Well, I didn't have a specific issue number planned, but I was always going to have him come back after the Jack Monroe stuff when the big Red Skull plot was happening. It was always going to be a part of that because Faustus was going to be a part of the Red Skull thing. I don't think the timing of it shifted
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at all outside of the timing of everything shifting after issue #25 was such a big hit and I was told to take as long as I needed to tell this story, which is great because the more it came together, there was a lot of improvisation on my part. I knew where I was headed, but it was going to take me a lot longer to get there and that there were a lot of really important beats to hit in the five issues after #25, all the character work. The initial idea was to get through that quicker, and people complained that we took too long getting to the point, but at the same time, I feel like that's not why I read stuff. It's not about just getting plot out quickly. The characters are more important than the plot.
Marvel.com: One of the running threads in the book is the heroes being taken over by the villains in one way or another. With the '50s Cap, it seems like we finally have a guy who won't be able to break out of that system of control and fight for himself…
That seems to be the theme of the entire run I've done without even thinking about it. I don't know if that means anything, but we've had the Winter
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Soldier, and Sharon kills someone while under the mind control of someone else, and now we have the Captain America from the '50s mind controlled by Doctor Faustus and the Red Skull. It's like, "Wow! That's a lot of characters!" [Laughs
] When Doctor Faustus is in the book, you get a lot of that stuff, but with the Winter Soldier it was more that he wasn't present in his own mind.
But that does seem to be a theme of the book, that people are being used. And you know, that kind of fits in a way because Captain America is a super soldier and soldiers get used whether they want to admit it or not. Everyone who signs up to be in the military, all it takes is one superior officer or general or president who has a different agenda you don't agree with to order you to do something. It's not like you can say, "No."
Marvel.com: For the '50s Cap, are we going to be seeing him step out with any of his own goals and ideas or will revenge against Bucky be driving him through the rest of this arc?
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Well, initially he's working for Faustus and the Red Skull and doing what they want to do, but he's only doing that to get revenge on the new Captain America who killed his Bucky. But it goes in different directions than people think it's going to go. This isn't a character I conceive of dying by the end of the arc. No more Captain Americas who look like Steve Rogers getting killed in the book. [Laughs
] I'm looking at pages right now for the issue after the next where there's an awesome Cap on Cap fight.
I don't want to give away too much, but basically…he's crazy. [Laughs
] This guy's clinically nuts, but at the same time he's been through a lot of different treatments. Jack Monroe went through it too and was just as crazy but was cured. So there is a cure out there. But how well does the cure work? The cure killed Jack Monroe to a certain degree. He was dying before he went crazy again. But I like the idea of a slightly crazy Captain America running around out there. We'll see where he ends up at the end of this arc. He's a good character and somebody who really hasn't been used that much.
Marvel.com: Your creator-owned book, CRIMINAL, has a new trade coming soon from Icon, and you got film director John Singleton to do the introduction. How did that come about?
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I was down on the Fox lot to talk to [comics creator and Fox executive Jeff Katz] about movie stuff, and he mentioned he was working with Singleton on the A-Team movie, and I was like, "Who's writing that?" [Laughs
] And they already have somebody huge for it, but Jeff was like, "Singleton would freak out if he knew you were here right now." And I was like, "What?!?" And he says, "He's a huge comics fan." So he hooked us up through e-mail, and we e-mailed back and forth a few times until I said, "You want to do the intro for my book?" And he was totally happy to do it. He was really enthusiastic about it, and I was kind of shocked.
You always want to get somebody famous for your book to a certain degree. And it was really important for me to get someone with that "Blacksploitation" cred—the guy who did the remake of "Shaft" seemed like the perfect guy for that because this
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volume of CRIMINAL is the "Blacksploitation" era seen through a more noir lens. It takes place from the late '60s to the early '70s, and two of the three main characters were black. So I really wanted John Singleton. He was the only guy on my list.
Marvel.com: How has the expanded magazine format for the book gone over with fans? Have they been as pumped about the articles and additional back matter as you are?
Oh yeah! It's kind of crazy how much people are pumped about the back matter. Most letters we get have like one line about "great issue of CRIMINAL" and then they go on and on about the [articles]. It gives me hope in a way because we have between 18,000 and 20,000 readers every month, and so many of them are writing me and telling me that whatever movie we wrote about is going on their Netflix cue that month. It makes me feel like I'm reaching the right people. They're not here because I write CAPTAIN AMERICA or the X-Men. Maybe they were originally, but now they're getting obsessed with the noir genre.
Marvel.com: What can you tell us about the next CRIMINAL arc, "Bad Night," which launches in issue #4?
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It stars Jacob, who was a minor character in the "Lawless" arc. He was the guy that drove Tracey Lawless around and pointed out to him the city and Rickey's old crew. But he's also, as people who read closely realized, Jacob K., who writes and draws the "Frank Kafka, Private Eye" strip. This is one of my favorite things I've done. It feels totally different than all the other CRIMINAL stuff so far. There are a couple of different noir tropes that we've gotten into so far. "Coward" and "Lawless" approached the same genre in different ways. They're both revenge stories but through different angles, but they're both about guys who are professional criminals. This isn't really about that. This is a fairly normal person who gets sucked into something because of one bad night. He's got this history where he used to be a forger and counterfeiter for a living, but for years now he's been a loner staying home and doing his comic strip. He's a real careful person because as we learn in the first issue all of this bad stuff that happened to him years earlier.
Marvel.com: You're also in the midst of a new arc on DAREDEVIL with your old co-writing buddy Greg Rucka. What's it been like getting back with him on a project, and do you think that you'll continue doing more short self-contained arcs on the book after a year of Mr. Fear mega story?
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The arc with me and Greg was a lot of fun. I really needed that, I think, to get myself out of whatever groove I'd fallen into. I wanted to start looking at things from a different perspective.
But after that we've got a one-issue story that introduces the Lady Bullseye character, and then we're doing shorter arcs that all build on each other. So you'll have a five-issue story where its ending leads into the next story. People really responded to the first arc where Matt was in prison because you'd never seen that before. So me and [editor] Warren [Simons] and [Editor-In-Chief] Joe Quesada sat down and hashed a bunch of stuff out when I was in New York last time, and we figured out how to take the storyline I was already working on and amp it up with different directions that you'd never seen in DAREDEVIL before that
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will really freak people out in the same way the prison arc did. What starts as a seemingly traditional DAREDEVIL story will twist in a lot of different directions.
Plus, we'll see what's up with the Kingpin in the next year. It won't be what people expect I think.
Marvel.com: Finally, you have issue #500 of UNCANNY X-MEN coming next month, and you're joined by your IMMORTAL IRON FIST co-writer Matt Fraction. Have you guys been breaking the book up into different stories for each of you to work on?
Not really. For #500 we co-plotted it and broke it down into scenes, and it ended up that I ended up writing most of the Terry Dodson pages based just on when we decided who would draw what scenes, but it is in separate chapters. We wanted to do it like GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 where each chapter had its own title. The whole point of what we're trying to do right now was recapture the X-Men nostalgia that
the readers have—tapping into that nostalgia but doing different things that you haven't seen in the book.
My main thing that I've always maintained about the old X-Men comics is that you can't remember the plots; you just remember what the characters did. You remember after Jean died how Wolverine thought he was in love with Storm or something like that. X-Men is basically a romance comic. It's a super hero soap opera romance with action thrown in. More than anything, you remember the love stories or character drama way more than the exact particulars of why they were in a fight with so and so.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #39, DAREDEVIL #108 and UNCANNY X-MEN #499 hit stands this week, but for more on when Ed Brubaker's upcoming books will ship, check out the Marvel Catalog. And to read Ed's past work, head over to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.