Last week, Ed Brubaker began telling a story he started three years ago.
Okay, that’s a rather dramatic way to say that Captain America: Reborn #1
by Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice hit comic shops, and promises,
by virtue of its title, to bring Steve Rogers, the original Captain
America back into the land of the living.
It’s rare in comics today that a writer gets to tell a long-term story
that spans years of both real and “comic book” time, and Brubaker has
spent his years on Captain America layering a complex story that centered on the death of Captain America.
We spoke with Brubaker to talk more about Reborn, it’s lengthy gestation, its nod to Vonnegut and more.
Newsarama: Ed, you've said that you had this story planned all
along, since before issue #25, since back to when you began on the
series. Really? So your original pitch went along the lines of, "And
then, we 'kill' him, and let Bucky come in..." ?
Ed Brubaker: Well, this part of the story has been planned since
I was working on issue #16 or so. The original pitch didn't go that
far, just to the end of the big Winter Soldier storyline, and then had
a bit of the Red Skull's Revenge plot, which is what we're still
playing out, strangely enough.
As I've said in a few interviews already, when I heard about Civil War
and went to my first Marvel summit and heard Millar's storyline and his
ending beats, then I decided to tweak my Red Skull revenge storyline so
it began with the Death of Cap. I can't claim for certain that killing
Cap was my idea. I think it was, but there were a lot of people and
ideas bouncing around in that room, and I do remember it being
suggested that he get killed in Civil War #7, at one point.
But my original plan was to only have him be dead for six issues. It
wasn't until after the story started being written that it just kept
opening up and I kept seeing new possibilities. It wasn't originally my
plan to have Bucky pick up the shield, but eventually it just felt like
the next step in his path to redemption. Plus, Jeph Loeb kept saying
"shouldn't somebody wear a Cap costume in Cap's book?"
NRAMA: Given that you've been writing for literally years now,
and looking back, were there clues that you put in that you expected
more people to pick up on? I remember back in one of our chats, I think
it was mentioned that Doom's contraption looked a lot like a time
platform, even though it wasn’t explicitly named...
EB: Yeah, everything I'm doing in Reborn is laid out here
and there in the issues, from about issue #23 onward, actually. Even
the WW2 annual I did with Javier and Marcos has a few crumbs in it at
the end. The Doom/Skull pact, the device they're using in issue #42.
Even calling Sharon "the constant" was way back then, in issues #41 and
NRAMA: As we spoke about years back, Bucky's return happened
around the same time as Jason Todd's return to Batman's world, and now,
Cap's return seems to echo Batman's "death" and apparently his current
predicament. Er...funny old world, ennit?
EB: Well, with the Judd thing, we spoke right when we each got
those gigs, at Wonder Con that year, and both of us were like "I'm
bringing back Jason Todd" "I'm bringing back Bucky!" at the same time,
and then we laughed about it. We're old friends, so I was prepared for
that. With the Batman thing, I honestly haven't read Final Crisis
yet so I didn't know about it until Fraction told me the Batman thing
at Heroes Con a few weeks ago (I'm a fan of Morrison's work, I just
didn't get to that one yet, but I dig All Star Superman and his new Batman and Robin book).
But I wrote the Death of Cap almost three years ago, though, so I
wasn't really worried since Batman's death was just a few months back.
NRAMA: Speaking of the Batman comparison, there are those who are saying that you're just ripping off Morrison's Final Crisis
ideas for Batman, (even though we haven't seen Batman hopping through
time, just living in a cave with another man - not that we're judging).
But honestly, Cap's jumping had a more Vonnegut feel to me, as if Steve
Rogers was Billy Pilgrim...given the war connections, we're you aiming
towards a Slaughterhouse Five feel?
EB: Yeah, just like in last season's LOST, it's a nod or an homage to Vonnegut's time-slipping ideas in Slaughterhouse.
The idea that time can be perceived differently, in a non-linear
fashion, and your consciousness could slip around in your body
throughout your life. I've been obsessed with that idea ever since I
read that book as a kid. And it's something that seemed to fit
perfectly with Steve Rogers being the whole "man out of time" of the
Marvel Universe. It's an idea I've always wanted to do a riff on, and
it gives me a way to bring him back while showing important and pivotal
events from his life from a different perspective.
NRAMA: The "unstuck in time" or "slipping in time" idea has
become a bit of a classic sci-fi idea, really, that a lot of people
EB: And I doubt it was originated by Vonnegut, even. I know Dick did it in Martian Time-Slip
which was earlier, and I think Sturgeon did a story with someone
skipping in time in their own body, too, but I can't remember it off
the top of my head. And of course, most famously, it was riffed on in Watchmen with Doctor Manhattan. It's probably down to Einstein somehow.
And, not to get defensive here, but I would take issue with the use of
the phrase "ripping off" though, because that's not how I think as a
writer. I'm no more "ripping off" Final Crisis
than they were "ripping off" Captain America when they killed Batman
and made Robin the new Batman. It's just that both Morrison and I are
doing big stories with big villains created by Jack Kirby in the ‘40s,
‘60s and ‘70s - Red Skull, Dr. Doom, Darkseid, Arnim Zola. These are
all crazy science fiction characters created by a guy who practically
invented what we all do. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise if
we end up doing a few stories that are at least on the surface, a bit
similar. I don't think they'll ultimately be that similar, actually,
since Batman is apparently in prehistoric times, while Cap is
time-slipping through his own life.
But really, it's a bit insulting that anyone thinks me or Morrison or
any other writer is looking at current comics or TV shows or movies
that just came out and going "oh, I'm going to take that idea and do
it!" If you're a professional writer, the ideas and stories that have
influenced you are in your subconscious, or they're things you
encountered in your formative years, which for me are long past.
NRAMA: Fair enough. We've talked many times about how you worked
to keep your Cap run somewhat insulated from the rest of the Marvel
Universe's twists and turns, but here, with perhaps the most important
storyline since his death, the story is firmly ensconced in the
present-day "Dark Reign" Marvel Universe. Was that your choice, or was
it just deemed that it was time for Cap to interact a bit more with the
EB: Actually, I've always dealt with the status quo of the rest
of the Marvel U even when doing my own thing in the book. If Cap is in
Avengers, I reference it. If Nick Fury is running SHIELD, he's in Cap.
If Tony Stark or Maria Hill is running SHIELD, they're in Cap... so
now, with Norman running the show, he of course has to appear in Cap.
And I've got the entire Avengers living in Bucky's basement, so I have
to use them, you know? And why would I not want to? How cool is it that
the Avengers are living in Bucky's freaking basement?
NRAMA: True. Before we go on, let’s nail down some of the little
details. You play Zola, I'll play Osborn. The gun Sharon wielded
"froze" Steve in time and space...where?
EB: In his own body. He was killed, but frozen right there at that moment.
NRAMA: And Sharon's smashy-smashy with the machine is was cut him free, and no one (save us readers) know where he is?
NRAMA: But we saw a body! And Thor saw his spirit! What th-?
EB: See the first answer. The Thor thing, you never know what a
god can do when talking to the dead, right? I just asked JMS to make
sure he didn't say where or when Cap was, or something like that. I
can't remember that much about it. I just gave that note and he did his
own thing. I didn't realize he was having it be the one year
anniversary until too late, or I'd have said something, because I knew
I was using that in Cap #600.
NRAMA: Sharon's the "constant" so she's Steve's anchor? He'll
come to her if she's out there like bait, in line with what Skull was
doing with her and the platform?
EB: On this one, you'll have to wait and see - it's not the constant the way it is in LOST,
though. I honestly forgot they used that word in that episode when I
wrote issue #41 or #42 when I first called her that, and no one said
anything at the time. But if anything, this story proves that when I
make a plan, I stick to it, right?
NRAMA: (laughs) True, true. So what was Skull trying to do? He's
tried it before, but seriously, if this was another of his "I'll put my
mind inside his body" things, that's just getting a little creepy along
the lines of "I want to be him" homoeroticism...
EB: It's all on the page in issue #42, man.
NRAMA: Meanwhile - how far and wide is Steve going ? Will he be going to his Tralfamadore? The year 1602?
EB: Maybe. I cannot tell you or it would spoil the story.
NRAMA: Why can't Skull just kill Cap? If this is all part of his
plan, this is approaching Rube Goldberg levels of complexity, and I
have this feeling that somewhere, in an AIM headquarters, there's a
rocking chair and a cat is sleeping near it with its tail under the
rocker that’s labeled “Plan B.”
EB: Yeah, he's definitely got issues with the guy. Still, he
doesn't have a real body right now, so that's gotta affect your mental
NRAMA: What dog does Norman have in this race? Is he still smart
and with it enough to realize that his tenuous hold on power may not
survive Cap's return?
EB: Oh, he's got bigger plans than that here, as we'll learn in the next few issues.
NRAMA: And where are the Skull's people in all of this?
EB: You'll see in issue #2 of Reborn.
NRAMA: Finally, gut level, Ed, how does it feel to finally be getting this story out?
EB: It feels amazing, honestly. To finally be telling the story
I plotted out three years ago -- which is something I should try more
often. Ross Macdonald, who I consider one of my biggest influences,
said he liked to plot out a story and let it sit for as long as
possible until starting the manuscript, because the story keeps
rattling around in your mind, and he's right about that. And now to be
seeing the pages come in. Man...
Hitch inked by Guice is amazing. And one of Bryan's secret strengths is
that you write a scene for him and he just takes it and runs -- he
takes a small set and makes it a huge set. He takes a fight and adds
100 guys to it. He's a lunatic like that. You could almost just write -
page 5 - 15 - big fight, good guys lose (or win) and let him do the
entire thing, but that would be cheating.