In August, legendary writer Roger Stern takes the current Captain America in a race across the world that ties into a mystery from World War II in Captain America: Forever Allies.
The four-issue miniseries, which features art by Nick Dragotta and Marco Santucci, reminds readers that Cap was once a sidekick named "Bucky" who was not only part of the Invaders, but also founded the original Young Allies.
The Young Allies have been getting a lot of attention since Stern revived them last year in a Young Allies Special during the Marvel Anniversary celebration. Not only will they star in the flashbacks in Stern's mini, but the name is being used by a new team of heroes in Young Allies, a series by Sean McKeever that begins in June.
Stern, who first started writing for Marvel Comics in 1975, has had a career that put him in charge of a variety of heroes, from Iron Man to Superman to Spider-Man. Recently, Stern returned to Amazing Spider-Man, writing the recent Juggernaut storyline in the thrice-monthly series as part of "The Gauntlet."
Now he turns his attention to Captain America, telling a modern story that has ties to the hero's past. Newsarama talked with Stern to find out more.
Newsarama: Roger, you first wrote about the Young Allies in last year's 70th Anniversary Special, and now you're revisiting the characters in this summer's Captain America: Forever Allies mini-series. Why all the interest in the team?
Roger Stern: I'd had an interest in the Young Allies ever since I first read about them in Jim Steranko's wonderful History of Comics. After all, the Allies were Joe Simon's and Jack Kirby's first "kid gang" in comics — predating their Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos series.
So, when my editor Tom Brennan asked me to write last year's special, as part of Marvel's 70th Anniversary Project, I was immediately interested. But I also knew that there was no way I could write a story in the style of the old Golden Age comics.
If you've ever seen any of those 1940s YA stories, well … it's clear that the idea was stronger than the execution. I'm not sure how much Simon and Kirby had to do with the book, aside from coming up with the premise and drawing the cover and splash pages of Young Allies #1; they left Timely after that first issue. In the early years of the series, everyone in the book was such a caricature. You had the smart kid, the fat kid, the street kid, and the black kid. And as was unfortunately the case in those days, the black kid was depicted in the most outrageous, insulting manner. The character of "Whitewash Jones" made Stepin Fetchit look like Denzel Washington in comparison.
My solution was to take a page from Roy Thomas's old playbook. When Roy was writing the original Invaders series, he neatly established that while many of the events in the Golden Age comics had taken place, not all of them had occurred in exactly the way they were originally presented, and others were made up out of whole cloth. There had been one old Timely story, for example, that showed the Human Torch "falling" a distance that was about half the diameter of the solar system — and Captain America catching him! Even Marvel Comics science says you're wrong, if you think that's possible.
So, in the story I developed for the 70th Anniversary Special, I acknowledged the fact that Timely did publish those comics during the forties, but that they were a wildly distorted version of the Marvel Universe's reality. I was helped by the fact that the names of the Young Allies -- and the way they were spelled — weren't always consistent from issue to issue. So, I took advantage of that to establish the "real" names of the young men and did my best to turn them into interesting, engaging characters.
Nrama: Did the Young Allies Special set up the mini-series at all?
Stern: It did, in a way. The Special introduced the "real" Young Allies and established their connections to Jim Barnes and Tom Raymond — that's Bucky and Toro for the uninitiated. And since Jim had recently assumed the identity of Captain America, I had the new Cap finding out what had happened to his old friends in the intervening years.The new mini-series takes things the next step forward.
Nrama: How did this Cap mini-series come about for you? Was it something you pitched?
Stern: I didn't have to. Not long after the Young Allies Special went on sale, Tom Brennan asked me to start thinking about taking that next step with a mini-series.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the story in the Forever Allies mini-series?
Stern: While Jim Barnes is paying his last respects to an old friend, he gets a lead on an enemy of theirs. That sends Captain America on a journey to track down that enemy and solve the last outstanding case of the Young Allies. His mission takes him from Brooklyn to the Rocky Mountains to Hollywood, across the Pacific, and deep into the heart of the Andes. And while we follow Cap in his world-spanning pursuit, we also witness a parallel adventure of the Young Allies in the middle of wartime, with the six of them caught up in Fifth Column intrigue in Los Angeles, Zoot-suit riots, and aerial dogfights over Hollywood.
Nrama: Who is the antagonist in the mini-series?
Stern: I don't want to give away too much just yet. But I will tell you that the antagonist bedeviled Bucky and the Invaders in the past. This enemy has also battled some of the Avengers in recent years. And the threat is nothing less than world domination. Let's just say that there are a lot of Kirby concepts in the mix.
Nrama: Will we get to see you writing the Invaders and the Young Allies in this mini-series?
Stern: Well, you'll get to briefly see some of the Invaders in action — and the Kid Commandoes, too — but the wartime scenes focus mainly on the exploits of Bucky, Toro, and the rest of the Young Allies.
Anyone who wants to see me writing the Invaders, should look for the Invaders: Eve of Destruction trade paperback — also on sale in August — which reprints my stories from the late, lamented Marvel Universe series.
Nrama: What was it like to revisit those characters from the past in this mini-series?
Stern: Great fun. While I was writing last summer's Special, I gained a lot of affection for the Young Allies. And I always enjoy the challenge of recreating another era. America in the midst of the Second World War is a time and place that is endlessly fascinating. I don't think it's any coincidence that it was one of the more creative periods for American comic books.
Nrama: What other characters will show up in the story?
Stern: As the series progresses, you'll see a little of the Black Widow. And the Falcon just might turn up, too. And Texas Jack Muldoon, a supporting cast member from Jack Kirby's last run on Cap, plays an important role in the story.
Nrama: What do you think of Bucky serving as Captain America?Stern: You know, I had never cared that much for Bucky. I tended to agree with Stan Lee that kid sidekicks were a bad idea. But that was before Ed Brubaker showed us all how cool Bucky could be. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I really like Bucky now, and I believe that he could become Captain America. (Nice job, Ed!)
Nrama: As a writer, is it hard to reconcile the seemingly enthusiastic teen that "Bucky" once was with the hard-boiled hero he's become?
Stern: Actually, Bucky was pretty hardboiled in a lot of the Golden Age stories I've read. The "enthusiastic Teen" Bucky was really more of a character that we met in flashback, in stories published during the '60s when the old Comics Code was still pretty restrictive. The Bucky that Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins gave us in the Invaders was already a good deal tougher. And given all that he's endured over the years, his toughness makes a good deal of sense to me.
Mainly, I'm doing my best to follow Brubaker's lead and show Jim Barnes doing his best to live up to the legacy of Steve Rogers.
Nrama: The mini-series is being penciled by two artists, right?
Stern: Three artists, counting Lee Weeks on the covers. Nick Dragotta is drawing the scenes with Bucky and the Young Allies that take place during the War, and Marco Santucci is drawing the latter-day scenes with Jim Barnes as Captain America.
Nrama: Why the choice to have multiple artists?
Stern: That was another decision of Tom Brennan's. And I have to say, it's working out well. All three are monstrously talented artists. They have very different styles, but they all bring a lot of passion to their work and it shows. Marco's art is very illustrative, and it suits the modern-day scenes. Nick's art is like a wild, high-energy mash-up of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, and he's really capturing the wartime period. And Lee is producing covers that could be movie posters for a Forever Allies feature; when you see them, you'll know what I mean.
Nrama: Aside from last summer's Special, your most recent Cap work was in Captain America #600.
Stern: Yes, even though Cap appeared only in flashback. Tom Brevoort was nice enough to ask me to write a story about old friends of Steve Rogers, reminiscing about where they were on the day Captain Americas died. I was in the middle of writing a couple of other stories when Tom contacted me, but I made time for him.
I mean, it was CAPTAIN AMERICA #600! How could I say no to that?
Nrama: Are you aware of the new Young Allies mini-series that Sean McKeever is doing, and do any of these stories you're telling tie into that?
Stern: I learned about Sean's project after I had finished plotting out my stories. In fact, we probably would have called the mini-series Captain America and the Young Allies, but we changed the title to Captain America: Forever Allies to avoid confusion with Sean's series.The only real connection between his work and mine is the fact that both series deal with teen-aged heroes. And it's kind of nice that the Young Allies name is being passed on to another generation.
Nrama: What else are you working on that you'd like to tell your fans about?
Stern: I have another new Spider-Man story in the works; it's being drawn by Roberto De La Torre, in and around his work on Daredevil. And I've been asked to come up with more Spider-stories, so I'm looking forward to that.
And I'm writing introductions to the aforementioned Invaders: Eve of Destruction, and to the hardcover edition of Marvels: Eye of the Camera. I had collaborated with Kurt Busiek on the Eye of the Camera mini-series, co-writing issues three through six, but he thought that I should write the introduction myself.
It's funny, but just the other day, I realized that this is turning into my Summer of Reprints. Over the next four months, there Marvel is going to be publishing nine books that collect stories I've worked on -- some from last year, and some from over thirty years ago!
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Captain America: Forever Allies?Stern: Just that I'm having a blast working with Nick and Marco, and I hope that everyone enjoys reading the story as much as we've enjoyed working on it.
For completist fans of Roger's work, the following are the collections the writer was talking about when he called this his "Summer of Reprints": Avengers: West Coast Avengers Assembled Premiere Hardcover and the Iron Man/Captain America Trade Paperback -- on sale this week; Thor by Jurgens and Romita Jr., Volume 3 Trade Paperback -- reprinting the Eighth-Day storyline that Kurt Busiek and Stern devised -- coming out June 16th; Marvels: Eye of the Camera Premiere Hardcover -- June 23rd; Timely 70th Anniversary Collection Trade Paperback -- reprints the Young Allies Special along with ten other specials -- July 21st; Spider-Man Gauntlet Volume 4: Juggernaut Premiere Hardcover -- collects Stern's Spider-Man/Juggernaut stories from Amazing Spider-Man #627-629 and from Amazing Spider-Man #289-230 -- August 4th; Invaders: Eve of Destruction Trade Paperback -- reprints the complete run of Marvel Universe -- August 11th; Essential Hulk Volume 6 Trade Paperback -- begins collecting Stern's Incredible Hulk stories -- August 25th; and Avengers: Under Siege Premiere Hardcover -- reprinting Avengers #270-277 -- in September.