Before Captain America: The First Avenger hits screens on July 22, fans can get a chance to learn the history of the movie's characters in Captain America: First Vengeance, a digital comics prequel that debuted online earlier this month on Super Bowl Sunday — the same day the first television commercial for the film aired.
Each 11-page issue — by writer Fred Van Lente and artists including Luke Ross, who illustrated the first issue — focuses on different characters from the film, costing 99 cents on Marvel's various digital platforms. One issue is out so far — which can be read for free online — and the series will be collected in print form as single issues starting in May.
Newsarama talked to Van Lente about the level of access he was granted to the film, writing for digital versus print, his especially notable Super Bowl Sunday, and answers the lingering question on whether or not the role of Nazis in World War II is downplayed in Captain America: The First Avenger.Newsarama: Fred, writing the official Captain America: The First Avenger prequel comic is certainly a pretty high-profile gig. How did it come about for you?
Fred Van Lente: I’m doing some stuff with Ron Lim for Disney Publishing’s Thor: The Official Movie Magazine. We did an original Thor MCU — Marvel Cinematic Universe — story a couple months ago. Me and the studio guys really hit it off, so I think that’s why they asked me to do this.
Nrama: In the process of writing this, what level of access were you granted with the movie? I assume you’ve read the script.
Van Lente: I read the script, I’ve seen four of five hundred super-top-secret stills, including the various actors in their costumes, all with the words “Fred Van Lente” stamped over them with enormous letters, so if I leak them to Ain’t It Cool News they know who to send the gendarmes after.
It’s very exciting. I don’t think the movie’s fully cut yet; it’s still a good five months away. But what I’ve seen so far is absolutely incredible; the script is wonderful. I think this is definitely going to be one of the classic superhero movies.
Nrama: You haven’t really written much Captain America before, correct?
Van Lente: I haven’t. I think I wrote him for the first time in Taskmaster, and he was the Super-Soldier then, not Captain America.
Nrama: Obviously the movie depicts a much younger Steve Rogers, but personality-wise, do you see the movie Cap and the comic book Cap as pretty much one and the same?
Van Lente: Yeah, pretty much. The basics of that origin story that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon did in 1941, eight pages or however long it was, that’s still all there. Steve is a guy who desperately wants to serve his country and is rejected for service, but that doesn’t really dissuade him until he finally stumbles upon Project Rebirth, which gives him that opportunity he’s been looking for.
Nrama: There is the notion out there among fans that the role of Nazis might be downplayed in the movie. Van Lente: It isn’t. Captain America: First Vengeance is chockfull of Nazis, particularly once we start getting into Johann Schmidt’s origin in chapters 3 and 4. They’re not downplayed. Schmidt runs an organization called Hydra, which starts as a part of the Third Reich power structure, and so therefore they are Nazis.
I can sort of see why people are like, they’re not seeing a bunch of guys in SS uniforms or Gestapo uniforms running around in the Super Bowl trailer— that’s because many of the Nazis in First Avenger wear Hydra uniforms.
It is not some kind of rewriting of world history. There are Nazis in the movie, I’ve read the script. It is not trying to pretend that the Nazis didn’t exist, or that World War II didn’t happen the way we all know it from history.
Nrama: Well, obviously it happens a little differently in the movie given that Captain America and the Red Skull weren’t actually around during World War II.Van Lente: With that one teeny-tiny exception, yeah. [Laughs.] Captain America: The First Avenger is not a documentary.
Nrama: The setting of the comic and the movie is World War II. Is that fun territory for you to explore? Are you a history buff?Van Lente: Yeah, I am. Really my first love in fiction is historical fiction; what’s been really exciting about First Vengeance is that I’m able to do a historical fiction story that’s also a superhero story. We’re working in a lot of real-life events, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, The Night of the Long Knives, the passing of the Nuremberg laws in Germany in the mid-‘30s. Various real-life historical persons appear as characters in First Vengeance. So that’s really been very exciting for me.
Nrama: The format is focusing on different characters and showing how they’ve got to the point they’re at where the movie begins — obviously we see Captain America, and it looks like Bucky and the Red Skull. Who else plays a part in the series?Van Lente: There are a lot of characters in the movie that you’d expect to see, for example the Howling Commandos. Peggy Carter will be a focus.
This film interconnects the entire Marvel movie franchise in a way that we haven’t really seen before, and I also speak as someone who has read the Thor screenplay. So there are elements of Iron Man in there, there are elements of Thor in there — and I probably shouldn’t say anymore. And you’ll see that for the first time in this comic.
Nrama: Since First Vengeance is coming out initially as a digital comic, does that affect your approach in writing the series at all?Van Lente: A lot of people, Scott McCloud being the most prominent, have definitely argued that you should write to fit the device. As you know, in one of my other lives, I’m also a publisher of a comic called Action Philosophers and also Comic Book Comics. We were on ComiXology, we were on the iPad a long time ago. And so, seeing my stuff adapted to the various devices, in my humble opinion, I don’t think that’s entirely correct. I think you can do whatever you need to do in a regular print comic, particularly with the iPad.
That said, there are some things I’ve been avoiding, for example, I think the more we go into digital, the double-page spread will be a thing of the past. What that invariably ends up doing is the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to: it actually shrinks the image on the screen, whether it’s a tablet or a smartphone. I think in that sense, McCloud is correct. Beyond that, however, most people I know that look at these things on phones go panel-to-panel. If you’ve got that effect going on, then I don’t think you need to particularly worry about changing what you’re doing to accommodate the device because it simulates the way people read on the printed page anyway. For me, the iPad almost perfectly replicates the experience of reading a paper comic. I read First Avenger chapter one both on my computer and I downloaded it onto my iPad, and I think those transitions work really well, and I think Luke’s artwork is so clean, and the colors are so amazing, I just think it translates really well.
The other thing you have to keep in mind is that this will be coming out in print in the summer, so I kind of had to serve two masters there.
Nrama: So what was your experience of watching the Super Bowl like this year, with you being at least somewhat involved in two big commercials — Captain America: The First Avenger and Cowboys and Aliens, which is based on a comic you co-wrote?
Van Lente: It’s pretty awesome. Once the Jets were eliminated, I couldn’t care less who won. But I stayed there just long enough to see those two commercials, and I thought the Cowboys and Aliens spot was terrific. When I saw them going through the canyon, I was like, “that was in my comic!”