FACING FEAR: Fraction, Brubaker & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #3
FACING FEAR: Q&A ON FEAR ITSELF #3
***Read with caution! Major, major spoilers for this week’s Fear Itself #3 follows!***
***We’re not kidding. Last chance to turn around before maximum spoilage!***
It’s an extra-auspicious edition of our Facing Fear Q&A column this month, given the newsworthy developments of Fear Itself #3. Due to timing issues, answers to your Twitter questions will return in the next installment, but to make up for it, we’ve got a very special guest star: Captain America and Criminal: The Last of the Innocent writer Ed Brubaker, joining our regular panel of Fear Itself writer Matt Fraction and Marvel senior vice president of publishing Tom Brevoort.
That “especially newsworthy development” is (turn away now if you haven’t heeded earlier warnings!) the apparent death of James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes — Marvel’s current Captain America — at the hands of Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter and successor to that mantle. Several months back, Fraction warned us that by the end of Fear Itself, Sin will have “done things that her dad tried to do time and time again and failed,” and it looks like that promise has paid off — not that escaping certain death isn't kind of Bucky's thing at this point.
Now, that’s not the only big thing that happened in the issue — we also saw The Thing become the seventh and final member of The Serpent’s Worthy, gaining a hammer and Krang-esque (Dimension X, not Atlantis) shoulder appendages, then subsequently destroying his Yancy Street stomping grounds. Newsarama talked about all of that with Fraction, Brubaker and Brevoort, plus what this means for Brubaker’s upcoming new Captain America series, and what lessons can be learned from 20/20 and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
variant cover.Newsarama: So, yeah — slow news week, huh, guys?
Ed Brubaker: [Laughs.] Yeah, nothing happening in comics today. I understand you guys had some plan for Bucky that you wanted to talk to me about?
Tom Brevoort: This has got to be nothing to you, Ed. You and I lived through killing Steve.
Nrama: So should we assume, then, that Bucky is definitively dead? There's not a scene in Fear Itself #4 where he pops back to life?
Matt Fraction: Everybody knows in comics, Bucky stays dead. So yes, clearly.
Nrama: The idea of him coming back is absurd.
Fraction: We ran the preview at the end of the book with him on a slab for next month.
We were in the Fear Itself retreat where the big beats of each issue were being outlined for everybody. We were talking about wanting to see Captain America fighting a world war, and we knew that Ed was timing Steve back in the suit in July, and what the ending of "Gulag" was going to be, and so it all kind of synched up. Ed, you turned to me and said, "Is this where the Red Skull kills Bucky?" and I just wasn't giving you a chance to take it back. I was like, "Yes. Done." It was just such a gift. It was very thoughtful, and thank you.
Brubaker: I regretted it instantly. [Laughs.] Sometimes you know that there's a correct story beat.
Fraction: It's always like the metric we talk about. Supergirl dying in Crisis, Spider-Man unmasking — big things that happen to the characters in the event, that's what gives the event some degree of gravitas, that it's not just eight or 10 or 12 issues of fight scenes, or whatever. There are things that happen to the main characters that are important.
That was basically my recollection of things, we just kind of kept that pure. How is Steve going to react in Cap to this stuff?
Brubaker: I don't deal with it until after Fear Itself is all over completely, just because the first storyline in Cap, like your storyline in [The Mighty Thor] right now, is a real standalone.
There will be a specific issue that deals with this. Part of why I was OK with it happening this way really was because this kind of a moment — it's different the way Matt did it, of course, because it was part of this big Fear Itself event — it was something that I was actually building towards in Cap as this big, shocking thing that was going to happen at the end of "Gulag," and instead the end of "Gulag" really just leads right into Fear Itself. Somehow we didn't manage to get the end of "Gulag" out before Fear Itself #3. The last panel of it leads right into Fear Itself.
Fraction: Isn't it true that the last panel of "Gulag" is Bucky hopping into a cab, and saying "Washington D.C., step on it!"?
Brubaker: It is basically along those lines.
Fraction: "Nothing could possibly go wrong. Everything's coming up Bucky!"
#619 cover.Brubaker: I hope people still want to read the final chapter of "Gulag" now.
Fraction: "Haven't you heard, baby? Bucky never dies!"
Brubaker: This story beat is something that was sort of in the cards for a while, and really gets me to places I need to go with the Cap book that [Steve] McNiven and I are doing, and with future, secret projects that are coming up not too long down the road. There are seeds planted in the next issue of Captain America, the last issue before we go to [Captain America & Bucky], and this really helps get us to those bearing fruit. I hope that all of our fans who have been reading [Matt's] comics and my comics all these years have faith that we know a little bit of what the hell we're doing.
Fraction: And that we do in fact speak to each other. You're not going to have Tony Stark swallow a bullet out of revenge. "A-ha, I'll show you!"
Nrama: So Bucky essentially was marked for death for a while, even before the decision was made to have the actual moment in Fear Itself?
Brubaker: Basically, yeah. To a large degree, there's a path that he's been going on that was leading to this place.
Fraction: I remember the first time we talked, and you walked me through the "Oh, hey, I'm going to kill Steve Rogers" story. The very first time we talked about it, you were thinking maybe Steve would be gone six issues. Then the story grew and the story grew and the story grew. I remember very early on saying — and as the Winter Soldier became more and more and more popular, me saying this became more and more idiotic — "The Red Skull has to kill Bucky again. That's how you've got to end that story."
Brevoort: That's true, you have pitched that and thrown that out a couple of times at different retreats over the years. I remember you saying that a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. Just randomly. We weren't even talking about the characters — it just exploded out of your mouth at some point.
Fraction: It was always during the cosmic stuff. "You know what a great ending to Annihilation would be…"
I feel like there was this weird, self-fulfilling prophecy. Our purposes synched up. I got to have my cake, and you got to eat it, or something like that. [Laughs.] Everyone that needed to get served got served, kind of in the way it needed to happen. As close to writing with you again since the end of Iron Fist as we've come, I think.
Nrama: We were kind of referencing it a bit earlier, but obviously big deaths are a hallmark of these types of event stories. Do you think it's almost an essential part? I don't mean in a cynical, "we have to do this to get attention" way, but if you're going to depict this type of destruction and chaos and show lasting implications, it seems that somewhat of a body count is almost necessary.
Brevoort: I don't think it's an absolute checklist necessity. What is an absolute checklist necessity is change. A story like this has to leave the landscape in a somewhat different form, and different configuration, than when you went in. If it doesn't change things significantly enough, particularly to the audience, it really feels like a lot of empty hot air.
Any time we go into a big story like this, one of the questions we're constantly asking ourselves, is "OK, what's the get? What do we come out of the other side with? How are things changed? How are characters changed? How is the Marvel Universe landscape changed? How are the relationships changed?" Certainly characters dying is a fairly extreme example of change, and the flipside of that, characters being resurrected, it also a big sort of change. It's not an absolute necessity. You don't have to kill a character in one of these. You do have to affect and change the characters materially so that once you get to the end of the last page of the last issue, the readers, the publishing line, the creators, the world are in a different place than you were when you began, and if you're not doing that, than it doesn't really work as a massive story. It doesn't work as a small story, either, but particularly in something that takes up as many pages and as many comics as a story the size of Fear Itself. If you're not changing things, it's just an empty exercise.
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cover.Brubaker: Along with every character death, we always talk about how, "no death is permanent in comics," and blah blah blah. But when you get to the end of Seven Samurai, if all seven of those guys are walking away, that movie doesn't have nearly the power that it has. There's a power to sacrifice, especially in a world of heroes.
Fraction: I just watched Inglorious Basterds the other night, and was really struck by how ballsy it is to have such a remarkable actor like Michael Fassbender for two scenes. Part of that story is that they don't all come back. That sinking horror when you realize, "All of my favorites aren't coming back."
It gives it gravitas and weight and meaning, in a way that isn't just "seven indestructible dudes blowing up stuff for an hour." It makes it more than just an annual. It affects and moves things, and it changes stuff. It is narrative momentum, both within our story and then at large through the Marvel Universe. And right now there's no more important character than Steve Rogers, and what this does to him. It's going to be terrific to read.
Nrama: And as much as comic fans are seemingly jaded, with the attitude that these deaths are never permanent, it seems that a major death, such as this one, almost paradoxically is still one of the most effective ways of getting a genuine reaction from readers.
Brevorot: It's a testament, primarily, Ed, to the work that you've done. We've talked about this in the past, just without a dead body. This is a character for whom for years the prevailing wisdom among all readers is, "No, Bucky should never come back. It will not work. It takes more away than it adds. It's a reductive equation." In terms of building that character, and finding his story, and making him interesting, and the struggle Steve goes through — first learning of his existence, and then trying to bring his friend back from the brink — you took a character whose resurrection should not have worked, and made it work, and made that a character that people are really, legitimately invested in, to the point where we could make him Captain America for four of five years, and people were absolutely on board. I think that's a staggering win, and really the textbook case for how to do this, and how to have it go as perfectly as it possibly could.
Fraction: It is yet another chapter in a very long series of chapters, and the story isn't finished. Just as a fan of Ed's, I want to see what comes next.
America #1 cover.Brubaker: Almost seven years ago, I started writing my first issue of Cap. I remember [Brevoort] and I talking when like issue #6 was about to come out, and I was terrified. I was kind of like, "Oh my God, I think we're doing it right, but man, people are going to hate us." I always said that all the people who were like, "You can't do that!" were all the same people who were furious later when Bucky became Captain America, and they were like, "He's the Winter Soldier! He's a cool character! Why would you make him Captain America?" And now they're all the same people who were mad when we brought Steve back. We keep doing things that keep ticking these guys off, but hopefully we do it in such a way that makes them want to keep reading the book. Who would have thought five years ago that there would be Winter Soldier toys, or Bucky Cap toys? We never even referred to him as "Cap" in the comics. I always referred to him as "Bucky Cap," just to make sure everybody drew him in the right costume.
Fraction: It was tricky with #1 and #2, because basically the entirety of our pre-launch marketing was in giving away almost as much of issue #1 and #2 as possible. This is the first, genuine surprise that didn't get out beforehand. It wasn't leaked. We were able to pull this off.
I love, too, how — short of actually doing the old Grant Morrison gag of "Which one of these characters will die?" with an arrow pointing at Bucky — with the covers and everything else, short of coming out and saying this happens, it was all there.
Nrama: One of the variant covers was the image of him being attacked.
Fraction: It's nice to be beyond the marketing material now, to be beyond the launch hype, and really into the meat of the story. I think part of the reason it works, I hope, is because it happens here and not in the pages of Cap.
Brubaker: I think it helps us both in a way. It gives me a moment to end my story in a way that sort of leads into this, and then I get to deal with the aftermath right away, while you get to do the big, giant superhero insane war, and have moments that actually mean something to fans of all these books.
One of the things I was really happy about with you tackling this in Fear Itself was that, arguably, there were fans who were not happy that the last time Bucky got to wear the costume he basically got beat up by Baron Zemo and then put on trial. He didn't really go out with a bang. He went from a trial in America, to letting the Statue of Liberty almost get blown up, to a Russian prison.
variant cover.Fraction: When it was on the National Mall, and we wrote "the Capitol Dome gets blown up," and Stuart drew the hell out of it, and the Washington Monument topples in the issue — it's weird to write that. It's one thing to think it, it's another thing to see it on the page, drawn.
To have Bucky fall there, after the Statue of Liberty stuff — what I wanted to do was take the "Bucky" prefix off of "Bucky Cap." “You were Captain America. You got to carry on this mantle. You weren't "Bucky Cap," you weren't "Winter Soldier Cap," you were Cap. The end. “
It meant a lot to me. You defied so many expectations with your work. It was a pleasure to be a little part of that story.
Nrama: To back up a little bit to the point about how this wasn't spoiled before the issue was out, I think there was definitely a sense among fans that something major involving Bucky might happen in the issue, but there was also enough contradictory information out there — reverse psychology, almost — that I myself was successfully convinced that there was no way Bucky was going to die in the issue, until I woke up this morning and was like, "Oh, wait." I don't know if that reaction was intentional on your end, with some amount of trying to manipulate the public response, but I would say if so, mission accomplished.
Brevoort: It's a little luck and it's a little skill. We're pretty good at this kind of thing, but it's always surprising to see how people react to stuff. The readers always come back with comments that you just did not expect, or did not see coming. They're informed by them — their lives, their outlook — and it completely will blindside you.
That having been said, we have a lot of experience in doing with this sort of thing. It is only the second Captain America that Ed and I have been involved in killing. We have more experience at this than anybody.
Brubaker: Tom, weren't you an intern at Marvel when Mark Gruenwald killed Captain America?
Brevoort: I wasn't an intern, I was a full-on editor at that point. That wasn't that long ago.
Nrama: "Fighting Chance."
Fraction: He had the football armor.
Brevoort: Tony built him the big life-support armor.
Brubaker: We're bringing it back! [Laughs.] Zombie Bucky! Kids love zombies!
Nrama: In terms of a multi-faceted misdirection, I'm not sure if this was even intentional, but the fact that the initial unlettered preview pages of Captain America #1 showed a funeral, with no Bucky in sight, prompted a lot of people to assume, "Oh, it's Bucky's funeral!" But then we found out last week that it was actually Peggy Carter's funeral, it was like, "Oh hey, maybe not." Then today it changed again to, "Wait, Bucky really is dying."
Fraction: That was just happy synchronicity. You realize, if you keep your mouth shut, people will drive themselves a little crazier about it.
We're doing our jobs if you want to know what comes next. That's the question we want people to ask, but we hate answering. Ed, I think it's something I heard you say for the first time, "Our job is not to give the readers what they want but what they don't know they want."
Brevoort: That's an old Marvel saying. That goes back to when I was an intern, and what they would teach in our old assistant editor classes.
Fraction: Which ultimately is to be surprised, is to be caught off-guard, is to have a gasp. In spite of everything and how cynical you are.
It's so hard with entertainment media anywhere. I remember never, ever being fooled by any kind of teasers on TV, just because you would read in the newspaper, "Oh, so-and-so re-signed their contract, and they're going to be on that show for two more years," so you knew he was never in any danger.
Nrama: Yeah, I don't think that's an issue that's endemic to comics, just more of an instance that so much of entertainment media general is focused on what's coming down the line — and the public being more privy to backstage news.
Fraction: I remember when "Best of Both Worlds," the Star Trek: Next Generation two-parter happened, and the episode ends with Picard being Locutus, and then there was a big 20/20 story on Next Generation, and they kept Patrick Stewart out of it.
teaser.Brubaker: That was a season finale, too. You had to wait four months for the next episode.
Fraction: I just remember seeing that 20/20 thing and being like, "Oh my god, they're really going to do it." It was kind of brilliant, and it drove you crazy, and you had to finally watch it and see what happened. You genuinely had no idea what to expect.
I love too that this has completely eclipsed all talk about Ben Grimm destroying Yancy Street.
Nrama: That’s definitely the other big moment of the issue.
Fraction: The Thing being one of The Worthy sort of got leaked, but that aside, that image of Yancy Street getting blown up was pretty amazing work.
Brubaker: I remember you were very happy about that when those pages were coming in, and I remember thinking, "What's next, is he going to destroy Aunt Petunia?"
Nrama: And now he's got weird tentacle creatures on his shoulders.
Fraction: Yeah, those strange leech monster guys. So creepy.
Nrama: All of that is compliments to the art team, who definitely had a lot of major scenes to deliver this issue.
Fraction: They sold [Bucky's death]. They absolutely sold it.
Brubaker: Yeah, he looks really dead. [Laughs.] I didn't agree on this much dead.
cover.Nrama: So it's a grand three-month-old tradition to ask for a bit of a tease of what's coming next, so what can fans expect in Fear Itself #4? Fraction: The scene next month plays out kind of odd, because it's that moment where everybody comes together to pay their respects, but it's also kind of the band getting back together, because it's the first time that Iron Man and Steve Rogers and Thor have been in the same room in the series. So it's this weird kind of power chord moment of the big three back in the saddle, but it's such a bummer circumstance that brings them there.
Nrama: And Matt, I saw on Twitter that this week you finished up the script for the last issue, Fear Itself #7.
Fraction: I'm done! There will be, I'm sure, notes and polishes, but it's always easier to rewrite. The actual production of it is done.
Stuart [Immonen] is done with #4, it is being inked and colored as we speak. #5 is being drawn, #6 and #7 are scripted and in.More from Newsarama on Fear Itself and Captain America: