Paul Jenkins Blends Fact and Fiction in ALL-WINNERS SQUAD

Jenkins Challenges the ALL-WINNERS SQUAD

 

Paul Jenkins is known as a master of single-issue storytelling, from the current Thor: Heaven and Earth miniseries to much of his Peter Parker: Spider-Man in the early part of last decade.

He's switching up the formula a bit with All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes, an eight-issue miniseries that sees issue #1 out today. Not only is it longer-form storytelling, but it's also blending real-life historical events of World War II with several of the forgotten characters from Marvel's predecessor, Timely Comics — along with familiar faces like Captain America.

Newsarama talked in detail with Jenkins about All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes, the research that went into it, the work of series artist Carmine Di Giandomenico, and some of the characters being used in the story — very much products of their time adapted for contemporary audiences.

Newsarama: Paul, how did All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes came about? Thematically, it seems a bit similar to the Captain America: Theater of War series of one-shots you wrote in 2009.

Paul Jenkins: Every so often, you do a story that you're really, really attached to. And by saying that, it doesn't mean that I'm not attached to Ka-Zar or anything else, but you come across something, you think, "Wow, that's really special." This is something that I personally love.

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I think it was true on occasion when I was doing Spider-Man. I'd find a couple of issues that I liked, and oftentimes fans will come to me with those issues and say, "We love them, too." I was very, very proud with what we did with Theater of War, because we got a chance to talk about the military and Captain America. He's like the personification of the United States military, and he's a great example of true patriotism.

Those of us who work in the profession tend to try to ignore praise and criticism, because it's reflective of people that feel compelled to say it, but it's not necessarily reflective of the entire audience. And it works both ways, whether it's praise or criticism. But one of my favorite pieces of praise that I've ever received was from a fan who wrote in about the last issue of Captain America: Theater of War, in which that fan said it took a British guy to teach us about the true meaning of American patriotism. I felt very gratified by that, because the last story of Captain America: Theater of War was called "Ghosts of My County," and it involved all of the major moments of American military history, and in fact, almost all the most important moments of American history. The personification of Captain America was somehow present, because the moment itself made him real. I loved that particular piece of praise, and I think that we did something special.

On the heels of that, Tom Brevoort just called me up, and said, "Look, Paul, we love what you did, we know that we basically left you to your own devices. You want to do a war series, we won't put any constraints on you?" I came up with a premise for Band of Heroes using the old Timely characters that they once had, who were actually published during the way. The concept was that these old characters, such as Davey and the Demon, and the Vagabond, and Young Avenger, all of these people  that no one's ever seen before, were all published as small, seven-page, eight-page stories, in order to help the war effort. They were actually propaganda leaflets because these guys were real. This was the story of the truth behind a covert operation that was called "Operation: Firefly" in which the subsidiary of the All-Winners Squad, loosely called "The Crazy Sues," was actually sent into the Pacific Theater and the European Theater to train, but they represented the greatest secret in the history of the United States military. When this history is known, at the end of the seventh issue of this book, I think that people will go, "Oh my god, I can't believe this, look at what these guys did" — this great secret that's been kept from the public ever since Timely collaborated with the United States military to publish these books. 

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Nrama: That's quite a tease. And at eight issues, this is longer-form storytelling than you've done lately — you've concentrated on single issue stories in books like Theater of War and Thor: Heaven and Earth.

Jenkins: I really appreciated back in the day when Marvel allowed us to publish 12 issues of Inhumans. We proposed it that way, and it was initially met with quite some resistance. But they believed in us enough to allow us to do it that way, and history tells us allowing us to flesh out these characters was probably for the best.

I think it's the same now. Marvel, to their credit, didn't really ask me to define it in a five-issue series. They told me, "Write a war story,  tell us what you think would be interesting, and tell us how many issues you want." I told them I needed eight issues, and they absolutely said, "We trust you, go ahead."

Nrama: We talked previously about your work with Pascal Alixe on Ka-Zar, here you're collaborating with another European artist.

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Jenkins: Yeah, Carmine Di Giandomenico. He is absolutely astounding.. The best compliment I can give him is that like [Civil War: Front Line artist] Ramon Bachs, when I read the books, it doesn't seem like the script that I sent.

I love what he's doing here, he's really bringing these great designs into it. It's a really touching kind of story I hope, and it's a very difficult story to tell. It's actually based on a real event that occurred during and after the second World War. I can't really talk about what the event was, because it will give away what the story is, but I will say that it's a very challenging story, and Carmine really brings it together.  

Nrama: So for a story like this, does it involve a great deal of first-hand research, or was it all subjects you were already pretty well versed in?

Jenkins: Oh, god, I did a ton of research for this book. I really wanted to write about the fate of the American G.I. When Hitler sent his troops across the border into Poland, Britain was next, so was France, clearly. So we had to deal with it.

But here's the United States, and the thought behind the United States' international policy at the time was isolationism. And yet, here's a country who took thousands upon thousands of its young men, and sent them to both the Pacific and European Theater to fight for the freedoms of other people, not necessarily to particularly protect the borders of the United States. Even after Pearl Harbor, that was obviously an opening salvo in the war on the part of the imperial Japanese, but it didn't necessarily represent a threat to the American homeland. Possibly it did, but not necessarily. But America responded by entering the war. They had already been logistically providing support for the Allied forces, and sending thousands of thousands of its young men to go and die for a cause of freedom that wasn't necessarily American freedom.

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Nrama: It's pretty staggering how much fiction World War II has been able to inspire — seems pretty singular among world events in that way.  

Jenkins: In researching it, I wanted to find out about particular things that had happened. I wanted to read about the fate of the American G.I. I was very, very interested in a few things that happened in history. For example, here you had a bunch of people that were sent to fight for freedoms, and they were young, African-American soldiers, but they did not enjoy some of those freedoms because of segregation.

Billy Tucci wrote an amazing book that I always loved called The Lost Battallion that was about an Asian-American group of guys who were sent in during the Battle of the Bulge to rescue a bunch of Texan soldiers. Here were guys who were looked at sideways, and they sacrificed terribly to get to where they needed to be. They were American soldiers. But the way that they were looked at was, "Well, you're not as American as we are." Well, guess what? They proved their worth by sacrificing themselves in terrible and tragic circumstances.

 

The same can be said for young African-American men who were sent to foreign countries to fight for freedoms that they themselves did not particularly enjoy at home. Obviously the war was a catalyst for change and really galvanized the civil rights movement through Dr. Martin Luther King as time went on. One of the characters we use is actually an African-American guy. We picked out literally the craziest of the crazy, and one of them was a sidekick to the Whizzer, and his name was "Slow-Motion Jones." It's a very racist portrayal of a black guy who supposedly was much slower than the white guy — because that happens all the time, right? He's portrayed as slow, and dimwitted, and what we suggested was that in fact he's really smart, and very, very brave, and that he was there in the forefront of all this difficulty. During the Normandy Landings, here's this black guy parachuting into enemy territory, and he lands,  and he says, "Wow, you're never so alone as when you're alone in a crowd. I'm the only black face around." 

All-Winners Squad

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It was such a great thing to research, and it was such a great thing to read, to understand what happened to some of these people. As some people probably know, my next-door neighbor happens to be a survivor of Pearl Harbor. I have a tremendous respect and reverence for American soldiers, and sailors, and any military personnel. As I wrote in the Captain America series, there was one story called "Rules of Engagement" where Captain America truly understands that the guys they are fighting against are true German patriots, who are protecting their homeland, and who have absolutely no love for some ugly Austrian housepainter who guides them, but they do love their homeland, and they are doing the right thing by protecting their country. These are true patriots. It happens the world over. Just because a man is our enemy doesn't mean that he doesn't love his country and he's not a good man.

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Nrama: Between discovering forgotten Timely characters and researching real-life events, has this been a pretty labor-intensive project for you?

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Jenkins: A ton of work went into it. I researched all kinds of things, I researched weapons. I really think what we have to do is look at the prevailing thoughts of the day to understand why things were the way they were. We can easily judge history and say, "We wouldn't do that nowadays," but then again in 70 years time, people are going to look back at what we did, and say, "I would have never done it that way," because the world will be different."

We are in that situation now. We look back and say, "Wow, war is a crazy time, things were done really badly then." Of course they are. But war is hell, and the objective is to learn from it, and not repeat it. 

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