Paul Jenkins on His Captain America Specials

Jenkins on Captain America

Captain America: Theater of War - Rules of Engagement; due in stores in January

Steve Rogers may be dead for regular readers of Marvel’s Captain America monthly title—but his spirit lives on in one-shot installments. With two Captain America: Theater or War projects already on shelves, Marvel has plans for more—including writer Paul Jenkins—and we’re not just talking single one-shot…he’s got three…maybe four, hitting shelves in early 2009. The Theater of War books provide fans with a look back at untold stories of Captain America across the character’s nearly 70 year existence.

Newsarama contacted Paul Jenkins to discuss his future Theater of War projects as well as his thoughts on Captain America’s role as an American Icon and how he fits into the fictional realm of realistic issues worldwide.

Newsarama: First off, you're not just doing one Captain America Theater of War project—you're doing three! What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

Paul Jenkins: As a matter of fact, we’re talking about me doing four projects. I’ve already written the first two and I’m on the third right now. I think Tom Brevoort put it best: he described giving me these stories to work on as lining me up for a five yard field goal. That’s because I love stories about wartime and the military. When I proposed the first story to Tom over the phone — and when I told him the payoff to the issue — he made a little choking sound and tried to pretend he was chuckling. But I know his dirty little secret: he was trying to choke back the tears. Tom is a big, soft teddy bear and don’t ever let anyone persuade you otherwise.

What I can say is that I truly love this character. I recently wrote a Mythos version, which was so beautifully painted by Paolo Rivera. It dealt mostly with the core concept that Cap loved his country and respected both its flag and traditions because of the sacrifices of his Army buddies. It talked a lot about him feeling helpless as he watched young men go to die on foreign soil for the benefit of others. And it also talked about Cap remembering his mother and father as he went to war.

Issue #1 is called ‘America the Beautiful’, and it helps to tell the tale of a very special person in Cap’s life who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. The core theme, I suppose, is that true heroes go into battle scared out of their minds and thinking of their loved ones at home. I have a little boy and I cannot imagine the idea of heading towards Omaha Beach on D-Day knowing that I might never see him or my wife again.

Issue #2 is called ‘Rules of Engagement’ and it shows how all soldiers from all nations share a common bond. Sometimes, your enemy is your brother and your brother is your enemy.

Issue #3 is called ‘Sweet Land of Liberty’, and is based in great part on a very good friend of mine named Bryan Anderson. Bryan is a veteran of the Iraq conflict who was badly injured by a roadside bomb. Yet he is an amazingly inspiring person who tells a surprising story about that particular conflict. You can check out Bryan’s story at Trust me, it is very much worth checking out. He is an amazing dude, and my wife and little son love him. Little dude calls him “Mister Bryan” and had fun racing him down the slopes at the Atlanta Aquarium.

Issue #4 (if it is confirmed) is called ‘Ghosts of My Country’. It would be about the entire history of the United States Army, where Captain America exists in the heart of every American serviceman and woman.

NRAMA: Who are the artists working with you on these projects?

PJ: Gary Erskine is doing ‘America the Beautiful’. He is great; he has an amazing attention to detail and is extremely conscientious about getting pages to work right. I am having a great time seeing his pages come in. He really gets it, and cares about his work.

John McCrae will be doing the ‘Rules of Engagement’ story. I have wanted to work with him for some time and he recently contacted me about that. This is a great fit for us. He gets to draw a lot of World War II tanks and planes and stuff. He moaned at me about all the reference work, though.

NRAMA: Do all of your Theater of War stories involve World War II Captain America or will you be exploring various eras of Cap like Howard Chaykin is doing with the Cap of the 50's--the Grand Master?

PJ: The first two are set in World War Two. That seems like the most natural era for me to write about, being a British kid and having stories of the Blitz and evacuation told to me at a very early age. My Mum was evacuated to the country and even though she was quite young in the war she does remember the air raid sirens and the Anderson shelters.

The third is set in modern day America and Iraq. The last one will be set across the entire history of the United States.

NRAMA: Do you think Captain America, as a symbol, is a figure of transformation for comics and our country? If so, how do you think he's developed over the years?

PJ: Well, I think Cap can be all things which can be true of any character. Personally, I choose to present him as a man who represents true patriotism and not the lazy, jingoistic bullshit that is forced upon us by television sound bytes. Given that he has seen his fellow soldiers — his brothers in wartime — die on foreign soil, he would naturally respect the greatness of his country. Look, America sent its young men to fight a war three thousand miles away. Young American men died in great numbers to free Europe from tyranny. So I see him as a very patient and understanding guy who must straddle the odd line between being a soldier and being and icon. He is all aspects of the American military; he’s a politician, a general, and a common soldier. But at his heart, I think, he is a common man thrust into extraordinary positions.

NRAMA: In your mind, with a number of men having worn the Captain America garb, what seems to be the defining quality that unites all these characters?

PJ: Readers of my Mythos book will have seen a reference to a character named Doug Huggins. Doug will be shown again in my first issue, along with a guy named Bobby Shaw. Now Doug just happens to be a neighbor of mine and is a veteran of World War II. He was aboard the USS Arizona when it was attacked in Pearl Harbor, and Bobby, his best friend, perished in the attack. Doug is one of the most interesting, genuine, inspiring and warmhearted people I have ever met. If I were to try to define a quality of all the various people in the Cap costume, it would be that they are a mixture of Doug and Bobby and any man or woman that has fought for his or her country. The feeling I want to inspire is the same feeling we British people have at the very sight of a Spitfire, or a picture of Winston Churchill: we feel tremendous pride at having stood up to impossible pressures and held them at bay. The British “wartime spirit” is kind of ingrained into us. People of all nationalities feel that kind of pride in one way or another and at its best that feeling can create a tremendous sense of national identity.

NRAMA: How have the threats that Cap faces changed over the years? Is the opposition of an entire race or country a bigger struggle than a super-powered lunatic?

PJ: Jean Paul Sartre wrote that “Hell is other people.” I have let that inform a lot of my work about villains. You do not oppose a race — that is utterly simplistic and as far from the ideals of Captain America as it gets. Read ‘Rules of Engagement’ to see what I mean; we often look at villains as one dimensional, but I feel that they should never be written that way. A few years ago I somehow found myself writing some GI Joe books, and I had an opportunity to do an origin for Cobra Commander. All I can say is that I recently reread his big speech to his assembly of soldiers and I almost agreed with his position. What makes villains dangerous is when we can admit we’d be like them if we were lazier or greedier. Cap’s most dangerous adversary is himself, as it is for any of us. But like a true hero he would always — without exception — resist any temptation to do the wrong thing.

NRAMA: I'll ask you the same question I asked Howard Chaykin during his Captain America interview: Do you think the real United States of the 21st Century needs a symbol like Captain America in light of current events at home and abroad?

PJ: Yeah, Probably. Maybe they have one in Obama, I don’t know. He seems to come across as an important symbol for change, no matter a person’s political viewpoint.

NRAMA: Do any other popular Marvel characters show up in your Cap projects?

PJ: No. If anything they are about ordinary soldiers who are seen juxtaposed against a super soldier.

NRAMA: Would you want to write a Cap monthly? How hard would it be to top what Ed Brubaker has done to the Captain America mythos?

PJ: That is always an odd question with virtually no answer. Ed does amazing work, always. But he would probably agree that no writer sets out to recreate, compare, or certainly top another writer. When I started as a comic writer my first gig was Hellblazer. I was compared to Garth Ennis all the time since I followed him. People would ask me constantly if that scared me and I genuinely wondered what on Earth could be scary about writing comics? I simply wrote stories that I liked and that I thought others would like.

I would love to write a Cap monthly in much the same way as I would love to write the X-Men or any character. I think all of these characters have merit. Hell, when I was on Spidey I threatened for years to do issues about the Hypno Hustler and the Big Wheel. I think my approach on Cap would be to write a lot of single issue stories about common soldiering, though. People would probably hate it.

NRAMA: Can you think of another popular Marvel character who deserves this type of historical analysis and celebration? If you could pull one out of the ether and give him a series of one-shots--who would it be? Why?

PJ: I am about to embark on a series of one shots. Watch this space.

NRAMA: What else do you have coming out from Marvel in the near future?

PJ: Again, watch this space. Working on the film a lot right now but I’m getting in a few more comics lately. And as has been mentioned, I have a fairly big project in the works.

NRAMA: In light of our changing global struggles--do you see Cap taking a more active role against the resurgence of Russia or the Chinese? Should Cap fight terror in the Middle East or do you think the character better serves the medium without dragging too much of the real world into the picture?

PJ: Okay, consider yourself admonished and we’ll proceed, ugly American. China is not the enemy. Neither is Russia. What’s the problem here? In ten years, China’s economy will be inextricably linked to America’s, with China being the USA’s largest creditor. Russia is experiencing growing pains as they try to get past the standard problems of a burgeoning democracy such as corruption and nationalism. But guess what? America is guilty of those crimes also, as is France, Britain and, I dunno, Iceland. Why on Earth would Cap have to fight China’s “resurgence?” Because they showed the world the greatest Olympic games ever or because they’re a threat to American economic might? Hell, let’s invade India because they now have the world’s largest population, right?

Look, I do think Cap could always be about real world conflict, so terrorism is a natural backdrop. But how about looking at ethnic and tribal differences in Sudan, or the difficulty of fighting a war in Afghanistan (and, I suppose, Pakistan)? Cap’s relevance as a soldier representing not America’s self-interest but America’s proud tradition of helping police the world seems more relevant than seeing “Reds under the Beds.” I think we’re past that.

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