This April, Marvel will release the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, based on the storyline Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting did in in the mid-2000s on the Captain America comic book series. And Marvel wants fans to know what comes next – and in more ways that just the original comic – and are doing that with a prose adaptation of what was Brubaker and Epting’s next major arc, "The Death of Captain America."
This February, Marvel is publishing a prose novel adaptation of that pivotal storyline titled Captain America: The Death of Captain America, as well as the events of Civil War as a build-up to that shocking event. To undertake this momentous take of taking that comics tale to prose on a page, the House of Ideas tapped a comics veteran with some history of for military men at Marvel: Larry Hama. Although Hama’s worked extensive at Marvel as a writer, editor and even artist, Captain America is one of the few characters he never worked much on – Hama touched on him briefly in a short run on Avengers, and for a one-shot in 2008. Hama is best known for his comics work, but he’s recently begun a foray into prose storytelling; last year Hama released a historical vampire thriller novel titled The Stranger.
Back to the subject at hand, Captain America: The Death of Captain America isdescribed by the publisher as a “blockbuster shakeup of the Captain America mythos,” with the prose novel following his assassination and his friends as they attempt to pick up the pieces, find out who did it, and carry on in Steve Roger’s legacy. In many ways this story – in the original comics format or this prose novel-- can be seen as a blueprint for a possible third Captain America movie. Newsarama spoke with Larry Hama about returning to Marvel, doing his first extended tour with Captain America, and adapting someone else’s work.
Newsarama: Larry, My first question is an obvious one – how’d you come to be writing a prose novel adaptation of the “Death of Captain America” comic book storyline from Captain America?
Larry Hama: Editor Marie Javins had read The Stranger and liked it. I think that's what she sent up the ladder as my prose sample. The deadline was pretty tight, so maybe there weren't many who wanted to stick their hand into this particular blender. It also involved compressing over twenty issues of continuity that occurred during Civil War. I walked into it knowing it was going to be difficult, but I sort of like diving into the deep end.
Nrama: How did you go about approaching the job of adapting Ed & Steve’s story itself into comics? Did you start with the comic, or ask for the scripts, or read any other supplemental material?
Hama: I started with issue #1 of their volume and read through to #42. Then, read all the peripheral stuff, and the Civil War stuff that was pertinent. Then I had to bone up on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the back stories of Bucky, Black Widow, Sharon Carter, Red Skull, etc. It became a Mandelbrot exercise since everything led to more stuff that led to even more stuff. All this digging would have been impossible without the amazing help I got from Stuart Moore, Jeff Youngquist, and Marie Javins. The main thing was not to let myself get overwhelmed by the sequences of events, but to concentrate on the development of the characters, and dig into what makes them tick. Much more interesting to me than choreography.
Nrama: Did you have any conversations with the original creators of this storyline, or is that something you wouldn’t want to do as it might influence the work negatively?
Hama: In graphic storytelling, it's all laid out there on the page, and you don't have to imagine the nuances of expression or the telling gesture. Novelizing a graphic story is like reverse-engineering all of that. If somebody else were novelizing something I had done as a comic, I wouldn't know what to tell them if they called me. I'd be like, "didn't you read the comic?" Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting did a monumental piece of work that is wonderfully emotional and amazingly drawn. There wasn't an awful lot that required any clarification.
Nrama: That being said, were there any specific scenes or moments that proved troublesome to adapt into straight prose or was it all a pretty easy process?
Hama: It's never an easy process! What I find the most difficult are action scenes involving eight or ten principal characters. It's almost impossible to keep track of who is where, or the cause-and-effect of their actions within the parameters of the scene. I actually put action figures out on the table and move them around so I can keep track. "Oh, this guy is on the stairs, and this guy just got slammed all the way down the hall..." If I don't have the actual figure, I just pick an arbitrary one and stick a post-it label on it.
Nrama: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve never written much Captain America before this – you did the one-shot Daredevil & Captain America: Dead On Arrival in 2008, an adaptation of a story originally published in Europe, and a short run on Avengers. You worked on a variety of books at Marvel, from G.I. Joe to great runs on Wolverine and Venom. Is it just something where you never had interest or weren’t approached on Cap before, or something else?
Hama: I was never offered the chance back then, but I always had a full slate. To me, Cap has always been the ethical core of the Marvel Universe, like Superman is the ethical core of DC. I may not have always followed the direct continuity, but you can't help absorbing it if you are immersed in a big aspect of the Marvel Universe like the X-Books, and the Avengers.
Nrama: This isn’t your first prose novel – far from it. You recently did the vampire trilogy The Stranger that is available now on Kindle. Can you tell us about delving more into prose as a storyteller versus comics, and being able to speak directly to the reader instead of speaking through visuals as a writer communicating to an artist and as an artist yourself drawing comics and covers?
Hama: Hmmm, I thought speaking to the reader through visuals WAS speaking to them directly! Seriously, I think of writing prose as being the same as telling jokes, but more stretched out. You have a denouement instead of a punch line. The novel as shaggy dog story? To me, doing an adaption is going against the grain of how i construct stories. When I write my own stuff, I start at page one, and have no idea what's going to happen on page two. I did 200 issues of G.I. Joe that way. So starting out with the structure already there and the ending all figured out is both a blessing and a challenge to me.
Nrama: Last question, and something I’m sure a lot of people want to know – do you have more prose novels you want to, either work-for-hire or your own stories like The Stranger?
Hama: I've been making notes on a sequel to The Stranger for years. The springboard for the original story had been percolating in my head since high school. I had known a kid in my senior year who went home and found that both his parents had skipped town. He determined to finish school by living in the then-boarded-up carousel in Central Park. I combined that with my interest in the Knights Templar, early twentieth century Viennese art movements, contemporary film, and concealable automatic weapons, mixed it up a bit and ladled in my take on vampires. It was all a terrific learning experience for me, and I applied as much of what I learned to Death of Captain America as I could.