Since beginning on Captain America in 2005, Ed Brubaker has taken the character places that most fans would never have thought possible.
Not only has the writer resurrected the long-thought-dead Bucky Barnes, but he made the old-fashioned child character into one of the most admired heroes in Marvel's current line-up. As if that wasn't enough, Brubaker took things a step further and killed off Steve Rogers, the man who has carried the Captain America mantle for much of the last 60-plus years since he was created.
Now Brubaker's doing it again – this time with Captain America: Reborn, a six-issue mini-series that returns Steve Rogers to the land of the living. The heavily-hyped series is three issues into a story that has been taking readers on an epic journey through the more significant moments in the life of the original Captain America. Unstuck in time, Rogers is powerless to stop reliving his life, but other Marvel characters are starting to figure out the mystery of Cap's time displacement.
As the fourth issue of Captain America: Reborn is released this week, with a new one-shot called Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? scheduled for December, we talked to Brubaker about the story and what readers can expect from the return of Steve Rogers to the Marvel Universe.
Newsarama: There are a lot of mysteries here that have had readers guessing about Red Skull's intentions and what caused this whole thing. Was it always the intent to make this more epic and mysterious than just a return-from-the-dead story?
Ed Brubaker: I always intended for it to definitely have people guessing as to what was going on. I think a lot of people might think that there’s more of a plan than there is.
Nrama: You mean more of a plan on Sharon's part?
Brubaker: Yeah. I mean, the Red Skull’s plan was he was going to bring Cap back and take over his body. And then Sharon wrecked the machine and sent Steve off through time, basically. So the plan wasn’t to have him go skipping through time. The plan was to have him frozen in time, which is what they did. And Sharon sort of unstuck him in time, so that part of it wasn’t a plan really. That part of it was like what Sharon did by trying to save Steve, which a lot of people seem to misunderstand so far. I think by the time we get to the end the Reborn people will understand that.
Nrama: Well, I think there are a lot of layers to the story, and I think people have been kind of surprised by it. When you put together this story, with some of the things that Cap is visiting, did you do a lot of research and try to make these things fit seamlessly in continuity?
Brubaker: A little bit of trying to fit it. I was trying to just sort of find some key moments in Cap’s life that would be – I mean, part of the advantage of having him unstuck in time was you could do a story called Captain America: Reborn. Like half the story or so is actually devoted to Steve and what he’s being forced to sort of live through, but it gives you a chance to sort of highlight this character, for people who maybe don’t know that much about Cap, who he is and what he’s been through. So I was trying to find those key moments.
I had to tap into my knowledge of Cap, and having read pretty much every issue of Cap comes in handy. Like I knew the scene when Namor finds him in the ice would have to be a scene in there. But actually showing it from Cap’s perspective inside the ice, I thought was a really neat twist on it.
But also because it’s Bryan Hitch, so I was also trying to find really, really cool moments that will actually be really exciting for him to draw. Bryan is the type of artist who just, you know, suddenly, if you give him three pages, he turns in like eight pages of double page spreads. So he’s a psycho like that, and so I knew if I would give him the Kree-Skrull War, he would just go nuts on it.
And the Kree-Skrull War was important just because it was a big, exciting action team. But also it gave Cap a chance to see Captain Marvel, a character who he’d been to the funeral of. So I chose moments that emphasized the whole idea that he’s sort of circling near death and trapped in this sort of non-life.
Nrama: We've seen some great scenes with Cap's supporting cast, like Sam and Sharon and the Red Skull. But we've seen the Avengers and Reed Richards and Captain Marvel and a lot of other characters from throughout the Marvel Universe. Were you hoping to make this series more of a universe-wide story than just a Cap story?
Brubaker: Well, that was just something that I knew going in, especially once it was decided that this would be outside Cap’s actual series and in another book, I knew that it would be a big Marvel project to some degree. But also, when you’ve got Norman Osborn running what was left of Shield, and you’ve got the Red Skull in a plot with Dr. Doom, and the Avengers are all living with Bucky, and Bucky’s dating the Black Widow, it’s like the Marvel Universe sort of starts to open up more for you in a way where you’re kind of like, "well, it only makes logical sense to use this stuff."
And Cap is just as important to the Avengers as he is to Bucky and the Cap Universe itself. He’s one of the most important characters in the entire Marvel Universe, so it just made sense to use everybody that I could get my hands onto that made sense to be in the story.
Nrama: One of the things that’s often said about you is that you’re more of a street level writer. At least people used to say that about you, but this summer in particular you’re controlling two fairly big Marvel events – the 70th Anniversary Marvels Project and then this return of Captain America. And these really are more epic and less street level than a lot of what you’ve done. Do you feel like you’ve grown as a writer? Is this something that you wanted to do in particular to do, these more epic big event type books?
Brubaker: Yeah. I don’t know. I think that – I hope I’ve grown. I hope I haven’t – I know I haven’t regressed. The Marvels Project was just a cool thing; it was something I couldn’t possibly turn down. It was really just the chance of trying to do an in-continuity origin of Marvel, and just being able to take that whole world, and make all these little pieces that weren’t intended to be part of the same universe sort of fit together in our modern time. And just sort of look back at that stuff and be like, OK, which characters make sense?
With Reborn, a lot of it is a bunch of superheroes and a bunch of supervillains fighting. So I think I’ve progressed and regressed at the same time a little bit. Conveniently, I’ve got Bryan Hitch to help me out. Whenever I regress, he makes it look good.
Nrama: Can you tell us about what’s coming up in Captain America: Reborn #4?
Brubaker: In Issue #4, we’ll see the last moments of Steve sort of skipping through in his "unstuck in time" phase, and really, we get to see the moment where Osborn and the Red Skull and Dr. Doom sort of come together on their plot. And we get to see how they’re trying to salvage something out of the remains of the Red Skull’s shattered plot.
Nrama: What's the idea behind the one-shot "Who Will Wear the Shield?" How did that come about? Is that dealing with the aftermath of Reborn?
Brubaker: Yeah, it’s really an aftermath story, and that was something that it probably, just like Reborn, could have been just done within Cap itself. But it’s sort of an epilogue book in some ways to Reborn. It gives Steve Rogers a chance to get familiarized with what’s going on in the Marvel world now that he’s come back, and we get to see how he’s viewing things after everything he’s been through. And a lot of people have been asking that question well, what’s gonna happen to Bucky if Steve comes back? So it’s like, OK, here’s a book that will tell you what happens to everybody.
Nrama: Are you surprised that people have gotten so behind Bucky as Cap?
Brubaker: Yeah, actually. It’s totally wrong somehow. [laughs] First they were mad that we brought Bucky back, and then they were mad that we killed Steve. Now they’re mad we’re bringing Steve back, and they like Bucky as Cap better.
Nrama: I think you’ve got to be patting yourself on the back a little bit for that, don’t you? Selling your readers on the idea of James as Captain America?
Brubaker: Well, yeah. I think the weird thing is they said you couldn’t bring Bucky back and we did, and then people hated that we brought him back and now he’s – I mean, I’ve got a statue on my desk of the Winter Soldier kicking the crap out of like three Hydra agents now. And there’s mini toys and he’s become a popular character. We didn't sit there and go, "Oh, he'll be popular." You can never plan that a character will be popular. They didn't say, with Wolverine, oh, this is the one who is really going to take off.
He’s a cool character because he’s very 21st Century and he was a spy and an assassin. And he’s got this bionic arm, which, you know, is all the rage since the 90s. [laughs] So I should put together a team of all the guys with cyborg arms, with, like, Deathlok and Cable and Bucky and just call it "Left Arm."
Nrama: OK, the fact that you think he’s cool bodes well for those Bucky fans. It means you're not anxious to just kill him off or take away the shield right away.
Brubaker: Yeah, oh, yeah, I mean he’s – there was a point where we were trying to figure out if we should even bring Steve back. My intention was always to bring him back. But Bucky really did take over the starring role of that book, and if you go back and you look, in some ways it’s been about Bucky since I started. It’s been about Steve trying to figure out if Bucky was alive, and then once he realizes he is trying to save him, and then after Steve gets killed, it’s about Bucky trying to find out who he is and live up to Steve’s legacy. So it’s been a real character-driven book for all the superhero/supervillain battles.
Nrama: So the one shot will answer definitely who is going to have that shield?
Brubaker: Well, I don’t want to say specifically. But, yeah, it’s when you'll know. Or maybe there’ll be two Caps. There’s like 85 Green Lanterns.
Nrama: That’s true. We just bought it back another Flash, so I think there’s three or four running around.
Brubaker: Yeah. How many Flashes are there? There are like nine Flashes, like 85 Green Lanterns; there were at least two Iron Men at one point. I’m not going to spoil it, but yes, it will answer the question of who is Captain America, but whether people will be satisfied with the answer is going to be up to them.
Nrama: Fair enough. Anything else you want to tell readers about this week's issue?
Brubaker: Well, I don't want to spoil too much. But there’s a flashback to my favorite year of modern Cap, which is the Steranko years. Or I should say, the Steranko issues; he did three issues. But, yeah, seeing Bryan draw those scenes, with like a billion agents of Hydra in the sewer tunnels. It’s just oh my God! And there’s a really, really great moment right before the end of the issue that I’m really happy with the way it turned out. It’s one of the key moments from Cap's entire history, and we show it from a different perspective.
That’s one of the things that’s been the most fun about it, you know, going through Cap's history and bringing a different spin on it. And getting to see Hitch draw these set pieces that have never been drawn the way he’s drawing them. And you know that the people working on the Cap movie are looking at this stuff. We always say comics don’t have a budget, but with Hitch’s pages, I say it does have a budget. It’s just the most expensive budget of all time. This is a $500 billion movie. And this next issue is filled with stuff like that.