Marvel NOW! teaser by Joe Quesada

By Jim Beard


Prepare yourselves this November as classic shield-slinger Captain America embarks on a new series promising to lead the Avenger into the wildest, strangest territories of all. Writer Rick Remender takes on the task of tackling the latest and greatest chapter of Cap’s career with legendary artist John Romita Jr. in CAPTAIN AMERICA.

The creative duo hint at plenty of sci-fi thrills coupled with even deeper glimpses of Steve Rogers’ early life and the events that transformed him into the Sentinel of Liberty. Look out for the introduction of new adversaries, new allies and new locales, as well as all the slam-bang action you expect from one of Marvel’s premier superstars, plus Remender’s distinct take on the man known as Captain America. Rick, what’s your own personal history with Captain America?

Rick Remender: SECRET WARS is what brought me into comic books. That was my first contact with Cap. That led me into his ongoing series, around #294-295 when The Red Skull and his daughters were hatching their big plot against Steve. That was great stuff; a lot of interesting stuff to get pulled into. There was plenty of history there and how they were handling the Red Skull and Captain America relationship—I remember being very grabbed by that. A few issues later Captain Britain showed up and that’s when I started falling in love with that character, too. What did Cap mean to you back then? What did he stand for in your opinion?

Captain America #1 cover by John Romita Jr.

Rick Remender: Tenacity. The character, in my head, was always about [that at] his core. He never gives up, he never quits. He’s a role model. That’s a term that comes a little bit clichéd and trite I suppose, but that’s sort of the beauty of who he is. He’s a patriotic soldier directed by a personal ethical compass, belief in the American dream and faith in his fellow man. At the same time we’ve seen that he’s very clever and roguish, quick with the drill comment on occasion, but he’s also a leader at the core of it. That was something that I definitely wanted to dig into when I took on the new series and we will be quite a bit. When you were asked to do the series, how did it feel knowing you’d be following up Ed Brubaker’s acclaimed run?

Rick Remender: Well, you do that by not grabbing from the same influence box. I think what Ed did was make the perfect spy book with the involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. and all those things that were such a big part of the character and his history. Ed came along and he really did it and made it perfect. There’s no reason for me to follow with that tone and so [my book is] a hostile takeover in that the tonal change; I’m drawing more from the Jack Kirby era [of the 1970’s]. The beginning of the Arnim Zola stuff and the Mad Bomb stuff and that very sort of wildly imaginative sci-fi era that Kirby had leaned into is kind of where I’m going with it. So what you’re saying is that you’ll be making his universe even more colorful? How would you describe that sort of tone?

Rick Remender: It’s almost like “Kirby Sci-Fi Indiana Jones.” High adventure dipped in sci-fi spy fantasy with heavy focus on the man under the suit. Steve’s fabric and his relationships drive our story and the action is the byproduct. Tonally it’s very serious. You want to make sure the characters go up against things that feel like real threats and [put] them into interesting situations. It’s a lot less of the connection with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the spy work and more big high adventure super hero stuff with sci-fi that I tend to lean into. It’s obviously a big challenge following a beloved run like Ed’s. I guess that’s what was also appealing because it was a challenge; it wasn’t safe. You’re working with new people.

Captain America

Part of the Marvel NOW! initiative is that it’s taking a ball-peen hammer and smashing the Marvel Universe up and shifting creative teams. Everybody is in an uncomfortable place and that’s where you get the most creative juice. It’s not just me, fortunately; it’s everyone taking up new things and living up to the standard being set. You mentioned the man under the mask. Even after almost 75 years we tend to look at the uniform of Captain America first; for you, who is Steve Rogers?

Rick Remender: Well that’s the fun and it’s part of what we’re exploring here. He’s really lost himself to Captain America at this point and Steve Rogers the man is an afterthought. The daily routine has left Steve kind of lost in the shuffle. He loves Sharon Carter and he’s happy with his life, but really his life is service. At a certain point the distinction between who is Steve and who is Captain America becomes blurred. To speak to that, to deal with it, half of this first story, which is 10 issues, deals with Steve growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1920’s and 30’s. We get to see what made him into this 98 pound weakling who was so committed to service and standing up to bullies. We know that point in his life when he’s the 98 pound weakling with a big heart who won’t give up and he’s going to serve, but we don’t know how a human being earns that. His origin has been touched on and I’m building off of what’s been laid down there before.

I want to get to know his parents and get to know him as a kid that turned him into that. The story here will be half-told now as he’s dealing with a big threat we’re putting him up against and really throwing him into a situation unlike anything he’s really been in before. It’s a real test of the core of who he is and if he can get through this; at the same time we’ll be cross cutting to who he was growing up and how he earned that heart and tenacity and that ability to keep standing up and to weather these extremely terrible things he’s had to endure. Having seen some of John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson on those pages I can honestly say it’s a side of him we’ve never seen before [but] that’s always been there, and I’m really excited to be able to explore that to show people how this character earned that. That he just didn’t have it in him from birth, he had to earn it.

Captain America

So the origin story going through his experience in Depression era Lower East Side will unearth that. A lot of the 98 pound weakling standing in a muddy alley way up against street toughs in a rough neighborhood in the rough times he grew up in. He had a very unique situation with his parents, immigrants, and how they were dealing with the stresses of life back then and how that affected him. I think that by the end of the 10-issue arc we’ll get a real three-dimensional look at Steve and hopefully one that people don’t feel like they’ve seen before.

Marvel: Can you personally relate to anything of that adversity in Steve’s younger days?

Rick Remender: Sure, it’s all about overcoming adversity. About not quitting and standing up. In life, in this [writing] career especially, long, long years of self doubt and tough times that you need to preserve and push through. That’s where I’m writing him from. It’s what he inspires in people and in me more than anything: sticking to the strength of his convictions, a guy who won’t give up. He’s also relatable because he’s not really a superhuman. He’s not flying around and shooting lasers out of his eyes. He’s the pinnacle of our natural potential, so he’s like us. He’s relatable, he’s vulnerable; if he’s shot it opens him up and it hurts. If he falls out of a plane without a parachute he dies; he’s not Superman, he has limits. He must overcome them with smarts and tenacity more than just brute strength or super powers. It’s relatable and that makes the character something you can attach yourself to. There’s that big word there in his codename: America. It’s written all over him. Steve sports a particular brand of patriotism and over the years the overall patriotism of the country has evolved. How much of a role will those elements play in your run?

Captain America

Rick Remender: I see him more as a guy who’s fighting for the safety of humanity and the innocent, for freedom, liberty and justice for all. I think those are concepts that transcend just America. I mean these are things we try to represent and hold dear. I think it’s something you need to be respectful [of] in a character that will represent all of America that he’d not be entirely apolitical, but at least handled in a way where I don’t want to pick a side.

We’re in a very polarized place in [the] country right now. For Steve to pick a side on that would be a mistake for the character. You want him to feel like the character that’s representing freedom, liberty and justice for all, and he’s grounded in those principles. He might have an opinion on an issue and I might have an opinion of what his opinion is, but some of that stuff is best left apolitical so the character is more developed as striving towards those ideals than dealing with things that could be problematic in terms of making people feel like they don’t relate to him or that he doesn’t represent them. That’s a tricky line and one that I’ve done all I can to try and walk. I’m focusing more on who he is as a character so I don’t need to stumble on his stance [on] the issues of the day. Will he be an official operative of the American government or a symbolic one in the book?

Rick Remender: I think the Avengers are overseen and there is definitely a component of government approval in the Avengers. I think more often than not they’re smiled upon. This won’t be Cap getting orders and going off to serve S.H.I.E.L.D., this is going to be Steve dealing with threats he sees and at first he’s a bit reactionary. He’ll be dealing with the day-to-day and doing his normal thing and when our story opens the inciting incident will change his life so dramatically that in 10 issues he’ll be an entirely different person. Then coming out of that it’ll be the guy who has the Avengers and his ear to the wall. He’ll be seeing things that need to be dealt with. I see it more like him taking the initiative and being the leader than being the guy who’s given instructions.

Arnim Zola You mentioned Arnim Zola back there a bit; why to you is he a great Cap villain to be used in your series?

Rick Remender: Zola to me is equal parts the twisted evil of Joffrey in “Game of Thrones” and the cold amoral brilliance of Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds.” He’s this guy with ties to the Nazis and he has this unquenchable thirst for knowledge and the need to be free to experiment on whomever and however he desires. He’s the Bio-Fanatic. He’s not out for power or revenge per se; his drug is knowledge. So when they call him the Bio-Fanatic, they’re not kidding. He’s the archetype of the Nazi concentration camp experimenter taken to the extreme. His various experiments often have no grander purpose other than they can be proven to be done. This is a person who likes to manipulate life, merge things, play God and do so with living creatures quite often. When you look at it at its core, it’s as evil as you can be.

This is a guy who would do anything to anyone to expand his knowledge about bio-genetics. That means what he’s going to do is going to be terrible in that his plans are hard to predict because he’s not just a guy who’s trying to take over a city, he’s a guy who wants to [mess] around with life in general. There is an aspect to this where he does have a bigger plot, he wants to use his twisted science to make something for someone, but I don’t want to reveal what that is.

Given that he’s this terrible monster with no morals—he’ll torture, mutate and twist up things on his quest for knowledge—we give him a family. We give him something he cares about and is trying to move forward as well. You’ve got on one side all of these things I said, a person who’s motivated to experiment on living things just for the knowledge because that’s his passion, but you also have someone who has a family and something that he’s trying to build as well that plays at odds with Steve and it involves Steve. This draws him into the story in a reactionary way instead of him going out looking for Zola. With Zola you’ve got this guy who’s unredeemable on most levels but at the same time, like anyone, he has two sides to him. He has a family created from his genetic material that he loves—real love—and it might be the first time he’s ever felt it.

Arnim Zola Do you risk showing something like that in a villain and perhaps taking the teeth out of him?

Rick Remender: There’s the term “moustache-twirling” and you want to avoid that. You want your villains to be despicable and Zola really is. We hit that pretty quick. In the first three or four issues you get a real good look at what a monster this guy is. If there’s no other side to him though, you get this two dimensional construct with no character and nothing relatable. He just becomes that dude the guy I like is going to fight and that can be a real problem. There’s the old saying that your heroes are only as good as your villains. It’s important that we can see that he does have teeth, that he is motivated by things we deem to be despicable and that put him at odds with our hero, but that there’s also more to him so that he can be sympathetic as well. That confusion makes the character three dimensional and makes you feel like it could exist in this world. I don’t think any of us know anyone that is all good or all bad and once you get two sides of any story you start seeing nuance and start seeing things that get a little bit confusing. That’s just the nature of life. I always try to make sure that you see the villains taken down but at the same time you understand their perspective, you understand them and that they feel like people. So overall, when Zola’s standing in front of Steve, he’s a living reminder of the entire Nazi regime to him?

Rick Remender: Yes, and the worst parts of it. What Zola is after, when we reveal it and you see what he’s up to, it’s going to speak to something Steve feels very personal about it and will have a lot of negative memories. Cap’s long been the “Man Out of Time” and kind of a loner. What’s his supporting cast going to be like in the book?

Sharon Carter

Rick Remender: There will be familiar faces involved. There will be some zigs and zags coming up in the first 18 issues I have planned that will involve characters we’re used to seeing Steve with. There will also be a new cast. I want to work up some new characters for him. I have some new villains to add to his rogue’s gallery, real big threats, and then we’ll also be dealing with characters that come out of the Zola storyline moving forward. Quite a few actually. In the attempt to do the hostile takeover, I wanted to make sure that this has a unique feel and it’s a bold new direction. People are going to really love it or they won’t. It feels like the right decision to me right now and everyone seems excited about what’s going up. Will we see Steve’s romance with Sharon Carter continue?

Rick Remender: That relationship definitely changes throughout the series. It’s the kind of thing that’s going to take us the first 18-20 issues that we’ve got worked out right now to sort of get to the answer. His life is going to change; Sharon’s involvement in it might also change but she’s definitely not out of the picture. Sounds like the comfort level for fans with that relationship may be challenged.

Rick Remender: Their comfort level with everything is going to be challenged.

I can only write what I’d like to read. I look at these things like you can’t be safe or you’re going to make something forgettable. Find something you’re going to get behind and you’re going to workshop with to death with your editors and collaborators. I’ve spent hours on the phone with [editor] Tom Brevoort, John Romita Jr. and [colorist] Dean White and we’ve all torn into this thing over and over again. While it’s a bold new direction, it’s one I’m very confident in and it speaks to the character and his core without going back to WWII or leaning to things we’ve seen in the recent past.

Dark Reign: The List – Punisher by Rick Remender & John Romita Jr. It’s got to feel pretty good to be working on this book with John Romita Jr.

Rick Remender: It feels amazing. We’ve worked together once before, on DARK REIGN: THE LIST – PUNISHER. That was a treat that I thought was going to be a one-time deal. It’s amazing that I get to get another shot with him. I’ll be honest, at the onset of all of this, not launching books with [artists] Tony Moore or Jerome Opena made me nervous. That’s who I work with; those are the guys I’ve launched almost every one of my books with. We have a relationship going back seven to eight years at this point. So that was the other part of this that I had to get my head around, accepting dynamics and trying new things.

Obviously when you have John Romita, Jr., Klaus and Dean they’re going to make anything great. That sort of helped quell my fears about being outside of my comfort zone. With the first issue in, I’d say it’s some of Johnny’s best work. It really harkens back to portions of his DAREDEVIL stylistically, with plenty of KICK-ASS, and we have a story here that speaks to his strengths. It’s working with a living legend, the closest I’ll ever get to working with Jack Kirby and it’s a hell of a treat. Do you write differently for John? Do you put specific things in there that you know he’ll really jazz on?

Rick Remender: Yeah I mean, as a former storyboarder I get very specific in my head about how I see shots. I always try to hold back on calling shots out unless I see something that I think is a really great suggestion, but it’s always something that I make sure any collaborator I have understands that these are just suggestions. I’m saying a three-quarter worm’s-eye [view] is this character in a room talking to somebody or whatever and it’s just that. I’m seeing it in my head when I’m writing it and I put it down as a suggestion and some people really like that and follow all of them, and some people pick and choose. John has done some of both and I know what it’s like to sit down with a script at the page and sometimes you can see every shot and sometimes you can’t.

Uncanny Avengers #1 cover by John Cassaday

That’s why I throw out the suggestions. John is free to cut and add panels as he feels; if he doesn’t think a double-wide [is] working on something he’ll break it down into two pages. He’s an amazing storyteller and that stuff is fine. It makes it more of a collaboration where he’s my collaborator and he’s telling a story too. Anything I’ve gotten back is like “oh, he added a panel there” or “he cut one there” or shifted this here. It’s always for the betterment of the book. It adds to the fluidity and pacing, he knows what he’s doing for sure. He’s John Romita Jr. Will CAPTAIN AMERICA tie-in with your UNCANNY AVENGERS?

Rick Remender: Yeah, for sure. There will be a lot of new characters cross pollinating [between the two books]. The first 10 issues of each are going to be their own thing—you want to get that train out of the station and really solidify what the books are about and what’s going on in them. Then we’ll start to see characters from one pop up in the other and a little more cross pollination. I spent some time on the phone with Jason Aaron about how to incorporate some of his new THOR: GOD OF THUNDER ideas in UNCANNY AVENGERS as well, and I want to do the same with Jonathan Hickman and I know Kieron Gillen and I will talk, too. We’ll try and do our very best to make it cohesive and not like it’s a bold new direction where everyone is doing their own thing. We want it to feel like a bold new direction where everyone is doing their own thing and swapping toys out, trying to build something that feels cohesive because that’s such an important part of the shared universe experience. What about costume changes, fringe on the shield, that sort of thing?

Rick Remender: There will be a unique uniform for Cap in UNCANNY AVENGERS. The uniform that John is drawing in CAPTAIN AMERICA is his version of the design that Jerome cooked up. The new design that Jerome cooked up is super, super-strong but John has streamlined it a bit to fit his style. Maybe he’ll have a few different suits for a few different occasions. Given that he’s a soldier, as long as the suit is iconic and recognizable as what it is, he’s realizing that it’s a new world and he’s stepping up to that.

Captain America

He has Hank Pym developing him some various toys and tools. I’ve been reading all of the old Kirby and Lee stuff and Nick Fury used to give him 007-style stuff all the time. At some point that fell away and Tom Brevoort and I have been talking about it and we really like it. I like the idea that he has pouches of gizmos and things other than saying “I’ll figure it out with the shield!” We’re experimenting with that as well. I think when you see Johnny’s Cap, you’ll fall in love with it. It’s pretty sleek, clean version of the new design. Be open to a little change. The “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Marvel’s The Avengers” films have brought some new popularity to the character, some new life—does that influence what you do at all?

Rick Remender: The first thing in your head is this is not Captain America at a low, which is the best time to get a character like Cap! You want to get Captain America when no one is reading it, I think. There’s only up. At this point with the Cap movie doing as well as it did, the Avengers movie taking over the world, Brubaker and his Eisner-nominated, critically acclaimed run before me, I don’t know if it inspires me—it terrifies me.

Captain America by John Romita Jr.

It’s like the safe bet would be, people like this direction with it, I’ll follow it. What I’ve done instead is pick other things in new directions that I hope people will like just as much. I’m going to spend very little time dealing with World War II. Ed has documented that stuff and done so much with Steve’s life in WWII that for me, when I do flashbacks, I want to focus on Steve’s life before that as a kid growing up on the Lower East Side. With someone like John Romita Jr. drawing that, I mean it’s a no brainer. The popularity and the light put on it put up the expectation and the tension a little bit, but you have to put it all aside. At the end of it you’re in your office, the music is playing and you have to write a tremendous story and if you’re considering fan reaction, any reaction, considering anything other than telling a great story true to the character, it can really hinder you. That fear can lead to pandering and that pandering will lead to vanilla-bean boring comic books.

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