When Steve Rogers sacrificed his life during the closing days of World War II, he left a giant, Captain America-shaped hole in the Marvel Universe. America took a serious blow and someone needed to pick up the shield and fill the void left behind. Enter Jeff Mace, a everyday reporter called on by his country to do exactly that. How? Find out this September when writer Karl Kesel and artist Mitch Breitweiser launch the four-issue limited “Captain America: Patriot,” announced Friday at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo.
Practically every comic fan knows the origins of Captain America – a young Steve Rogers wanted to do his part to fight for his country, so he signed up for a secret government program and became the legendary Super Soldier. However, not many know exactly what happened following the hero’s apparent death in 1945. The government kept the original Cap’s passing a secret by having William Naslund, known as the hero the Spirit of ’76, take over the role. Naslund perished quickly afterward, requiring yet another replacement, and this time Jeff Mace, the costumed fighter Patriot and leader of the All-Winners Squad, took over until his retirement.
Unfortunately, much of Mace’s story was never really explored…until now, that is. Kesel spoke with CBR News about the upcoming limited series and Jeff Mace – the origins of the character, his relationship with the members of the Invaders and how a kid from the streets manage to become one of America’s greatest heroes.
CBR News: When exactly does your story take place? Is it right after World War II?
Karl Kesel: The majority of it. Jeff Mace became the Patriot because he was inspired by Captain America, so, we do start there. We start with his origin, which as far as I can tell has never been told before. Even in the old Golden Age stories – the ones I’ve seen, I can’t say I’ve read all of them – they refer to him being inspired by Captain America, but I don’t think there’s ever been an origin story. So, we finally show his origin story; what exactly inspires him, and how did he meet Captain America, and where his name came from and all of that. Then very quickly from there, we fast forward to the point where he is asked to take over the Captain America name and uniform. The majority of the miniseries is him in that uniform and the highs and lows that it brings in his life.
Obviously, you can’t go into how exactly he was inspired by Captain America, as that would give away the whole thing. But when you look at the original creation of Captain America, he was created to be a inspiration for young men to join up in the army and to instill a certain level of patriotism. Are you drawing on any of that when exploring Jeff’s origins?
I can’t say that I’ve thought about it like you’ve just thought about it, but what you’re saying sticks with the way I’ve been approaching it. Jeff Mace is a reporter for the Daily Bugle, and he does have a discussion with his editor about how damn inspirational Cap is to everyone and how he is too big for the printed page and all of that. So, I mean, a lot of what you were saying is in the background and in the subtext of what’s going on.
When did you first encounter the character while growing up?
I liked Cap, but I can’t say I’ve always been Cap’s Number 1 Fan. There have been times when Captain America was a great comic. I don’t remember the original Kirby run back in the ’60s. The first time I really started liking Cap was Steve Englehart’s run back in the ’70s – the Nomad story and all of that, which at the time, the idea of a hero quitting was something I couldn’t wrap my head around. There’s been other high points, too. I certainly enjoyed John Byrne and Roger Stern’s far too short run on it. Mark Waid, I think, did amazing things with it. And I think Brubaker is doing some really great stuff right now. So, I’ve enjoyed Cap as a character, and there have been times that I really looked forward to his comic. Right now is one of those times.
Shifting back to Jeff Mace, what can you say about the personality of this character? If you two were to go grab a bite to eat for lunch, where would he go?
Well, he would probably go to a burger joint. Jeff Mace is a really down-to-Earth guy. Part of that came out of trying to figure out how this guy, who, let’s face it, is not a Super Soldier and has no superpowers. How in the world does a guy like that even come across as believable as Captain America? I actually decided that he grew up on Yancy Street and is a really, really good brawler. So, his roots are very lower East Side New York.
Since he’s a brawler, does that mean when it comes to fighting he lacks that certain grace that Steve Rogers had?
I think there are some parts of being Captain America that he has to learn and grow into, definitely. Steve Rogers, when you start thinking about it, was freakishly a good person to choose to be Captain America. There’s something about his psyche that matches it perfectly. He’s got this unerring sense of right and wrong and he’s got a great sense of diplomacy. And I would say that Jeff Mace does not have the best sense of diplomacy. So, these are things he has to learn in order to be Captain America.
Besides the diplomacy and strong moral fiber, another aspect of Captain America is that iconic costume. Are we going to be seeing Jeff in the same costume, or will there be a bit of a tweaking?
There are ways that Mitch [Breitweiser] is drawing the Jeff Mace Cap that, to me, is his own little take on it. It’s not a big departure, but it’s the way the lines on the mask fall and stuff like that. Mitch draws a very short band of stripes around his waist. It’s not a very tall band of stripes. It’s almost like a cummerbund. There’s something really solid about the way he draws the Jeff Mace Cap that I love.
You mentioned how the story starts out by exploring the character’s origins, but what about after that? What’s the main thrust of the story once the setup is out of the way?
Well, the main thrust is that they ask him to be Captain America, he says yes and they find out there’s a lot more to it than just wearing the costume. Not only is it hard for him physically, it’s damn hard for him physically. He isn’t a Super Soldier. But he is Captain America for a time with the All-Winners Squad. These guys know he’s not Cap. He’s surrounded by guys like Namor and the Torch, who knew Steve Rogers. Let’s just say Prince Namor, especially, is very, very loyal to the original Cap and doesn’t place value Jeff Mace.
You mean Namor is a bit of a jerk? That doesn’t sound anything like him.
[Laughs] I have to say, writing this miniseries, I have really come to like Namor, because no one says things the way he says things. I really had a riot writing him and the way he begrudgingly comes around to think that Jeff Mace might have something admirable about him, maybe.
You mentioned Namor and the Torch being in the book. Are there any other characters we’ll be seeing? When it comes to the All-Winners Squad, we’ve got people like Miss Patriot and Golden Girl, who is Mace’s future wife…
Yeah. Golden Girl, obviously we’re going to see a lot of her – probably more of her here than she’s seen anywhere else. So, yeah. Golden Girl plays an important role in the story, definitely. We also see that there is, of course, a Bucky at this time. Fred Davis it the second Bucky, and the interesting thing about that relationship is that Fred has been Bucky longer than Jeff has been Cap. So, Fred kind of thinks that the team should be referred to as ‘Bucky and Captain America.’ Really, there are a few times he saves Jeff’s ass on a number of levels. Jeff doesn’t know about Cap’s history, and when you’re trying to pretend you’re a guy that you’re not, there are one or two times that Jeff starts to put his foot in his mouth and Bucky is like, ‘Hey Cap! Why don’t we go away, right now?’ So, Bucky is watching out for Jeff, and there is a certain amount of resentment there. He’s pulling more of his weight, and yet all the spotlight is still on Cap, isn’t it?
You just hinted at his relationship with Golden Girl. What’s is their relationship like?
A big part of the story is the development of their relationship. Golden Girl was Betsy Ross, who was introduced in the very first Golden Age issue of “Captain America” by Simon and Kirby. She has been, over the course of the different Caps, the FBI’s liaison to Captain America – his governmental go-between. So, she is the governmental go-between here with Jeff Mace, and in the course of that, they fall in love. How that moves forward – and there are a lot of obstacles thrown in their way – is a big part of the course of the story.
Steve Rogers was always this patriotic character. Back when he first appeared, he was very much a government boy, for lack of a better term. It seems with Jeff growing up on Yancy Street and being more of a rougher type, he may be less well willing to just go along with government orders all the time.
I don’t want to go into too much of that, but I will say that Jeff Mace is a reporter and he sees things from a little more of a left wing angle more than certain government people would like. Let’s face it, Jeff Mace has no military background ,and that’s a huge difference in Captain America, suddenly.
You know, Jeff works at the Daily Bugle and lived on Yancy Street. That’s already two pretty big Marvel Universe historical landmarks. Are there any other ones in this book?
I can think of one other definitely, and I don’t want to say what it is right now. But there is one other place that ties in strongly to the Marvel Universe. And some other minor characters.
We talked about Mitch earlier. His art is simply stunning, but what is it about his style that compliments the tone of this story specifically?
I think Mitch is just such a phenomenal talent. I’m very lucky that he agreed to do this project. Every page that I have seen from Mitch has just been knockout gorgeous, and dynamic and compelling. Every time I get a page from him, it’s like a Christmas present I get to open up. His stuff just has this wonderful sense of reality to it that just helps this story a lot. I like to think it was a good script when I wrote it, but what Mitch brought to it helped root it in the real world. His hero costumes are not really skin tight. They’ve got folds. It bags around the neck. I actually really, really like that about it. It just makes it seem more tangible, more solid. When he draws a building under construction, he’s got every rivet in there. It’s astounding. I just can’t say enough good things about him. He draws a really great Captain America. He also draws some great women. His Golden Girl, I don’t think she’s ever looked this good. I just loves that he gets the hairstyles and the fashion of the period right. We spend some time with the Patriot’s supporting cast. One is a gal named Mary Morgan, and Mary Morgan is actually a pretty big supporting character in the miniseries. His Mary Morgan is wonderful.
Mary Morgan being the civilian identity of Miss Patriot. Does this come into play in the miniseries?
Mary plays a very big role in it. Mary Morgan was Miss Patriot for one issue and then never seen again. Not only was she Miss Patriot, she had superpowers. The question, even on some of the Web sites when I was doing research, is why did Jeff Mace end up marrying Betsy Ross, Golden Girl, when Mary Morgan dressed up as Miss Patriot, for God’s sake. Why didn’t he end up with her? I think that’s a good question and one of the things that this miniseries addresses. Why was she Miss Patriot for only one issue? No one ever mentioned her again. In fact, she never even appeared in costume in the story itself. She was only in costume in a splash page. It’s very odd. But of course, it was the Golden Age, nothing made sense then.
To close out, when this project began, what were some of the unique challenges you faced putting it together?
Well, this was a project that I actually pitched. It came out of my writing the “All-Winners Comics” special last year. Jeff Mace was Captain America in that story, and that’s when I did the research on him to try to get a handle on him. That’s when I started going, “Oh. So, he doesn’t have any superpowers and yet he’s trying to pass himself off as Captain America. He isn’t a Super Soldier. He’s just a really fit guy. That’s really interesting.” Then, of course, Captain America, not only are his boots big to fill, but he also casts a shadow that you can never get out of. How can ever surpass that? How can you ever even equal that? To me, that was a very interesting question to look at. And then I discovered that there’s a point where Jeff Mace says, “Okay, thanks. I’ve had enough. I’ve had a good time being Captain America. I’m going to go live in the suburbs now.” And he walked away. He walks away from being the number one hero in the world. What in the world is the story? That’s what I pitched to Tom Brevoort and he said, “I think we should find out what the story is. Write it.” I had the questions, but I didn’t have the answers. But, like I said, I think it’s very interesting that you got a Captain America with no military background. I think it’s very interesting that you’ve got a Captain America with no super powers. I think it’s very interesting that you’ve got a symbol for America who is built to fight a war and there’s no war. You’re in the Cold War world. It’s a very different world – McCarthyism, Red Scare, Communism. How does Captain America fit into that world?