What makes a hero? Is it his choices? Or is it the circumstances surrounding these choices? These are just some of the questions asked by Marvel Comic’s classic title, “What If?”, which returns in December as a special series of one-shots. The first special takes a new look at Marvel’s Sentinel of Liberty by asking, “What if one of America’s darkest times, The Civil War, gave birth to one of its greatest heroes, Captain America?” CBR News spoke with Tony Bedard, writer of “What If Captain America Fought In the Civil War?”, about the special.
Unlike past issues of “What If?” The December one-shots all have a common thread. “In each issue of this ‘What If…?’ event, there is a kid who is a computer hacker supreme, and he’s managed to hack into the Internet…from a parallel universe,” Bedard told CBR News. “Reading through web sites from Earth 717, he learns all about the heroes of this earth, and how they are both similar to and different from the ones in the mainstream Marvel Universe. This event is also pretty neat in that the different stories tend to be set at different points in the history of Earth 717.”
“What if Captain America Fought In the Civil War?” begins with the computer hacker discovering the conflict between Earth 717’s Sentinel of Liberty and the forces of tyranny. “Basically, our hacker character finds a reference to the present-day General America and his battle against the Hydra-like hate group, the White Skulls,” Bedard explained. “Further research turns up that General America is only the most recent Sentinel of Liberty, and that the original was a Union Corporal from the Civil War. And thus unfolds the original story in which Corporal Stephen Rogers is transformed into the original Captain America. It’s a terrific opportunity for me to do a mystically tinged Western comic dealing with themes and events that have always fascinated me.”
Bedard jumped at the chance to write “What If Captain America . . .” when it was offered to him by editor Mark Paniccia. Bedard relished the opportunity to transport one of his favorite Marvel characters to such an interesting time period. “When Mark Paniccia called, he already had the basic idea set: A Union soldier is transformed by Native American mystical means,” Bedard said. “I plugged that into the terrible border conflict between Kansas and Missouri– the same part of the war that spawned the Outlaw Josie Wales. It’s a place where nothing is what it seems, and there are no good guys. It’s the fog of war, and a place where one’s ideals would be sorely tested. I only had 22 pages in which to get this all down and make a statement about America, but I feel pretty damn good about how it all came together.”
Bedard’s story required little research since he’s quite familiar with how the West was won. “I’ve actually just completed the screenplay for a Western animated feature film that I’m probably not allowed to talk about yet, but the transition to a Civil War story was effortless,” Bedard stated. “I’m up to my eyeballs in that period right now. Not to mention that ‘Deadwood’ was my big TV discovery last year. Add to that my longstanding fanboy fixation with Captain America (I’d kill to write that series some day) and this assignment was a scary good fit.”
For Bedard, another highlight of the assignment was seeing his tale brought to life by artist Carmine Di Giandomenico. “I hadn’t actually heard of Carmine before Mark Paniccia teamed us on this issue,” Bedard said. “He lives in Italy and had been active in the vibrant European comics scene before Mark tapped him to draw the ‘Vegas’ feature running in recent issues of ‘Amazing Fantasy.’ He has this very eye-catching style that’s all his own. It somehow manages to be both very natural and cartoony at the same time. His characters come across as distinct individuals, and his design work is also very imaginative. In designing the look for the Civil War Captain America, Carmine went in several directions, playing with Native American visuals as well as riffing on Union Army and cavalry uniforms. It was really tough choosing which of his cool character designs to go with. We corresponded a lot, and he was a pleasure to work with. I hope we can collaborate again.”
While he was writing his chapter in December’s “What If?” event, Bedard was able to sneak a peek at the scripts for the other one-shots that make up the event. “I got to read the other scripts and these are all very fun books, especially Mike Carey’s brilliant Fantastic Four in the Soviet Union script,” Bedard said. “By the way, Mike Carey is a full-on genius. I’d hand the guy ‘Thor’ if it were up to me. Hats off to Paniccia for pulling it off so nicely!”
As the current writer of “Exiles,” Bedard is no stranger to “What If?” style stories. He shared some of his favorites. “Does ‘What if the fine person reading this interview actually went and bought my comic and loved it?’ count?” Bedard joked. “Okay, it might be the one where Galactus turns Aunt May into his new herald, the Golden Oldie. No, seriously. But the best ‘What Ifs’ may have happened outside the early ‘What If…?’ series, such as the ‘Days of Future Past’ story line, Alan Moore’s ‘What Ever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?’…or most of the ‘Exiles’ run!”
Working on “What If Captain America Fought in the Civil War?” was a fun filled endeavor for Bedard. ” I don’t know if editor Mark Paniccia knew what a dream project it was for me when he offered it, but I leapt at the chance. And Carmine Di Giandomenico, is an absolute sensation. He totally nailed a very complex story and did it in a completely fresh visual style. This is honestly one of my favorite assignments yet at Marvel.”
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.