World War II was a dangerous time, both in our history and that of the Marvel Universe, but it was also a time of heroes. Living national symbols like Captain America stepped forward to stand up to the Nazi war machine. Captain America wasn’t the only national champion to fight the Third Reich though. It’s been revealed that over in Wakanda, the Black Panther, the king and religious leader of the African nation of Wakanda, also defended his country against Nazi aggressors. What hasn’t been revealed (until now), is that at one point during the War, these two national heroes fought side by side. In early 2010 that tale will be told in “Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of our Fathers,” a four issue mini-series from the Marvel Knights imprint by co-writers Reginald Hudlin and Denys Cowan, who is also the artist of the series. CBR News spoke with Hudlin and Cowan about the project, which was announced by Marvel yesterday at their Mondo Marvel panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
“Flags of Our Fathers” was born out Hudlin and Cowan’s desire to do a four color project together, as well as their love for both of the series’s protagonists. “Denys and I have worked together on many animated projects, but have never done a comic book together. Considering I have his original drawing of the Black Panther from the cover of last issue of ‘Marvel Fanfare’ framed on my office wall, that’s crazy,” Reginald Hudlin told CBR News. “We said we wanted to do a Black Panther/Captain America story, since we love both characters. We looked at their various team ups throughout their history, and realized there was more to be told with that first connection.”
For “Flags of Our Fathers,” Hudlin and Cowan are going back to the early days of Captain America. “This is very old school Cap. This is triangle shield, helmet mask unattached to the shirt Cap. We see him meet the Howling Commandos for the first time. And of course, meet Panther for the first time,” Hudlin explained. “Regardless of where Cap is in his history, he’s still the same man he was before he took the serum – a man of great courage, personal integrity and optimism. He’s the embodiment of the American Spirit, and that’s an attitude that’s a pleasure to be immersed in.”
Denys Cowan added. ” Basically he’s raw, yet embodied with a fierce fighting spirit. You can see from this story arc what he’ll eventually become. What I find most compelling about Captain America is that the character forces you to come up with interesting pictures because of his innate nobility. Captain America just doesn’t sit around — he’s always doing something visually interesting. He is a symbol, after all.”
While Captain America may still be a rookie hero in “Flags of Our Fathers,” the Golden Age Black Panther, Azzari the Wise, is a veteran at defending his nation against its enemies. “He is already King of his nation, the absolute ruler,”Cowan says. “You could say he’s a symbol of his country. I would also say the events of the world at that time weigh heavily on him.”
Hudlin added, “Azzari’s experience isn’t just limited to fighting skills. He knows that World War Two is a huge pivot point for world history. He’s not called ‘the Wise’ for nothing. Like T’Challa [T’Challa is Azzari’s grandson] during ‘Civil War’, he’s got to decide how much he wants to be actively involved in those changes. He’s also a family man with a wife and kids, and concerns over their welfare color a lot of his decision making.”
Back in 2005, Hudlin’s first issue of “Black Panther” hit stores. The story opened by giving readers glimpses of the various Black Panthers that have operated throughout Wakanda’s history, including a glimpse of a Black Panther going toe-to-toe with a triangular shield wielding Captain America. “You’ll be seeing that scene, where the two icons fight in this series, but in far greater detail than it’s ever been presented before,” Hudlin remarked. “We see why Cap is there, we find out he’s not there alone, and [find out] what happens after that fight.”
The two characters will clash in “Flags of Our Fathers,” but the dynamic between Cap and the Panther won’t be strictly antagonistic. “While the Black Panther is an experienced leader of his nation, Captain America is new at his job, inexperienced, has a lot to learn… the seeds of greatness are within him. He believes in America’s promise and freedom,” Cowan said. “I would say at times their philosophies are conflicting and at times, complimentary. They both learn many lessons throughout this story arc.”
During the actual World War II, all the combatants strove to assemble a huge stockpile of arms and armaments. However, the World War II setting of “Flags of Our Fathers” is informed by a different kind of arms race. “Not only are they racing to create intercontinental ballistic missiles and atomic bombs, but super powered weapons as well,” Hudlin explained. “Captain America was created to counteract the Red Skull, and both of them are after the resources of Wakanda.”
Indeed, it is Wakanda’s most precious natural resource, the metal known as vibranium, that launches much of the conflict in “Flags of Our Fathers.” “It’s a story about Nazis going to Africa to take vibranium from the Wakandans, and the only things that are in their way are Black Panther, Captain America and Sergeant Fury and the Howling Commandos,” Cowan stated. “To me, it’s really about the experiences of Captain America being exposed to a culture and a continent that he’s not familiar with. It’s about Sergeant Fury and the Howling Commandos first meeting Captain America and the Black Panther. It’s about keeping the Nazis from world domination.”
Both Captain America and the Black Panther are larger than life national symbols in the eyes of their countrymen. In order to truly give a sense of the magnitude and grandeur of these characters, much of the action in “Flags of Our Fathers” will be seen through the eyes of a “regular” fighting man, Gabe Jones of the Howling Commandos.
“Historically, Gabe Jones is one of the first ‘normal’ black people in comics. By normal, I mean, not a racist caricature. Gabe is the first of the great breakthroughs in realistic depictions of black characters that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did in the 1960s. He was the forerunner of Robbie Robertson and the Black Panther,” Hudlin said. “My only criticism of the character is, like Franklin in ‘Peanuts’, he was a woefully underdeveloped character, likely in an attempt not to be offensive. So I’m going to flesh out who Gabe Jones is. As an African American, he seemed like the perfect person to be the point of view of this story. He would take pride in both the Black Panther and Captain America, and also would find himself in conflict with both.”
Gabe Jones’s role as a POV character isn’t the only reason why Hudlin wanted to include Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos in “Flags of our Fathers.” “I love those characters,” the writer said. “and I wanted to show the start of the transition of Nick from the World War II hero to the cold warrior and spymaster he would become.”
Captain America, the Black Panther, and the Howling Commandos are some of the most capable and dangerous fighters of the WWII era Marvel Universe, so Hudlin and Cowan made sure to assemble a collection of dangerous Nazi villains to test their protagonists’ mettle. “We’ll see some of the heavy hitters like the Red Skull and Baron Strucker, and some of the lesser known but very nasty Nazi super villains like the Armless Tiger Man,” Hudlin revealed.
The tone of “Flags of Our Fathers” is a cocktail of elements from war stories and two-fisted pulp adventure tales. Cowan described the tone as “Indiana Jones meets ‘Band of Brothers’ and mixed with the Battle of Midway.” Hudlin added, “There’s political intrigue of all types, but this story is also about big action. The first page starts with a full page panel of a machine gun being fired straight at the reader. There’s a lot of big time foot-to-ass action. I mean, seriously great action. Denys is drawing the hell out of this book.”
“Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers” is a dream project for both Hudlin and Cowan who are huge fans of the characters. The duo took care, though, to make sure they were crafting a story that would be just as pleasing to new readers as it was to long term Cap and Panther fans like themselves. “It’s a great ‘jumping on’ book without tons of continuity to wade through. You don’t need to buy 15 other books to follow the story. It’s a great way to sample these two characters.”