When World War II broke out in the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers stepped up and was there for his country. He did that by allowing himself to be transformed into Captain America, a physically perfect super soldier and living symbol of his country. Cap’s fighting spirit, physical abilities and skill with his unbreakable shield helped the allies win their war against the Axis Powers, but in the final days of the conflict fate conspired to rob America of its Sentinel of Liberty by freezing him in suspended animation.
The war’s end did not diminish America’s need for Cap. During his absence a decades-long Cold War raged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, an era in which tough decisions were made on both sides. Years after Cap’s return to action, the consequences of those choices are coming back to haunt him and the nation he fights for in the form of several ruthless and dangerous villains. Unfortunately for Cap they’re coming back at a time when the hero is at his lowest, having recently lost his fiance and adopted son while fighting in an alien dimension. CBR News spoke with “Captain America” writer Rick Remender about these villains, their schemes,and how his “Winter Soldier: The Bitter March” miniseries will flesh out some of the details of their pasts while they impact the present.
CBR News: Rick, in the aftermath of “The Dimension Z Saga” Cap burned his artifacts from the past, but that doesn’t mean your “Captain America” run isn’t concerned with his stories history and how it’s still having an impact on the present. In fact, recent issues have show the past as more important than ever, especially the Cold War, which he was not around for. Nuke, the Iron Nail and Doctor Mindbubble all have connections to that era. What made you want to explore the ramifications of that time period? And how important are the time period and its consequences to the larger story you’re telling?
Rick Remender: In building these characters they all fit Cold War ideologies. I think that Nuke obviously does, and as I built the Iron Nail and Doctor Mindbubble they did as well. So we decided to grow them during a period when Cap was frozen and off the stage, and they all have quite a bit to do with one another.
â€¨The Winter Soldier [Cap’s one time partner Bucky Barnes, who was transformed into a brainwashed and bionic super assassin by the KGB during the Cold War] plays a huge role in the birth of the Iron Nail. Doctor Mindbubble is also connected to the Iron Nail. Then you’ve got Nuke, who was connected to Weapon Plus back in that era as the Super Soldier they were trying to build.
What I wanted to do was tell a story that didn’t involve Cap that would then be a time bomb that would blow up in his face. I also wanted it to, just for once, not have any connective tissue to him; where it involved all of these things that happened while he was gone. The fun of that is he gets to examine an era when America was in a tumultuous transitory state and things were quite difficult for the country. As we saw with Cap’s conversations with Nuke, that really enables a nice debate and conversation about ideology.
So it just sort of seemed right and it was also exciting to get to go back in the terms of the “Winter Soldier” miniseries to tell the origin of Ran Shen; how he became the Iron Nail and the instances that led to that transformation. You’ll also see how the Winter Soldier was involved in that and how Cap’s training of the Winter Soldier played a role in all of that.
It’s all connected and as “Captain America” and the “Winter Soldier” series are released concurrently with one another in the coming months they’ll both sort of ping pong off of each other and tell a full story about who the Iron Nail is and ultimately set him up as somebody who is going to shatter Steve Rogers in a large way and change the status quo of this book and the Marvel Universe for quite some time to come.
From what I understand, Ran Shen, the man who becomes the Iron Nail, is a very different guy when “Winter Soldier: The Bitter March” begins. What can you tell us about the man he is when the series starts?
Ran is a guy who believes in what he does. He joined law enforcement and S.H.I.E.L.D. in general because his father was a Chinese immigrant who believed in the America dream and as a factory worker he joined a strike when he and his fellow workers found that their wages were too minimal to survive on. Then, as it happened to many workers back in that era, strike breakers came and beat and killed the strikers. Ran’s father was severely injured in the attack.
So Ran watched the democracy that his father had come to embrace physically devastate him, but his father insisted that this not inform Ran and that Ran should in fact continue to fight harder for the beauty of the dream of a free society and democracy. So Ran’s father was really instrumental in pushing him to join law enforcement and ending up in S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s also instrumental in Ran deciding to take on a mission to remove Mao Zedong from power. He was in deep cover making his way towards that mission when he got the call to come help Nick Fury, Sr. extract a couple of Nazi scientists from a HYDRA castle.
â€¨That stuff all builds into a character who was doing his best to live up to his father’s dream and teachings even though his own emotional state tells him that the way America treats its workers is in need of changing. He’s got anger issues over what happened to his father, but he’s doing his best to be a good man. The events of the “Winter Soldier” will unfold in a way that doesn’t end incredibly well for Ran. He walks away from that series with a very different perspective. We’ve timed this to when you see Ran’s ultimate revenge on Captain America and on S.H.I.E.L.D. you also see how he came to that place and became who he is in “Winter Soldier.” So we’re in a really wonderful place where we get to develop not only Captain America and the Winter Soldier in huge new ways, but we’re also developing the Iron Nail and Doctor Mindbubble concurrently.
It sounds like, in a way, Ran serves as a mirror to Steve in that he too had a parental figure that urged him not to become jaded by the circumstances of a tumultuous economic time.
Very much so. In Ran’s case the events of his life as a Cold War-era S.H.I.E.L.D. agent changed him. He looks at the injuries his father sustained and what they endured as immigrants and he loses faith, where Steve continues to hold on to his.
On top of providing some character development, I understand that “Winter Soldier: The Bitter March” is also a twisty, fun, pulp spy tale. Is that correct?
Absolutely. Once we get into “Captain America” #17 and “Winter Soldier” #1 the books are on a rocket trajectory. I’m leaning into my love of writing beated out action. I’ve done all the work I’ve needed to now. In the Nuke arc we saw bits and pieces of the Iron Nail. We saw him trying to break into Hub Station to release Doctor Mindbubble from his prison. We’ve seen the artifact he used to gain the power of the Nian dragon.
So everything has been set and those are always the hard issues because you’re setting the board. Even going back to Dimension Z and the loss of Sharon and Ian, all of that is a big part of what is basically a 25-issue story. I’m doing that in both “Uncanny Avengers” and “Captain America.” Nothing that has happened has been happenstance or random. All of the things that we’ve seen play a role later on and that includes the events of Dimension Z and the Nuke arc. Now leading into the Iron Nail we get the first real ramifications for Steve of all of this.
He’s trying desperately to hold his ideology together and he’s put face to face with a very large secret that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been keeping and that the Iron Nail has unearthed. That secret isn’t just Doctor Mindbubble — he’s just part one. S.H.I.E.L.D has been devising something to help humanity deal with all of these incredible cosmic and supernatural threats without having to turn to civilians dressed in costumes that can do things like breathe fire.
â€¨What they’ve done is something Steve is going to find quite distasteful. He’s going to be placed in a very awkward and difficult situation with basically the reputation of his nation and everything he believes in on the line. All of which was perfectly instrumented by the Iron Nail who has been setting the board since issue #11.
Sounds like a lot of those trappings might be welcoming to people coming to the book for the first time after seeing the “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” feature film.
Absolutely, we knew these months were going to be real big and the buzz around the film was terrific even at the script stage. So we wanted to build something that wasn’t just another rehash of what Ed [Brubaker] did in his tremendous “Captain America: Winter Soldier” story and instead add some new wrinkles. So setting our “Winter Soldier” miniseries in the ’60s allowed me to show some new strengths and weaknesses in his character and also unravel a bigger story that’s ultimately going to incredibly change the lives of our entire cast.
â€¨The focus of our cast right now is obviously Captain America, Falcon, the Iron Nail and Doctor Mindbubble. In the present those characters are going to be incredibly changed, and what the Iron Nail has set up here stems from the anger he feels over what happened at the end of the “Winter Soldier.” He wanted to show Captain America that he was wrong; that democracy doesn’t work and America is a flawed nation. Steve is going to have to make a tremendous sacrifice in order to prove him wrong. So in “Captain America” it really is a reflection of the Cold War-era ideologies once again butting heads.
Captain America’s most famous nemesis, the Red Skull, is a right wing fanatic, and with the Iron Nail it sounds like you’ve given Cap a foe at the opposite end of the political spectrum — a left wing fanatic, but one with an arguable view point. Is that correct?
Yeah, that was the attempt. He’s not just a Communist. He has his own ideology but it basically could be defined as extreme communism. More than just seeing Communism as a solution he sees everything that the West has done as a corruption upon the Earth. So I’ve done my best and I’ve dedicated quite a bit of real estate to really developing the Iron Nail’s perspective between “Cap” #11 and #15 and hopefully not make him a mustache twirling monster.
He’s definitely twisted and he’s definitely willing to kill people to accomplish his goals, but I wanted to do my very best to at least make his ideology and the way he sees things somewhat relatable even if it is far too extreme and his methodology is obviously unquestionably evil.
You mentioned we’ll see how the Winter Soldier will impact the Iron Nail in the past in “The Bitter March,” but will we see Bucky Barnes interacting with Cap and the Iron Nail in the present day in upcoming issues of “Captain America?”
The Winter Soldier will play a role in the events that transpire after issue #21. So we’ll see the Winter Soldier in the subsequent arc, the real escalation where every single piece of the story so far comes back into play, between #22 and #25. He does not play a role in the immediate present day conflict though.
Let’s move from the Winter Soldier into another brainwashed super soldier, Nuke, whom Cap interacted with recently and who figured pretty prominently in the Red Nail’s scheme. From his scenes and dialogue with Nuke in “Captain America” #15 it feels like Cap sees Nuke in the same way he viewed his counterpart from the 1950s (the anti-communist Captain America), as a good man who was warped and twisted by the forces that created him. How important was it for Steve to reach Nuke? And how does it feel for Steve to be reminded that the legacy that created him has been abused and twisted again and again?
It presents Steve with more tests. Whereas Steve recognized that Nuke is a mad dog and that the easiest and likely safest solution is to put him down, he does see in Nuke, like you said, a reflection of himself and what he could have been had he become the super soldier of a different era. So he wants to help rehabilitate Nuke, but ultimately that compassion and ideology is used against him by the Iron Nail. Once he’s inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hub base Nuke is detonated.
â€¨So that’s ultimately a crack in the armor that the Iron Nail is going to be pounding at, Steve’s ideology; how he does things, his mercy, and his heroism are basically a detriment to the safety of those around him. So with Nuke Steve did the right thing, but that backfired on him. How he deals with that moving forward will unearth a lot about the character, I hope.
In our last “Captain America” interview we talked in-depth about, Doctor Mindbubble, the man who was freed from the S.H.I.E.L.D. prison by the Iron Nail turning Nuke into a bomb in “Cap” #15. I know he’s a character you’ve been developing for a while, so how does it feel for him to finally make his Marvel Comics debut?
It feels great. I’ve already written up to issue #24, so I’ve already written a good deal with him. He’s a tremendous amount of fun and I think that his powers were developed to be useful in unearthing other characters’ dreams and desires and to turn those things against them. That allows me to put a physical stamp on what’s going on in Steve’s mind and what’s happening to his heart. So Mindbubble’s powers are wonderful for any character to be used that way. That’s how he was sort of developed.
He’s also a very different character from Steve. He’s basically Timothy Leary gone bad. He is a very spiritual and thoughtful man, but again sees the evils of his own nation being worth extreme measures. So you’ll get more of that wonderful ideological divide between him and Captain America. What Doctor Mindbubble does to Steve will play a major role in snapping him so that the Iron Nail can come and finish the job. It’s a one two punch with those guys, and again, it’s all part of the Iron Nail’s plan. This has been his game plan since the beginning.
Let’s move to some of Cap’s allies in this current storyline. Falcon and Nick Fury appear to be two of the major ones. We know the status of the dynamic between Falcon and Cap, but how would you describe the dynamic between Steve and Nick? Is it similar to the relationship that Steve had with Nick’s father, Nick Fury, Sr.?
They don’t have that same history. They didn’t fight World War II together and they don’t go back years and years with S.H.I.E.L.D. So Cap doesn’t have a tremendous amount of emotional connective tissue to Nick Fury at this point, but what he does have, and interestingly enough all these characters have, is a connection to Nick Fury, Sr.
â€¨Doctor Mindbubble was imprisoned by him. Ran Shen, the Iron Nail, has a big story point with Nick Fury, Sr. coming up with him in the “Winter Soldier” miniseries. So they have a number of different emotions, based on what character you’re looking at, tied to Nick Fury, Sr. Doctor Mindbubble will use that quite a bit against the young Nick Fury. It unearths some feelings of insecurity about not living up to his father’s legacy.
Will Nick Fury play a significant role in some of these upcoming issues?
Yeah, for sure. One thing that he’s been involved in with Maria [Hill] is the creation of this incredible weapon that we will finally get to see at the end of issue #18. In that issue we’ll get the big reveal of what it is, but not what it can do. Every issue we get deeper and deeper into what S.H.I.E.L.D. has been creating in order to insure that mankind can protect themselves without the heroes of Earth.
We chatted a bit about “Captain America” #16.NOW, which is available now, in our last interview, so we know the issue will have the Red Skull’s S-Men offering Jet Black [Arnim Zola’s daughter who assisted Cap in the Dimension Z saga and travelled back to this dimension with him] a place in their organization. I’m guessing part of the reason she’s in danger of taking them up on their offer is that she’s not fitting in real well in this dimension?
It is. If you read the end of “Dimension Z” you saw Jet just barely chose to help Steve. She was basically raised as a warrior queen that would come and conquer Earth. Instead she chose the side of the angels and did what she thought was the right decision in helping Steve. The consequences of that are she’s now stranded in a world where she knows no one or anything about it and has no role in it. It’s a complex situation for her because she was intended to rule this world and now here she is just a participant in it who can’t find her way.
Much of what Zola had planned was in cahoots with the Red Skull as we’ll soon discover. Issue #23 will show you what the Red Skull has been doing and what he’s been building. That’s going to begin to be reflected in a big way in both “Cap” and “Uncanny Avengers.” Then the big Red Skull story is going to build out of that.
Jet Black’s role in all of that will be very complicated. It will be very difficult for her to decide which is better because the Red Skull is basically offering her a chance to return to the path that her father laid before her; one that would lead to her being a ruler instead of being a shadow.
I imagine whatever choice she makes will cause Steve some guilt because he hasn’t really been there for her to help her adjust to this new world?
Yeah, he really hasn’t been. She’s been living with him, but Steve has been in a terrible depression. He’s dealing with the loss of Sharon [Carter] and Ian, and he’s now questioning his methodology and ideology based on the events of the Nuke arc. So we’ve really banged the hell out of Steve. He’s doing his best to hold on, but the little time he has had with Jet is spent with her almost telling him that perhaps his heroism and his methodology of dealing with threats is an old and dead philosophy that he needs to overcome. So it’s a complex relationship and it’s one that will really come to a head in the coming months.
After the Jet issue we have Steve dealing with Doctor Mindbubble. You talked a little bit about how Mindbubble’s powers will affect Steve, which has me wondering just how surreal these next few issues of “Captain America” will be. Will they be more acid, or more David Lynch-style surreal nightmare?
It will be a good bit of both. The psychedelic nature of his powers and his dialogue is obviously a lot of fun to write. He’s an extreme hippy turned killer. Then once somebody is inside one of his mindbubbles they no longer know that they’re in it. They think they’re in normal reality, but they are walking through a version of reality that either Doctor Mindbubble has given them or they’re presented with their heart’s desire, which will then turn on them and kill them at Doctor Mindbubble’s whim. So things become very psychological once we get into the conflict with him. It’s really where we get a good clean look at what’s going on with Steve and his heart right now.
Let’s start to conclude by talking about the work of your artistic collaborators. Roland Boschi is doing “Winter Soldier: The Bitter March,” Pascal Alixe did “Captain America” #16.Now, and Nic Klein is doing the art on the next few issues of “Captain America.” What do you feel each of these guys brings to the stories they worked on?
Pascal’s work on the story with Jet Black and the Red Skull and his S-Men was really fantastic looking. Then Nic Klein comes on for the “Iron Nail” arc that begins in issue #17. That’s about half done now and it’s just spectacular. He’s working with the amazing Dean White on colors. They’re a dream team.
Then after Nic, Carlos Pacheco will come back. It’s possible that Carlos and Nic might alternate back and forth on arcs for a while. We’re still working things out right now.
And Roland is someone I worked with a lot on my “Punisher” stuff. He did some “FrankenCastle” issues and he did my last arc of “Punisher,” which dealt with the ramifications of Jigsaw and everything. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of his work. It’s great to get to collaborate with him again. He’s one of the very best artists working in comic books. He and Chris Chuckry have absolutely knocked “Winter Soldier” out of the park. It’s one of the most spectacular looking comics I’ve been associated with.
Finally, you’ve been writing for Marvel for several years now, but is this the first time you’ve been working on a title when it gets a heightened bit of spotlight because of a movie?
I launched “Punisher” with Jerome Opena when the last Punisher movie [“Punisher: War Zone”] came out, but that’s not quite the same degree as this. Honestly though, other than considering telling a big story that included the Winter Soldier and some of these other elements, which was sort of the plan anyway, I haven’t changed anything based on the film. I’m just telling the same story I was. It’s a big 25-issue epic. So I just try to keep the movie out of my mind because any time there seems to be a lot of pressure on something it will cause anxiety, and anxiety masks your intention and your ability to create with fun and flair. So I’m really just trying to ignore that stuff and tell the best “Captain America” story I can.
You’ve mentioned several times the 25-issue story in “Captain America.” Do you have more issues planned after that?
There will be more, but it is going to be very, very different.
“Winter Soldier: The Bitter March” #1 is on sale Feb. 12; “Captain America” #17 follows on Feb. 19.