In 2007, Captain America fell victim to one of the most shocking assassination plots the Marvel Universe had ever seen. As the Sentinel of Liberty was climbing the courthouse stairs after his arrest at the end of the super hero Civil War, a shot rang out from a sniper rifle, striking Cap in the shoulder and setting him up for what the world believed was a kill shot. It was later revealed that the plot to kill Steve Rogers was an elaborate fake out and Cap was still alive, but the sniper who fired the shot that struck him in the shoulder would have happily shot the Sentinel of Liberty in the head if his employer requested.
The sniper’s name is Brock Rumlow, more commonly known as the masked mercenary Crossbones. His most frequent employer was Captain America’s archenemy the Red Skull, so Cap and Crossbones had clashed many times before the historic events of “Captain America” #25. Several months after the landmark issue was released, Crossbones was brought to justice by Bucky Barnes, who assumed the mantle of Captain America in the wake of Steve Rogers’ apparent murder.
Crossbones was incarcerated and given a shot at redemption via the federal government’s Thunderbolts program, which tries to rehabilitate convicted Super Criminals. In “Thunderbolts” #150 he quickly washed out of the program and wound up back in prison. He’s not going to be there for long, though. This March, writer William Harms (“Impaler”) and artist Declan Shalvey (“Thunderbolts”) spring Crossbones for a special mission in the “Captain America and Crossbones” one-shot. CBR News spoke with both creators and editor Bill Rosemann about the project, which is part of a series of one-shots that celebrates the 70th anniversary of Captain America by spotlighting his allies and enemies.
CBR News: When these Captain America specials were being developed, where did the idea to do one focusing on Crossbones come from? Was he chosen mainly because of his long association with the Red Skull and the fact that he was part of the plot to make the world think Steve Rogers was dead? Or was there something else there?
Bill Rosemann: As with most projects, there were multiple ideas at work. The goal was to not only build upon the infamous attention he’s been recently enjoying, but also to explore the mind of one of Cap’s most hated and feared foes — a man who is in many ways the opposite of Cap. Timing wise, Brock played a crucial role in one of the largest events in Cap’s career, and was also starring in the current Thunderbolts line-up. So it was a mix of character and moment — plus a great opportunity to explore the memories and motivations of one of our heroes’ most hated foes? Why does he choose to do horrible things while everyone else strives to be good? William & Declan have crafted a smart, action-packed and even darkly funny thriller that not only shows why Crossbones is one of the most dangerous men in the Marvel U, but also gives readers a glimpse of the life that created this monster.
What made you look to William Harms and Declan Shalvey for this story?
Rosemann: Many moons ago, William was nice enough to send me a copy of “Impaler,” his amazingly entertaining vampire series. Then, as is often the case with bringing new creators into the Marvel mix, it was a matter of waiting for the right project to pop up. Fast forward to the day Tom Brevoort handed these “Captain America And…” one-shots over to us to run with, and the opportunity presented itself to finally work with William, who is so skilled at nailing the “military action plus horror” vibe that felt right for this story.
Meanwhile, Declan was kicking major butt on his “Shadowland” tie-in issues of “Thunderbolts,” which I was lucky enough to be editing at the time. Like William, Declan is a master at bringing the dark, the gritty, and the boom. Combine them together and you have a talented twosome who will take comicbookdom by storm.
William, you’ve penned just one other story for Marvel besides this one-shot, but you’re a veteran writer whose worked in comics, prose and video games. Most of your stories seem to be violent action or horror tales, so it seems like a story involving Crossbones, the mercenary who almost killed Captain America, would be right up your alley.
William Harms: Crossbones definitely falls into the same thematic area as some of my other work, especially “Impaler.” In that case, you have Vlad the Impaler, possibly one of the most violent men to ever walk the planet, fighting to save the world. But it’s on his terms, and just because he’s doing “good” doesn’t mean he’s “good.”
I’d put Crossbones in that same category. I don’t want to ruin the story, but every person, no matter how despicable, has their own set of ethics and morals. Those morals may be completely sick and twisted, but they exist. And one of the things I truly enjoy about writing is digging into characters and finding out what makes them tick.
Declan, going over your comic work, it seems most of the stuff you’ve drawn has been darker toned or horror tales. Coincidence? Or are you just drawn to darker projects?
Declan Shalvey: It’s funny how that turned out. My very first published work was a super villain tale. Everything else has been essentially a horror story, and now I’m back doing super villains!
I can’t really be surprised I’ve been hired to do a lot of horror books as I do tend to use a lot of black, but I’m not even a horror fan. It’s mainly that I like to create a certain tone and atmosphere when I draw, and I use a lot of shadows and moody storytelling to achieve that. Darker projects give me more of a chance to play around with those elements.
As Bill mentioned, you drew “Thunderbolts” #148 and “Thunderbolts” #149, where Crossbones played a fairly significant role. How does it feel to return to the character for a one-shot celebrating Captain America’s 70th anniversary?
Shalvey: Oh, Crossbones was my favorite character to draw in that “Thunderbolts” story, so I was chuffed to get a chance to do a one-shot concentrating on him. Even more so when I found out the T-Bolts chucked him out, as I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to draw him otherwise. Something just “clicked” when I started drawing him in T-Bolts. Drawing a project that is part of Cap’s anniversary is amazing, too. I’m a big fan of what Ed Brubaker and his artists have done with the character, so I’m really happy I had an opportunity to contribute to this project.
William, what do you find most interesting about Brock Rumlow? Which of his character traits did you want to explore in this one-shot?
Harms: He’s a pretty broken man in a lot of ways, and I find that really intriguing. But the thing I really wanted to explore was his sense of empathy. Is he just a raging psycho, or is there a kernel of humanity deep down in that black heart of his?
I imagine quite a bit of this story is told through Crossbones’ perspective, correct? In general, how do you think he views the world? Was it tough getting into the head space of a guy who doesn’t appear to have many redeeming qualities?
Harms: This is definitely a story about Crossbones. He’s thrown into a completely insane situation, and the only person getting him out is himself.
I think he views the world as a violent and unfair place, and since it’s shit on him his whole life, he’s completely justified in shitting right back. It’s just the way the world works. The hardest part was figuring what is redeeming about him and having that come out in an organic way. Writing bad guys is a blast, but it’s important for there to be something there that the reader can empathize with.
There are flashbacks throughout the story that fill in some of the blanks in Rumlow’s life and help demonstrate why he’s the way he is.
Declan, what do you want your art to say about Crossbones? Which of his qualities do you really want to capture and bring forth in your portrayal of him?
Shalvey:I want my art to portray Crossbones as best I can, getting across what a great character he is, flaws and all. I wanted the issue to be dark, cold and moody. The story should reflect his personality in that way, and I hope I did a good job at getting that across with my art. Things really cut loose at a certain point in the story, and I made some bolder decisions in how I drew those scenes. Again, I hope the art informs the story and character as much as possible.
All of the Captain America 70th anniversary one-shots have the name “Captain America” in the title, but the Sentinel of Liberty’s actual involvement in each of them differs. How big of a role does Cap play in this story? And is the Cap in question Steve Rogers, Bucky or both?
Harms: We’re exploring Rumlow’s relationship with Steve Rogers, so when we deal with Captain America, we’re dealing with the history between Rogers and Rumlow. He doesn’t appear a lot, but his presence permeates the entire story. He’s Crossbones’ greatest adversary, after all, and that’s something that Rumlow carries with him at all times.
“Captain America and Crossbones” takes place after Rumlow’s involvement with the Thunderbolts, leaving him with a super power that appeared to scar him horribly. How would you describe Crossbones physical and emotional states when this story begins? Does he still have his power to fire blasts of energy or did the Terrigen Mists that he was exposed to only give him this power temporarily?
Harms: His powers are gone, so it’s just back to the old Crossbones we all know and love. When we meet up with him, he’s enjoying the hospitality of the Raft and is broken, bruised and royally pissed off. He basically just wants to be left alone, but a man comes in and offers him a job he can’t refuse. I wish I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything.
How important an element is setting in this story? Where does the bulk of the action take place?
Harms: The story is set on an island in the Caspian Sea, and everything about the island plays a role in the story. What starts as a lovely fishing village quickly turns into something much, much worse.
Who are some of the other important supporting players in this one-shot?
Harms: There’s a Russian soldier named Zharov that Crossbones meets, and the soldier thinks that Crossbones is a super hero. Naturally, Crossbones lets him think that. The interactions between the two were really fun to write, and there’s one panel that Dec hit out of the park. I laugh every time I see it.
What was it like working with Declan?
Harms: Dec’s an amazing artist, that’s all there is to it. There’s a raw energy to everything he draws, and that really comes across when you look at the page. Hopefully we’ll be able to work together again soon.
Declan, What was it like working with William? What elements of his script did you find most intriguing as an artist?
Shalvey: I wasn’t sure what to expect from William, but I really enjoyed his script. Crossbones is a despicable character, but William managed to craft a story with a solid pace that kept the story going while giving us little insights into how Crossbones became the man he is. You don’t condone what he does, but you understand it, and that’s a delicate line to balance. Plus, he gave me lots of cool things to draw, including some villain cameos and even WW2-era Captain America!
How would you describe the experience of drawing “Captain America and Crossbones?” Has it been a challenge, fun or a bit of both?
Shalvey: Definitely a bit of both. A lot of both, really. While Crossbones has his fans, I think this book will be judged more on the art and story than the popularity of the character. My Marvel debut was the “Shadowland” arc in “Thunderbolts,” so I had the advantage of running with the momentum that Jeff Parker and Kev Walker had created. I think people are more likely to pick up this book depending on how much they like the look of the art since he’s not an A-list character. As a result, I felt a lot of pressure while working on it. However, the script was a lot of fun to illustrate and I got a chance to work with Matt Wilson on colors.
Matt and I have been looking to work on something for a while, and we finally got that opportunity on this book. As a result, it felt like I got to collaborate in the color process much more and feel like the end product is closer to what it was like in my mind. This is most definitely the best my work has ever looked. I hope people like it!
How important is this one-shot in setting up the future of Crossbones? Are plans in place for the character’s next appearance following this story?
Rosemann: If we reveal future plans, Brock will shoot us next — but I can say that by the end of the story, William and Declan have put Brock through the wringer, both physically and psychologically. He’s primed to explode!
“Thunderbolts” editor Tom Brennan: Interview with Bill Rosewho? Oh, right! Hi, Tom Brennan, “Thunderbolts” editor here. Ah, Crossbones. Tricky fellow, that one. He’s just hanging out in jail, taking a little break right now. But in June, in the heart of “Fear Itself,” Crossbones will make his next move and remind us even the monsters that are condemned to the Raft have something to be afraid of! TBolts, June. Get ready…”
Do you all have any final thoughts you would like share about “Captain America and Crossbones?”
Rosemann: William and Declan are firing on all cylinders, ready to show a huge audience that they are stars. Crossbones is the reprehensible villain that you love to hate (and hate to love). Add these three together and you have 28 pages (that’s right, 22 pages couldn’t contain them) that will make you grimace, laugh and beg for more.
Harms: It’s pretty cool to be involved in something like this — five one-shots all celebrating Captain America and his corner of the Marvel Universe. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Shalvey: I hope people pick up the issue and enjoy it. Crossbones is a really interesting character and I think there is a lot to explore there. Hopefully we’ve all given readers a taste of what can be done with Crossbones, given the chance. Also, I’m delighted I got to work on Cap in some capacity. I hope I get a chance to draw him again sometime.
Finally, William and Declan, any upcoming work, comic or otherwise, that fans of should be on the look out for?
Harms: I adapted Charlaine Harris’ novel “Grave Sight” for Dynamite, and that’ll be coming out beginning in May. DC is publishing the “InFamous” limited series beginning in March (it’s based on the PS3 game) and my book “39 Minutes” won Top Cow’s Pilot Season last year, so once that’s scheduled, I’ll start working on that. It’s going to be a busy year.
Shalvey: I’ll have more issues of “Thunderbolts” coming out this year, helping out with the great work Jeff and Kev have been doing on that book, the next issue being the Man-Thing-centric “Thunderbolts” #154. I also have a short story out later in the year written by Jeff Parker but I can’t talk about it. In fact, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Actually, forget what I just said!
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