During World War II, brave men and women from all over the world became heroes when they stepped forward to combat the tyranny of the Axis Powers. In the Marvel Universe, the Axis powers were armed with fantastic forces like super-science and the supernatural, so the Allied powers needed more than just heroes – they needed living symbols, soldiers who could not only fight the good fight, but inspire and remind their comrades just what they were fighting for. When Steve Rogers was transformed from a frail young man into a supremely fit costumed super-soldier known as Captain America, he became the symbol they needed.
As America’s costumed symbol of liberty, Rogers saw much action in World War II and fought along side not just American forces, but British and Russian ones as well. So he might have found it disheartening that after the war, America and Russia would become the bitterest of enemies and wage a decades-long cold war against each other. That is, if he’d been around to see that era of history. As it stands, in the closing days of World War II Rogers was frozen in suspended animation and wouldn’t be revived until long after the Cold War ended.
Next year, Rogers will get a chance to experience first hand what he missed when a face from his World War II days mysteriously reappears in modern times. That’s the premise behind “Astonishing Captain America,” a four issue miniseries by writer Andy Diggle and artist Adi Granov. CBR News spoke with the creators about the project, which launches in Summer 2011.
The seeds for “Astonishing Captain America” were first sown when editor Tom Brevoort approached artist Adi Granov about doing a project for Marvel’s newly developed “Astonishing” line of books. “I’ve wanted to work on Captain America for a while, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity,” Granov told CBR News. “A lot of the recent stories featuring him have been about urban settings and political drama. I really wanted to show off his super soldier attributes by putting him in a warzone, outside of the city, and facing some really powerful enemies who would be much scarier than the usual supervillain suspects. When thinking of this book and my take on Steve Rogers, I kept thinking of the movie ‘Predator,’ which gives you an indication of my intent.”
Once Granov was on board, Andy Diggle was approached to script the project. The writer found the idea of working on a story starring Steve Rogers to be both exciting and daunting. “There’s a lot of history behind the character, so you want to make sure you respect that history – without being too respectful,” Diggle said. “You have to try to be fearless when you tackle these big iconic characters, and keep moving forward rather than just wallowing in nostalgia. It’s a question of getting the balance right.”
Like Granov, Diggle was interested in exploring the military aspects of Steve Rogers’ character. “The origin story is very much that of a soldier. We rarely get to see him being a soldier, though,” Diggle remarked. “We get to see him being a superhero, an Avenger and a secret agent, but that’s not really the same thing as a soldier. Our story begins in World War II and ends in the 21st century, and it’s very much his military career that bridges these two eras and brings an episode from his past into the present.”
Thematically, “Astonishing Captain America” is about the difference between being a soldier and being a weapon. “In the movie ‘The Iron Giant,’ there’s a fantastic line where this huge robot, which was designed to be a weapon, chooses not to be one. He says, ‘I am not a gun,'” Diggle said. “In the wake of the Super Soldier Program and other such initiatives, there’s a degree to which these super-powered beings could be considered weapons in and of themselves. So this series explores that moral gray area between obeying orders and doing the right thing, because those things may not always be 100% aligned.
“Obviously, the ‘good soldier’ is the one who obeys orders without question, but a good person is one who first considers the moral implications of their actions and acts accordingly. So there’s always going to be a little bit of friction between those two things,” Diggle continued. “That’s the interesting area for me, the kind of fertile ground that I want to explore. It’s a similar theme to ‘The Losers,’ in that sometimes being a patriot means disobeying orders. The good soldier must also have a conscience.”
To help illustrate the conflict between duty and conscience, Diggle and Granov have created a new adversary for Steve Rogers to face in “Astonishing Captain America.” “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got for writing for superhero comics was from Mark Millar. He said, ‘Always invent your own villains.’ I find whenever I try researching an existing villain, I always get mired in a shedload of impenetrable continuity,” Diggle explained. “But if you invent somebody new, you get exactly what you want. It saves an awful lot of headaches.”
The villain that Diggle and Granov have designed for this project is a Russian soldier named Volkov, who Steve Rogers meets towards the end of World War II and then mysteriously resurfaces in the 21st century. “In the first issue, Captain America saves this guy’s life in the closing days of World War II. Then of course, after that, Steve Rogers ends up getting frozen and misses the next few decades while he’s floating around in an iceberg somewhere. Meanwhile, Volkov becomes a hero of the Soviet Union. He gets recruited into their space program,” Diggle explained. “He has this whole parallel career that’s going on while Steve is on ice. Then decades later, in the year 2011, Volkov makes a mysterious reappearance in a way that I don’t want to spoil. Hopefully it comes slightly from left field.”
When Volkov reemerges in the 21st century, he’ll have become both a powerful and enigmatic figure. “He’s extremely dangerous, but his motivations are not going to be readily apparent to start with,” Diggle hinted. “A series of, shall we say, phenomena, begin to occur, and Volkov connects this series of seemingly unrelated events. I know that’s slightly cryptic, but that’s all you’re getting [Laughs].”
Adi Granov, of, course knows all of the details of Volkov’s history and what the villain is after, details the artist found to be particularly inspiring when designing the visual aspects of the character. “Andy is really building a very in-depth and complex character in Volkov, which will give him ‘weight’ and believability as well as make him scary and dangerous. Volkov has been around for as long as Steve, and there is history there which we will explore which gives me the opportunity to draw some scenes from Steve’s past. That’s very exciting as I love that era and history,” Granov remarked. “There are attributes to Volkov which will allow me to draw some really interesting stuff; stuff I originally proposed because I thought it would be visually impressive and interesting. Andy took it much further and turned it into something with real scale and depth. Reading the script really made me excited at the possibilities!”
The mandate of the “Astonishing” line is to tell stories that explore characters in a way that long time fans would find compelling, but to do so in a way that doesn’t involve lots of back story or continuity. Because of this, Diggle is keeping the supporting cast of established characters in “Astonishing Captain America” relatively small. ” I think the idea of the ‘Astonishing’ line is that long-term fans can pick up a book and see where it fits into the bigger picture of ongoing continuity, but a new reader can also pick it up and they won’t be lost. Stan Lee famously said, ‘Every issue is somebody’s first,’ and I’m a great believer in that. So I’m trying not to bring too much baggage,” Diggle explained. “I like to tell fast, dense, self-contained stories that aren’t entangled in continuity. I suspect that’s why they invited me to do this book in the first place.”
The supporting cast of “Astonishing Captain America” may include some familiar faces, but it’s Steve Rogers who will be at the center of the action. “I’m hoping I can call the story ‘Army of One,’ assuming that phrase isn’t trademarked by the U.S. Army,” Diggle said. “That’s very much the way I’m treating Steve Rogers. He is a one-man army, and this is very much a tough-guy-on-a-mission story. It’s ‘Where Eagles Dare’ with one guy. [Laughs]”
In “Astonishing Captain America,” Steve Rogers won’t just have to contend with antipathetic enemy forces; he’ll also have to deal with a dangerous and hostile climate. “When I first started working on the book, I dropped Adi a line and asked him if there was any particular subject matter that he would like to draw,” Diggle explained. “He was interested in a story with a tough-guy style, which is where I come from, but also he wanted to draw icy snowscapes and Russian winters, that post-Soviet kind of feel. There’s some great imagery there. You can imagine Adi Granov bringing that to life. Russian sci-fi war machines amid vast snowscapes. I can totally have fun with that.”
Granov added, “Studying history is one of my hobbies and I have a real fascination with WW I trench warfare as well as the WW II Eastern Front. At the same time, I also love science-fiction, so I wanted to combine those elements and set an action story in similar settings. The vast frozen spaces of that part of the world, as well as the mystique which still surrounds the military might of the former USSR really stirs my imagination. Decaying military installations, abandoned complexes, forgotten weapons – [they] just
seem so full of potential. I think the main challenge is to do it justice. It needs to feel vast and epic, not like it’s someone’s back garden.”
Steve Rogers is a cunning and capable man, so he won’t charging into the Russian tundra unprepared. “In the spirit of believability and gritty realism, and due to a part of the story taking place in a frozen landscape, I will get to design some proper winter warfare gear for Steve,” Granov revealed. “I always really like when in comics the characters wear appropriate gear to their environments. I like the thought and the attention to detail which goes into something like that, and since my work outside of comics is largely character design based, such as in the Iron Man movies, it only makes sense to design some cool stuff for the story.”
For “Astonishing Captain America,” Granov hopes to provide art work that both pleases fans of his signature style and enhances the feel of the story Diggle is telling. “I want to attempt to separate the feel of the different time periods as well as give the book a unique look,” the artist said. “I think it needs to be cinematic, for lack of a better word, widescreen and vast. I really want to push myself in the areas I feel were not my strongest in the past, but also to expand on those which are.”
The “widescreen” feel of “Astonishing Captain America” is especially appropriate since the first issue will hit stores right around the time Hollywood is rolling out its big summer action films. Diggle and Granov plan to make their series just as exciting and compelling as one of the season’s cinematic blockbusters.
“I like my action stories. I like to give things a plausible, quasi-military sort of flavor. I’m not so big on the crazy superpowers stuff. I don’t know how to do that well, but I think I know how to do the slightly more grounded stuff pretty well. That’s one of the things I like about Steve Rogers. I can identify with the guy,” Diggle said. “He’s pretty well grounded, you can understand where he’s coming from. Sure, he’s stronger and tougher than most of us, but he’s rooted in simple human decency. And we’re going to put him through Hell.”
Granov added, “‘Astonishing Captain America’ will be a real badass, a proper warrior on a very dangerous mission, facing a very fierce enemy. I suppose my motivation is to attempt to do with Steve what Warren Ellis and I did with Iron Man in ‘Extremis.’ A story relevant to the current Marvel Universe while being able to stand alone and be enjoyed by both the long term fans and the new readers.”