Two pivotal events in 20th Century American history were World War II and the Vietnam War, th former being a global conflict involving all types of environments and all types of warfare while the latter occurred on a much smaller stage, pitting American forces against an enemy using guerrilla tactics in inhospitable jungle environments. They were also wars viewed differently by the American public with World War II was almost unanimously seen as a just war against tyranny, while people had widely varying views on the Vietnam War. Some saw it as a way of stopping communist aggression, while others viewed it as ugly imperialism. Regardless of their differences in campaigns and viewpoints, these two conflicts profoundly shaped the attitudes and opinions of generations of Americans.
World War II and Vietnam are also important events in the history of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe, so much so, that the American government sought to create the perfect soldier to fight in the conflicts. They were successful, and in the Ultimate Universe, Captain America lead troops into battle during both World War II and the Vietnam War. They were two different men, as different as the conflicts they fought in, and in 2011 they come face to face in writer Jason Aaron and artist Ron Garney’s five issue “Ultimate Comics Captain America” miniseries. CBR News spoke with the creators about the project, which begins in February and pits the two Captain Americas against each other in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Aaron is a long time fan of Marvel’s Ultimate line, feeling the early Ultimate comics helped revitalize the books in the traditional Marvel Universe, so he was very happy to be given the chance to tell his first “Ultimate Comics” story. “It started as me wanting to do a war story with Ultimate Captain America, but in the modern day. I didn’t want to try and deal with any of our current real life wars. I didn’t want to have Cap running around in costume in Afghanistan or Iraq,” Aaron told CBR News. “So I liked the idea of doing a relatively modern war story that harkens back to the Vietnam War. Then I thought, with Cap missing during that time period, maybe the U.S. created a new Captain America to fight in the Vietnam War. So who was that guy and how did that experience change him? How would he react to Steve Rogers if they were to come face to face today?
“To me, the big difference and what I like is that Ultimate Cap is a bit more of a jerk [than the original Captain America]. He’s more hard-edged, which is a lot of fun to play with. He’s still a hero at the end of the day; he’s just narrow minded in terms of what America stands for. It’s hard for a guy who’s that time displaced to sort of catch up on what he missed. He’s still very much a man out of time,” Aaron explained. “This new story is about a character from the past who wants to educate Steve Rogers on what he feels Steve missed. Steve missed the Vietnam War. He missed Watergate. He missed how a whole generation of Americans were raised to mistrust the government. They felt betrayed by their government. This figure from the past shows up and wants to teach Cap all about that.”
In the late ’90s, artist Ron Garney had a highly acclaimed run on “Captain America” with writer Mark Waid, so he knows the character very well and agrees that are some significant differences between Ultimate and Marvel U Captain America. “Steve Rogers in this Ultimate world is a bit less of a boy scout, obviously, and is treated more realistically and less idealistically. I think the belief in what America stands for is the same, but the approaches in defending it are different,” Garney said. “It’s fun actually, this Cap is quite a bit cockier – which can be annoying in reality, but sometimes that dose of narcissism might be what is necessary to win the battle. Not to say that the other Steve Rogers isn’t just as potent, but he’s less apt to pick up an AK- 47 and mow down a bunch of soldiers in his way.”
Garney remained quiet about his feelings on the Vietnam Cap, but Aaron was able to offer some hints about the background and motivation of the mysterious character. “He’s a character that Marvel fans will recognize from the Marvel U. He’s not a character who’s ever appeared in the Ultimate Universe, but he is a character people will recognize. As for who he is and his connection to the Super Solider Program, that’s something we’ll have to wait to find out,” the writer hinted. “The story, in some ways, is about what Cap missed out on while he was frozen in ice. In the Ultimate Universe, Cap was frozen in ice at the end of World War II and thawed out a few years ago. So he missed a big chunk of time. This is really about what happened while he was gone, who had to step up to take his place, and the price they had to pay along the way.”
In “Ultimate Comics Captain America” the title character gets involved in stopping a plot to upset the balance of global power in the Ultimate Universe. “Cap gets embroiled in the story to stop the proliferation of Super Soldiers. S.H.I.E.L.D. finds out that suddenly a lot of other countries are starting to develop their own super soldier programs; countries like North Korea and Iraq,” Aaron explained. “They’re trying to track this proliferation and figure out where these countries are getting their Super Solider Serum. They discover that it actually comes from a man who was the Captain America of the Vietnam War. At some point during the war he dropped off the map; disappeared and apparently switched sides, turning his back on America. Now he’s popped up again with an awful big axe to grind.”
The plot of “Ultimate Comics Captain America” will allow Aaron to explore some of the past and history of the Ultimate Universe, but it’s not intended to be historical fiction or a tale of alternate history. “It just sort of sheds some light on one little dark pocket of history from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. The Cap of the Vietnam War is just another one of these people who were brought into Project Rebirth to try and duplicate its success like Nick Fury and Steve Rogers. This is a guy who kind of got lost in the shuffle and in his mind was betrayed by his government,” Aaron said. ” I spent a lot of time a few years ago reading and researching the Vietnam War. Then I spent a lot of time writing about it with ‘The Other Side’, my miniseries for Vertigo. Not much of this story is set during the Vietnam War though. We will see some flashbacks to the origin of this past Captain America. For the most part it’s set in the present, although it’s still set in the region. A lot of it takes place in modern day Cambodia.
“I’m not doing a ‘Watchmen’ thing here where the U.S. won the Vietnam War because of Captain America,” Aaron continued. “He was one guy who got tossed into a meat grinder for a few years. Then one day he decided he had had enough and walked off into the jungle. So he didn’t change the course of the war, he just got ground under its heels.”
Ron Garney and Jason Aaron first worked together in 2008 on “Get Mystique,” an arc of “Wolverine” and they’ve been working together ever since, moving from “Wolverine” to “Wolverine: Weapon X” where they collaborated on several arcs. When that series concluded, they jumped right into “Ultimate Comics Captain America”.
“I love working with Ron. I think he’s one of the best guys working at Marvel today. He’s been doing some of the best work of his career these last few years. That’s not because he’s been working with me – I’ve just been the beneficiary of that as opposed to the cause of it. He’s perfect for something like this. He’s a guy where I can write all kinds of crazy, nonsensical fight scenes and he’s able to break those things down, make them look real and make me look like I know what the hell I’m talking about on top of that,” Aaron remarked. “Plus, he’s done some of my favorite Cap stuff of recent memory. The current Brubaker run is up there, and the Mark Waid/Ron Garney run is right up there with it. Those are my two favorite Cap runs of recent years. So Ron has a big history with Cap and he has a history with me.”
Garney added, “I just dig the way Jason writes. It’s very intelligent and he brings realism and maturity to the stories and inner monologue/dialogue that somehow seems rather fresh, and luckily, my work seems to mesh well with it. Perhaps it’s because we have some similar interests in some things like movies and such, but when I’m drawing it, I feel connected to it enough that the writing and illustrating/storytelling end up feeling one and the same. That’s what is the ultimate goal and ultimately, I think, what I try to be responsible for in his scripts. Making one indistinguishable from the other. I think he has that connection with R.M. Guerra (whose work I love) on ‘Scalped,’ as well.”
Past Aaron and Garney collaborations have been filled with action and visceral imagery and “Ultimate Comics Captain America” will be no exception. “This one is a gritty story as well, so I’m just letting it flow based on what I’m reading in the script. At this point, it’s more stream of consciousness through the penciling than a deliberate attempt. I’ll definitely be trying to give Cap the heroic iconic feel (see the first cover) while at the same time gritting him up a bit,” Garney stated. “I’m fortunate to be working with ‘the prodigy’ Jason Keith again, who brings my stuff to life as he always does, so that’s very motivating because I know what the stuff can look like if handled well, and he always does.”
While “Ultimate Comics Captain America” is bound to have enough action to satisfy fans of the title character and Aaron and Garney’s past works, it’s ultimately a tale of two clashing ideologies. “It’s not a typical superhero vs supervillain slugfest,” Aaron said. “These two guys may be running around in costumes, but this is really just a character story that grows out of seeing these two Captain Americas butt heads. One of the things that I think is interesting is playing with the perspectives of these two characters.
“The Cap of the Vietnam War sees himself as a hero, He thinks he was betrayed by his government and he’s been silently waging war ever since to right the wrongs perpetrated by his government. He feels like he loves his country just as much as Steve Rogers. He’s just disappointed in the things that have been done in his country’s name,” Aaron continued. “From Steve’s perspective, this guy is just a straight up traitor. He walked away from his commitment to the armed forces and has been actively working against his own government ever since. So we have two guys coming at this thing from completely opposite perspectives and there’s not really any middle ground. Putting them together and watching them butt heads figuratively and literally has been a lot of fun.”