Rick Remender has tackled a number of different genres and eras during his career in comics, and he’s about to add another to his resume. For Marvel Comics’ “Winter Soldier: The Bitter March,” Remender — along with artist Roland Boschi — has penned a ’60s-era spy pulp story in the spirit of Ian Fleming and Jim Steranko. While the February-debuting story definitely features the Bucky Barnes’ costumed adventures, it also serves as a way for Remender to flesh out Ran Shen, the Iron Nail, a character who features in his current “Captain America” run. Along with Nick Fury, Ran Shen and the Winter Soldier race to Castle Hydra, where a cadre of the villainous organization may hold the key to winning the Cold War in the form of two Nazi scientists.
CBR News spoke with Remender about the upcoming miniseries, including how it began as a series of flashbacks in “Captain America,” the fun of getting to work in the ’60s-era spy thriller genre, his collaboration with Boschi and how a story based in the past could potentially change Bucky and Cap’s relationship in the modern era.
CBR News: Rick, tell us a bit about “Winter Soldier” and where it picks up with the character in his massive history?
Rick Remender: The story was born as I was developing the current “Captain America” story, which involves Ran Shen — the Iron Nail — and the Winter Soldier. What I always do when I’m writing one of these stories is to figure out what the context is between the character, what their history is, how they interact and why they have a personal reason to want to stop one another beyond just world domination or mischievous plans. I was trying to find that personal context. When developing the Winter Soldier and Ran Shen, I cooked up an entire story involving the Cold War during the mid-’60s and I jotted down basic notes. I was going to reveal this in small flashback sequences peppered throughout “Captain America.”
When Tom [Brevoort] talked to me about doing a “Winter Soldier” mini, I jumped at it because it allows me the opportunity to really build the story of Ran Shen and Nick Fury and the Winter Soldier while introducing and developing some of the new Hydra villains I plan on using down the road. It was just a perfect opportunity as well, to dig in to my love of James Bond and Jim Steranko “S.H.I.E.L.D.” comics. It’s one of these things where you get the rare opportunity to tell a story that takes place in a decade long ago that still has huge ramifications moving forward for characters like the Winter Soldier and Captain America, which is the sweet spot. You don’t want to tell some sort of flashback that doesn’t have some huge ramifications to the story.
It’ll be filling in story holes that are happening in “Captain America” dealing with Dr. Mindbubble and the Iron Nail. It’s sort of a sister title in that people who read “Captain America” will be getting a much richer experience if they’re also reading “Winter Soldier,” but it isn’t absolutely mandatory.
The story itself is built on a very simple, classic premise. There are a couple of Nazi scientists that fell into the hands of Hydra. These scientists have developed a formula that could absolutely determine who will win or lose the Cold War. These two scientists are very important, and they have their own complicated history. So, S.H.I.E.L.D. calls Ran Shen out of hiding, who is their deepest covert operative. He is somebody who they don’t want anybody to know about and they have big plans for him to infiltrate China and infiltrate Mao’s little party over there and get information and give them somebody on the inside. He is in Europe during this and it’s important enough that Nick Fury calls him out. Nick and Ran go to Castle Hydra in the Alps to get their hands on these scientists.
At the same time, you’ve got the Red Room cracked open ,and the Soviets send out the Winter Soldier to do the same thing. Now, you’ve got S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top two guys, you’ve got the Soviets’ top guy, and you’ve got Hydra and a whole cast of Hydra characters that were running the organization during the ’60s. In current Marvel continuity, we haven’t really established what was going on in that decade, so I’m going to build that up to seed some of my other plans going forward in “Captain America.” We get to meet these new Hydra villains and we’ve got these three forces all trying to get their hands on these Nazi scientists. There are obviously many complications, and action abounds.
This seems like it’s a bit of a departure from any of your other books right now — a spy pulp story. What was the draw of taking that angle?
Tonally, we are moving into a period in “Captain America” of a more traditional espionage, world stage tale. This fits that tone very well. It’s very Ian Fleming. I’m basically taking Ian Fleming and dipping him in a vat of bathtub acid in “Captain America.” This is an extension of that.
It allows me to do something that takes place in the mid-’60s, which is an era I’m a huge fan of. In 2006, I was one of the storyboard artists for Electronic Arts’ video game version of “From Russia With Love.” I spent a year immersed in all of that wonderful, classic James Bond artwork and reading [the novels]. I re-read and purchased all these various Ian Fleming novels and graphic novels that were made back then — strip art — and just really fell in love with it. I always planned on doing something in that era, some sort of a spy [story]. It’s one of the few genres I haven’t done, but it’s always been on my list. When this came about, this was an opportunity not just to tell a piece of the Winter Soldier’s story from this era and little pieces of Ran Shen, but to really build these two characters in a wonderful way that also allowed me to sink into a genre that I’m a big fan of and an era that I think is design-wise one of the most interesting eras you can tell a story in.
If “Winter Soldier” comes from your love of Fleming’s work, who’s the James Bond of the story?
I guess it’s going to be Ran Shen for this one. We’re going to be seeing who Ran Shen is and really building his character arc and getting an idea for what happens to a James Bond style character when circumstances turn him against the people he works for. I guess that’s giving away a little bit, but we all know he’s going to be the Iron Nail because we’ve seen that in “Cap.” At that point, while you know where the arc is going to lead, it’s how we get there and selling the reader on the change of ideology and the circumstances of his adventure that really develop a personal story between he and the Winter Soldier as well as setting him up as a three-dimensional character who we can all at least identify with as he moves forward becoming the lynchpin in the big changes coming up in “Captain America.”
When the miniseries opens, who is the Winter Soldier and how does he continue to develop as it moves forward?
At this point, he’s deep into his programming. A lot of my goal here is to establish him as almost a Predator-like character. He has been set loose against you, and he is an unstoppable force of Black Ops, murder and spying. He’s not the guy you want tracking you, basically. There are going to definitely be some role reversals and changes throughout the story, but when we open, I really see Winter Soldier as the antagonist. In that — it’s all relative, of course — we’re looking at the Soviet Super Soldier who has been sent out to recover these two scientists by all means, the stakes being who wins the Cold War. Ultimately, it’s going to put him into some situations that are going to force Bucky Barnes underneath all his programming to make some hard decisions. I think we’re going to see a deeper layer of the character and the struggles he’s dealing with.
As you’ve worked with the Winter Soldier in this series as Steve Rogers over in “Captain America, how are you exploring the relationship Bucky has with Steve, especially considering readers haven’t seen Bucky show up in your run thus far?
Without giving away too much, I’ll say we start to see the Winter Soldier show up in “Cap” #13, and the plans I have for the character are big and his interactions with Steve are big. What we’re going to be doing with Cap from issues #16-25 is going to be pretty Earth-shattering, and it’s been part of the plan from the beginning, especially the repercussions of “Dimension Z” and how they’ve affected Steve. We’re going to see some changes in Steve’s life that are pretty big and Bucky’s role in that story is a big one, and his effect on Steve and whether or not he’s a foe or ally or how precarious their relationship is will be dependent upon the end of this “Winter Soldier” miniseries, where we see something go down that was a very, very important moment in the Winter Soldier’s life as well as Ran Shen. I think at that point, people will have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to affect Steve Rogers, being thrust into the center of these two forces meeting again in the present day.
What was the challenge in developing the character of Ran Shen as compared to exploring the new territory of the Winter Soldier?
Developing a character, you have to create a human being who has contradictions and clean motives as well as a character arc and a change. In Ran Shen, we have somebody who was a factory worker in the ’20s who was crippled by strike-breakers. Instead of turning that animosity towards the capitalistic system in which they lived in — he was a Chinese immigrant — he saw it as his mission to bring his son up to fight harder for truth, justice and the American way as opposed to becoming angry at a nation that would allow strike breakers to cripple workers. Ran is really fueled by that, has entered S.H.I.E.L.D. and is neck-and-neck with Nick Fury as important spooks go in the era. He is deep, deep, deep undercover at all times. They have big plans for him to infiltrate Mao’s little party over in China. They’ve kept Ran Shen deep and hidden, but he’s in Europe when the party gets started in Castle Hydra. Classic Nick Fury calls Ran out of cover to help him with this, and then things go sideways. It becomes something where Ran is neck-deep in a dangerous mission, where we get to look at not only what the Winter Soldier was capable of back then — with a lot of fluid and really exciting storyboard-style action sequences done by Roland Boschi — but we’re going to get a real look at who the Hydra top dogs were back in the ’60s. Given the shifting of Marvel history and the continuity, it’s sort of a wide-open era now. A lot of the Hydra plans I have in “Captain America” are going to be seeded in this “Winter Soldier” series, and we’re going to get a look at Chancellor Cassandra and Madame Worm and all the big Hydra players that I’m setting up.
Speaking of Boschi, tell us a bit about the art team and what they bring to the table for “Winter Soldier.”
The covers by Andrew Robinson — he’ll be doing all five covers — are some of his very best work. Absolutely stunning stuff.
Being re-teamed with Roland Boschi is a real treat. He’s one of my favorite collaborators — we worked together quite a bit on “Punisher.” He’s maybe the most underrated guy at Marvel and one of the most underrated guys in the industry, so I think this will really be an opportunity to get new eyes on what he’s capable of — especially given that we’re trying to make this feel like a very cinematic storyboard — like a film on paper. It’s a very cinematic approach with very fluid action beats. As we move forward, I think this will be a wonderful spotlight to put on Roland and get people really jazzed about what this guy does, because he is just one of the best artists out there.
Have there been any standout artistic moments so far that fans should look forward to?
At this point, his opening sequence — the action is just so fluid and perfect. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s dealing with some Hydra agents and then the reveal of Castle Hydra. Man, that’s one of those great page turn moments, where there’s such depth of field and sense of doom in Castle Hydra. I really could write 100 issues in this era with these characters. I love the classic mid-’60s spy stuff.
We haven’t discussed Nick Fury much so far, but he’s a very important character in the Marvel Universe. Considering his role in “Winter Soldier,” is he due for an appearance in “Captain America”?
There are big plans for Nick Fury — both Nick Fury Sr. and Nick Fury Jr. — and we’ll start seeing those unravel in “Captain America,” but I would hate to give any of them away. I will say this is an opportunity to see Nick Fury Sr. at the height of his career, in action, and I think that the tone — if you like fast-paced spy sci-fi with a lot of sex, violence, intrigue and betrayal, you’ll get to see all of that in its glory with Nick Fury Sr. and Ran Shen at the heart of it.