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SHIELD OF FREEDOM Part 4: Writing Captain America

by  in Comic News Comment
SHIELD OF FREEDOM Part 4: Writing Captain America

SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR "CAPTAIN AMERICA" #34.

“Captain America” #34 on sale now (shown: variant by Alex Ross)

In our weeklong look at Captain America, CBR News has explored the Sentinel of Liberty’s ties to the Marvel Universe and the Avengers in chats with editor Tom Brevoort and writer Brian Michael Bendis, and talked with “Captain America” artist Steve Epting about bringing the series to life. Today in Part Four of SHIELD OF FREEDOM, we speak with “Captain America” writer Ed Brubaker about working on the series and what’s next for the newest shield-slinger, Bucky Barnes, who made his debut as Captain America in this week’s issue #34.

Brubaker began his “Captain America” run with a new issue #1 in 2004 and has since been telling one long mega-story. “Everything we’re doing in this book to some degree or another was planned from early on,” Ed Brubaker told CBR News. “The decision to tell one large epic story was somewhat inspired by what Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev did on ‘Daredevil.’  I really like how if you read their entire run it’s pretty much one epic with a bunch of different arcs building on top of each other. I also like the fact that once you hook people in, they keep coming back because the story is not over. Any time you end one story you’re opening up another one.”

Art from “Captain America” #34

Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s WWII-era partner long believed dead, was re-introduced early on in Brubaker’s run and over the course the series has suffered many emotional traumas. When the power of the Cosmic Cube restored his memory, Barnes had to face up to the crushing guilt of his actions as the Soviet assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Later, while he was still wrestling with those personal demons, Steve Rogers – Barnes’ oldest and dearest friend– was murdered. Now with Barnes stepping forward to honor Rogers’s memory and become the new Captain America, he’s been forced to finally rid himself of his numerous conflicts. “The inner turmoil Bucky was dealing with sort of got hacked off when Steve died,” Brubaker explained. “Having Steve, the one guy he was trying to work his way back to, taken away from him has sort of forced that resolution to some degree.  Now that he’s trying to live up to Steve’s legacy it’s sort of forcing him to face all this stuff a little bit quicker,  and  actually try to redeem himself. As far as he’s concerned he’s still trying to redeem himself in Steve’s eyes even though Steve isn’t there anymore. He’s trying to become the man Steven would have wanted him to be.”

Art from “Captain America” #34

Being Captain America will be both a source of comfort and challenge for Barnes. “Some people who are Christian wonder ‘What would Jesus do?’ With Bucky it’s ‘What would Steve Rogers do?’ That’s what he’s thinking when he gets into some of these situations he’ll face as Captain America,” Brubaker remarked. “But at the same time he’s trying to be himself. He never set out to put on Captain America’s costume and now that he has what does that mean to him? Who he’ll become is his new sort of quest and struggle. So, obviously there will still be some inner turmoil because it’s not like Steve Rogers didn’t have plenty of inner turmoil.”

The gun holstered on the new Captain America’s hip has some longtime fans wondering how closely Bucky Barnes is following the spirit of his fallen mentor — who did not carry a firearm– but to Barnes the pistol is just another piece of gear. “I think he’s more worried about making sure he’s got all the proper tools for a fight with the Red Skull and the thousands of soldiers at his disposal than the symbolism aspect of [the gun],” Brubaker said. “And he hasn’t been killing people in the comics since he got his memory back. He’s kind of a badass character and has done a lot of things but he’s not walking around delivering head-shots left and right.

Art from “Captain America” #34

“Even if he wasn’t in the Captain America costume in issue #34, he still probably would have shot those A.I.M agents in the knees,” Brubaker continued. “He doesn’t kill people indiscriminately. During the War I’m sure he didn’t aim for the head either. He probably aimed for center body mass. Plus people have this idea that Captain America never killed anybody during World War II or carried a gun but there are old issues where he’s wielding a flame thrower against the enemy. It’s a fallacy.

 “We’re not doing ‘The much more angry and violent guy becomes Captain America and goes too far’ story,” Brubaker stated. “I have no interest in telling that story. Mark Gruenwald already told that story with the U. S. Agent and it’s the best thing he ever did in his run on ‘Captain America.’ Also there was the ’50s Cap. He became Captain America for the right reasons and than goes crazy and thinks everybody is a Commie. So that story has been done and done well twice. We don’t have Bucky carrying a gun as Captain America so he can go ‘buck-wild,'” laughed Brubaker. 

“Captain America” #35

The new Captain America will need more than just the proper tools to stop the Red Skull’s elaborate scheme to smash America; he’ll also need plenty of cunning. The opening move of the Skull’s plot could be described as economic warfare, which given the U.S.’s recent real life economic trouble, may have come across to some readers as ripped from the headlines. “It’s kind of funny that a script I wrote awhile back and which I had been planning the whole time, comes out two weeks after world stock markets are plunging based on  how bad the American economy has been doing,” Brubaker  remarked. “My story features a simplified version of the housing crisis. I have people getting their houses foreclosed not just because of the subprime loan but I do mention it.”

The spirit of the Skull, a fascist, is currently trapped inside the mind and body of General Lukin, a communist, who has remade himself into the head of a massive corporation. Lukin and the Skull may have different political ideologies, but their shared goal of destroying America has made them allies.  “What do you do when you’re a fascist and a communist who hates America and you’re in charge of a giant corporation that the entire American economy is dependant upon? You fuck up the economy,” Brubaker explained. “You screw up all of Capitalism. General Lukin wants to basically bankrupt capitalism, which will cause problems between him and the Red Skull in the next few issues. Lukin wants to bring about The Great Depression times ten while the Skull has other ideas on how to torture America.”

“Captain America” #36

Stopping the Skull and Lukin’s plot means the new Captain America will face a foe with unlimited resources and countless agents, but Bucky Barnes has allies of his own. In “Captain America” #34, the Black Widow fought side by side with the new Sentinel of Liberty. The two are currently just partners, but the brief time they spent together when they were both Soviet agents could lead to something more. “Right now she’s sort of helping him find his way into the role of Captain America. But who knows? It’s the Black Widow. She’s a swinger,” Brubaker joked. “Their history is very important to both of them. For him, she’s the one good thing he remembers from the entire time of being the Winter Solider. She has this tragic history with him of realizing the people she worked with were really awful but she continued to work with them for a long time after that.”

Tony Stark AKA Iron Man is another character providing Bucky aid and support, but in a sort of unofficial capacity. Stark chose Barnes to become the new Captain America even though Steve Rogers’s former partner refused to sign the Superhero Registration legislation championed by Stark in “Civil War.” “Tony is doing this to try and save Bucky and honor Steve Rogers,” Brubaker explained. “My version of Tony Stark is a very honorable guy. That’s really important.”

Art from “Captain America” #37

Stark’s position as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes him a very valuable ally, but the climax of “Captain America” #34 indicates he could be cut off from giving the new Sentinel of Liberty any more assistance. At the end of the issue, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents brainwashed by the Red Skull’s ally, Dr. Faustus, opened fire on unarmed American protestors and the shootings were broadcast live to the American public. “Faustus waited until he was sure there were news cameras in view before he had the agents open fire on the crowd, because to him there’s no point in S.H.I.E.L.D. agents gunning down a crowd of protestors unless it makes the evening news and the 24-hour news cycle,” Brubaker stated. “The whole point of it was to completely discredit  S.H.I.E.L.D. because Tony Stark is trying to tell people that General Lukin isn’t dead [As of issue #34 the world incorrectly believes Lukin dead] and is the Red Skull. So you have to discredit that person screaming this stuff and make them a lone voice in the wilderness that’s suddenly in a lot of trouble.

“People forget even though S.H.I.E.L.D. is in America a ton and they have a lot of autonomy, they’re not an American organization,” Brubaker continued. “S.H.I.E.L.D. is a United Nations organization so everything they do in America has to be authorized by the U.S. government. So S.H.I.E.L.D. blowing away a bunch of protestors in front of the White House is not good. Especially when two minutes before that, Tony Stark was accusing the Secretary of State of being in the pocket of a corrupt corporation.”

Former sidekick Bucky Barnes debuts as the new Captain America in issue #34

Brubaker anticipates readers will want to see the new Captain America interacting with more Marvel heroes than just Black Widow and Iron Man, and he’s working on fitting in some other guest star appearances into upcoming issues. “I’ve got such a complicated story right now,” he said. “When I launched the book, Clint Barton was dead, so I haven’t had him in the comic but at the same time I’d really like to see a scene with him and Bucky.” The Avenger formerly known as Hawkeye and currently as Ronin, Barton assumed the Captain America identity for a very brief stint. “I know in my mind those two have met and talked already but we haven’t been able to see that moment. So it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it without it feeling forced or coming across as gimmicky.

“Having the Avengers isn’t that difficult since Cap has been involved in the Avengers forever. But having a single guy show up is a whole other thing. You’ve got to explain who he is and why he’d give a shit that somebody was running around dressed in a Captain America outfit.”

Captain America #35-36 are the last two chapters of “The Burden of Dreams,” which concludes Act Two in the grand “Death of Captain America” story, and finds the Red Skull’s attacks on the U.S. getting even nastier. “The next two issues mostly take place in Washington D.C. with Bucky not having much S.H.I.E.L.D. support,” Brubaker explained. “So it’s the new Cap on his own in a riot, where a lot of messed up of stuff happens. Issue #34 was really just the opening salvo of the Red Skull’s master plan. We’ll see a lot of subterfuge and chaos created for the sake of chaos and fear.”

Panels from “Captain America” #34

Readers of “Captain America” #34 looking for clues as to what happens next will want to go back and reexamine one scene in particular. “The scene at the end of #34 where you see Faustus in the office with the capitol view is a very important moment,” Brubaker revealed. “The person in the background of that scene is going to become a key figure in the next year of the book.”

In “Captain America” #37, the Third Act in “The Death of Captain America” epic begins with a six-issue arc titled “The Man Who Bought America.” “The title is a tweak on an old Jack Kirby story, ‘The Man who Sold America,'” Brubaker explained. “It’s the end of ‘The Death of Captain America’ storyline. I don’t want to say how it ends, what happens, or why it’s the end. But it’s the third act in a three-act story.”

Brubaker may be coming to the end of his much acclaimed “The Death of Captain America” storyline, but he doesn’t plan on leaving the title any time soon.  “The initial idea was to go to issue #50, but now I don’t know,” Brubaker confirmed. “I thought fifty issues would be a pretty significant run. I don’t want to stay too long but there are still a lot of stories left to tell. I also feel a bond with all of the characters in the book, not just an attachment but a responsibility.  It’s sort of like I’m their caretaker. A lot of it depends on if I feel okay leaving them and who I’ll be leaving them too. So there’s a lot questions but I definitely don’t have any plans to leave ‘Captain America’ any time soon.”

Our march is nearly over, troops! SHIELD OF FREEDOM concludes tomorrow as we chat with “Marvel Adventures: Avengers” writer Mark Sumerak not about Bucky Barnes, but about a different and all too familiar Cap. His name Steve Rogers.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Avengers forum.

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