When it’s time to make the big decisions on the nuts and bolts creation of Marvel Comics, people have to Talk to the Hat.
An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel’s TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel spotlights Tom along with his signature pork pie and loads of comics news, views and discussion. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort will shake things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.
This week, as fans and Marvel staffers flock to Comic-Con International in San Diego to celebrate — amongst other things — the release of the “Captain America” film, Tom digs in to his own thoughts on the movie and how the entire Marvel Studios Universe impacts the future of “Captain America” and “The Avengers” and speculates what Marvel will do in its publishing line to celebrate it Mightiest comic team in advance of their own flick — including word on the just announced “Avengers: Origins” series of one-shots. Read on!
Kiel Phegley: There’s a ton going on this week because of San Diego, but the big news for Marvel in general is the release of the “Captain America” movie. You went out this week with Marvel’s New York staff for the regular company screening. What were your impressions of the film as they relate to the comics you’ve been working on all these years?
Tom Brevoort: I liked it, I thought it was a lot of fun, and was the best super hero movie we’ve had this year — better than “Thor,” better than “X-Men: First Class,” better than “Green Lantern.” The cast was uniformly great, Chris Evans brought all the heart and humanity in the world to the role, I thought his performance was really wonderful, and totally different from the way he handled Johnny Storm in the FF films. The period ambiance was really great, I loved all of the retro-future tech and the assorted Easter eggs that were scattered through the picture. And I liked the fact that it was unabashedly fun, and embraced almost the simpler and more straightforward good versus evil paradigm of the comics of that era.
And my one contribution made it to the screen: at a certain point I helped to research what the back cover ad was on “Captain America Comics” #1. [Laughs] I know that was the critical detail in terms of putting over the illusion for most moviegoers. So I’m just happy to have done my part.
Quite honestly, though, you could just have played the Avengers trailer that comes on at the end of the credits for me three times and I’d have felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth. Wow, that looks astonishing. If you’re going to see the movie this weekend, be sure to stick around after the credits. It’s so worth it.
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland made it to an early press screening, and told me that this film works a bit different than the other recent Marvel Studios pictures in that the “Iron Man” films had Robert Downey, Jr. giving us that mainline smarmy Tony Stark performance and “Thor” had Chris Hemsworth as the kind of rollicking man from another world, but Chris Evans as Steve Rogers is a much more square-jawed, All-American type. It’s a different type of character for the Marvel movies. We’ll get to see the man out of time aspect when “Avengers” arrives next year, but do you think that the more old school feel of the film Rogers makes him a more challenging hero for the public to tap into?
Brevoort: I don’t think it’s a problem, but it is a unique place to exist within the Marvel Universe. Cap is a little bit different from all the other Marvel characters, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he was created in the ’40s rather than in the ’60s. Stan’s actually told a story about this. When he was putting together the Marvel approach in the ’60s with Kirby, Ditko and all those guys, they started by bringing back the Human Torch, essentially recreating that character top-to-bottom. They kept just the powers — there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot more to the ’40s Torch. If you’d read his first story, you’d know he was an android, but he mostly came across as just a generic blond leading man-type who caught fire and ran around with a kid in shorts. So Stan took all the best, most colorful elements of that incarnation and invested them in Johnny Storm: a character with a bit more personality and spark to him. A young, brash teenager who was nevertheless fully a part of the FF. That allowed Stan to get into the sort of character conflicts he was starting to experiment with.
Then, bringing back Namor posed no real problem because they went right back to the earliest days of Namor when he had a righteous mad-on for humanity. That meant you could easily put him up against the Fantastic Four in an antagonist’s role — an anti-hero role — and he would fit into the new Marvel paradigm and style easily. But Captain America was kind of a head scratcher. It took Stan a while to figure out how to recouch Captain America in terms of the “heroes with problems and feet of clay” paradigm that he was finding such success with. Finally what struck him was to do Cap as the man out of time. That allowed him to connect with the person inside the Captain America uniform in a meaningful way, while still maintaining the heroic essence of the Captain America mantle, and what that heritage of heroism meant.
Different writers in different eras have found assorted ways to approach the idea of Captain America. Partly that depended on the needs of the era and what was then appropriate for comics — what kinds of stories were in vogue — and partly because he’s the most symbolic character that Marvel has. He’s Captain America! For most people, he represents something. That something is slightly different depending on who you ask, and in fact, one of the great things about Captain America is that even people who’ve never really read his adventures in our comics respond to him. They understand what he’s about in some way, but their take on what he stands for and is all about is slightly different depending on where along the political spectrum they happen to sit. Captain America has something to say to all people.
Consequently, he tends to be responded to more as a symbol than as a person, and that tends to be one of the struggles that the character as a character has faced within the context of the Marvel Universe. “How much of what I am is me, and how much of it is this larger-than-life Abe Lincoln figure that everyone loves and respects and holds in such awe? Can I have doubts? Can I have fear? Who is Steve Rogers? Did he cease to be in that Project: Rebirth chamber all those years ago? Do I get to have anything resembling a normal life?” Those sorts of questions have been story fodder for Cap at least since the ’60s. As opposed in the ’40s and ’50s where Cap was very much a product of the era, a hero without any doubts or a whole lot of depth. Once he’d been given his powers and his shield, he’d go off to fight the foe, whether that foe was the Nazis or horribly caricatured Japanese soldiers or crazy monsters or whatnot.
So Cap is very different, but you can tell even in the movie’s trailers that the thing the filmmakers have really keyed in on is the origin story: Steve Rogers as the skinny, 98 lbs, weakling who nonetheless has this unshakable drive to succeed and to overcome. He’s got this iron will that’s really the core of his heroism beyond the fact that they turn him into a perfect physical specimen and give him this indestructible shield. I think in that way, he’s a more relatable character, and I wouldn’t be surprised — as tends to be the case when these films come out — that you’ll begin to see the comic creators of the future reflect that aspect of Captain America more readily hereafter.
It never troubled me at the time — I read the comics and just accepted them — but looking back at the “Invaders” series of the 1970s that Roy Thomas wrote, they’re good, solid, entertaining comics, but Roy tended to write Captain America exactly the way he wrote him in “Avengers.” Cap was the supremely capable, supremely confident veteran of a thousand battles who everyone instinctively deferred to because he was Captain America. Thinking about that in retrospect, it’s not like that is a wrong take per se, but I’d suspect there’s more fodder to be had in seeing Captain America go through that crucible. They didn’t give him the Super-Soldier Serum and put him in a suit and then suddenly he was the veteran of a thousand battles and supremely confident. You can’t bottle military experience, after all. Even from a propaganda standpoint as he would be positioned amongst the Howling Commandos or the 8th Infantry or the Invaders, this is a guy who would have some serious doubts and reservations about his qualifications. This is never a guy who wanted to be a symbol or a leader. This was just a man who wanted to do his part. Turns out his part was a lot larger than everybody else’s and a lot larger than anybody expected, but he soldiered on through it. But he wasn’t looking for the spotlight.
And so as we’ve touched on in some Cap stories set in the wartime period, Cap was not as seasoned as he may have been made out to be. He’d had no actual combat experience at that point. He’d not been on the battlefront, but he was promoted as this supreme leader of men and given these physical attributes that allowed him to function on a superhuman level. So I think there are always avenues whereby you can find the heart — the character and the individual and the relatabilty — in the Marvel characters, and Cap is no different in that respect. It’s just a little trickier based on what he represents, who he is and even the time period in which he was created.
You’ve put out so many Captain America comics getting ready for this movie — mini series and specials and now the relaunched “Captain America” ongoing. Does it feel like a culmination of that work now that all the solo Marvel movies are out? Do you shift into Avengers mode for the next year?
Brevoort: I don’t think it’s fait accompli. One thing that’s a truism of this business is that things are never fixed permanently. You get something right, and then things change-the zeitgeist shifts, or a creative team gets tired and rotates off, or simply grows stale, and then you need to look at things afresh and fix them again.
Right now, “Captain America” is opening, and assuming it does as well as everyone expects, then two or three years from now we’ll all be waiting for “Captain America 2” to open and “Captain America 3” beyond that.
Right at this moment, it’s a great time for Captain America. He’s in every Dunkin Donuts in the land. People see his image on the tops of taxi cabs driving throughout Manhattan, and there are posters and billboards of him everywhere. He’s got great saturation in the zeitgest right now. Six months, a year or two years from now that might not be exactly the case, but there will still be a need for great Captain America stories. So I don’t look at it as mission accomplished and then dust off my hands and move on to the next thing.
I think it’s great and cool that we happen to be here at this moment where we have another big, blockbuster Marvel movie opening — and the latest in what has become a string of them. At the same time, in a very real way, you can make the argument that all of this has been an overture to “The Avengers.” I’ve spoken about this before in this column and certainly in other interviews I’ve done, but “Avengers” is the kind of thing that we do a lot in comics but that hasn’t been done in movies before, and it’s pretty damned exciting. The notion that “Here’s the guy from that movie and here’s this other movie you like and this other movie…and now all those guys are together in one place” It’s the underlying concept of the Avengers and every other team comic going back to the Justice Society. It’s all your favorite heroes in one story. But we’ve never seen that in a film. We’ve seen super hero team films, but in X-Men or Fantastic Four, they introduce you to all the characters for the first time in that film. This is the first time where we’re able to pull popular characters and actors from a series of successful films and put them all together in a single massive movie.
So even when you see the “Avengers” trailer bootlegged off someone’s cell phone camera, with a picture you can barely make out, it’s still cool. There’s Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey together. That’s just neat. Regardless of anything else, it’s cool, and you’ve never seen it anywhere else up to this point. Beyond this point — assuming “Avengers” does well — you’ll start to see other people doing the same kind of thing, I’m sure. So to a certain degree, this has all been an overture to “Avengers” and that movie has been Marvel Studios’ goal since they started working on Iron Man. But that doesn’t mean we take our eye off the ball on Cap or Thor or Iron Man or any of these characters or their ongoing series. Because after “Avengers,” there’s still going to be “Iron Man 3” and hopefully “Thor 2” and “Cap 2” and whatever the next property is that we decide to turn into a movie blockbuster.
At the same time, you guys in publishing are working on a string of Avengers comics to come out including the just-announced in San Diego “Avengers Origins” series of one-shots that Lauren Sankovitch is editing for your office. The thing that stood out to me with that was that we weren’t looking only at Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the other heroes from the film so much as we’re getting a glimpse at characters tied to the Avengers franchise the movie fans may not know: Ant-Man, the Wasp, Vision, Luke Cage and etc. Do you try to make the comics serve not just as an outlet for fans of the movies to get into the comics medium but also as a place where they can learn about the breadth of Marvel’s Universe while they come for a movie-like fix?
Brevoort: Well, a little bit. In terms of “Avengers Origins,” that project is an outgrowth of the “X-Men Origins” books we did a year or a year and a half ago and even before that the “Mythos” books that Paul Jenkins and Paolo Rivera did. Since we’d done so many of the big names already,Â particularly in “Mythos,” there didn’t seem to be a tremendous, compelling need to do the Hulk again or Iron Man again, so we selected characters we’ve never covered before. Whether they’ll have relevance to a film some day in the future, that’s hopefully so, but who can say for sure? Certainly not me.
It’s really more an outgrowth of that cycle of publishing than it is of the fact that we have an Avengers movie coming out. And of those five characters, only one is in the film so far as I know — Thor, obviously. So it’s not like there was a real push to do Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch or Vision or Ant-Man or Luke Cage. These just seemed like essential Avengers characters who would warrant this kind of distillation.
But in general with those one-shots and things like this “Avengers Retro” project Tom Brennan was telling CBR about last week, have you been talking internally about ramping up “Avengers” comics in the same way you did with Thor and Cap books in advance of their movies? We’ve heard you wanted to peel back on too many tie-in series, but are you talking to Brian Bendis even about strategies for synching the comics and movies up?
Brevoort: In essence, yes. While having just relaunched the Avengers books with the Heroic Age, we’re not looking to relaunch the line again to get an “Avengers” #1. We do have an “Avengers” #1 project coming out around movie time which will be to “The Avengers” what “Captain America” #1 is to that movie and what “Mighty Thor” #1 was to “Thor”. But that’s something can speak more about later, once we’re closer to announcing the project.
And we will be doing some Avengers sideline projects — not as many as we did with Cap and Thor, mind you. Even apart from the film, it’s no great secret that Avengers is popular now and has some demand behind it. So we’re always looking to tap into that while not going so far where we’re over-tilling the land, so to speak. We want to take advantage of whatever opportunities we have.
Have some questions for Marvel’s Talk To The Hat? Please visit the CUP O’ Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Universe forum. It’s now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!