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…and this week, we’ve got twice the hat action!
Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel’s TALK TO THE HAT this week inviting special guest star (and fellow hat enthusiast) Ed Brubaker to the party. Anchored by regular question and answer rounds with the denizens of the CBR Message Boards, each week Brevoort shakes things up with special guest stars, exclusive art reveals and new interactive features.
This week, with Brubaker on the line the pair went into their history as writer-editor team dating back to their first work together: the “Captain America” relaunch which introduced the world to the Winter Soldier. And if the secrets behind the scenes that led to Bucky Barnes’ resurrection wasn’t enough, Tom and Ed also dive right into the root of the incoming Marvel event “Fear Itself” while detailing what’s at the heart of Brubaker and artist Scott Eaton’s “Fear Itself: Book of The Skull” Prologue comic on sale in March. Plus, Brubaker takes a wide range of questions from readers including info on his planned storylines for “Secret Avengers,” what might be coming for Captain America and Steve Rogers, an update on the “Incognito” movie and more! Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Welcome to TALK TO THE HAT, Ed! I wanted to get the ball rolling this week by talking a bit about your guys’ history working together. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “Captain America” wasn’t just the first book the two of you worked on together, but it was Ed’s first Marvel comic ever, right?
Ed Brubaker: Yeah. I came over to Marvel to do “Cap.” So Tom and I have been working together ever since I came to Marvel.
How did that all come about? Had you been asked to pitch, or had you been trying to get on to the series?
Tom Brevoort: It was Brian [Bendis], wasn’t it?
Brubaker: Yeah, Brian knew my contract was coming up, and Joe [Quesada] had asked Brian to see if there was anything at Marvel I was interested in doing. I said “Captain America” basically because it was my favorite comic growing up, and I think they had just hired somebody else on it so I assumed they didn’t want anybody. And Brian said, “Hold on, hold on! Let me call Joe.” And sure enough, Joe called the next day, and they were looking for a replacement on the book. In our first conversation it came up that at their last big story meeting, Tom and Axel had had a huge fight over whether or not to bring Bucky back. And I told Joe, “Well, the first thing I’d like to do is bring Bucky back.” [Laughter] And Joe said, “Great. Now you go convince Tom Brevoort to let you do that.”
That was pretty much it. Tom and I had our first conversation a few days later, and Tom outlined a list of questions he had about trying to bring Bucky back. These were questions that had to be satisfied to Tom’s requirement -Â to Brevoort Level -Â before Bucky could possibly come back. And it was Tom, actually, who gave the most important thing and the thing I think fans care about -Â that Bucky actually did die and was resurrected. We’re not saying he never died. So fans of the old stuff can look at those old Jack Kirby/Stan Lee comics and not feel like we pissed on their history. [Laughs] We worked very hard to make sure this story fit around the existing history as much as possible.
Tom, what’s your view on this six or so years removed? We had some question on the board from readers about how death is so commonplace, what can make a death in comics matter now. In the same way, is it easier for a writer to pitch a story like this these days? Was Bucky a special exception even then?
Brevoort: I think there were really only maybe two or three characters at the level of Bucky even back then who were inviolately dead. Your laundry list basically boiled down to Uncle Ben, Bucky, Gwen Stacy…and that’s really about it. Previous administrations had unlocked the door on Jean Grey and Elektra and Thanos and a whole bunch of others where that once might have been true, so things had gotten a bit slippery. I think that the only characters that anybody could walk in the door today wanting to bring back and have the same level of discussion would be Uncle Ben or Gwen. And in fact, we’ve had various discussions about Gwen in the past, and nobody’s quite been able to put that ball in the hoop in terms of why it makes more sense to bring her back than leave her dead. And I think in a sense, rightly so. Just like the fans say, I think sometimes we are too casual in our killing of characters and our resurrecting of characters. It’s all fiction and lines on paper, but it’s also all about reader investment and verisimilitude and believability, and you don’t want to sell that out half-heartedly -Â particularly in the case of a character like Bucky who was so important and so crucial to everything “Marvel” in Cap’s history. I mean all the modern Marvel stuff. That was something I didn’t want to do lightly.
I know Axel was involved in that discussion because he was editing “Cap” at the time, but my memory is that it was Joe and I who got into the fight over bringing Bucky back!
Brubaker: Joe told me it was you and Axel! [Laughter]
Brevoort: It was funny, because it started as a discussion. We were in a meeting, and we started going back and forth, and you’ve been to these things, Ed, so you know how it goes. This was a smaller meeting with just the editors in the room. As we went back and forth, the volume level rose and we got more and more into the argument we were having. It wasn’t like we were angry at one another, but it was a very passionate back and forth about what was being proposed. I don’t even remember the specifics of what the guys who were on the book were proposing. I do remember that it seemed very off the cuff and exactly the sort of non-event that we were afraid of. That’s my sense of it. I’m sure that Axel and the writer had the best of intentions and had they gone forward with it would have put their best foot forward. But at the time, it seemed like “Oh no, this sounds like a terrible idea.” I was fairly dead set against it, and I guess I argued convincingly enough in the end that they retreated from that position and did another story instead. It wasn’t until a few months later that Joe came into my office and said, “Hey! You’ve got ‘Captain America’ since we want to bring that out of Marvel Knights and into the Marvel Universe proper…Ed Brubaker wants to write it. And he wants to bring back Bucky!”
Brubaker: Another example of Joe getting his way. [Laughter]
Brevoort: He was dropping the double-edged sword into my lap. I didn’t know Ed before that. I knew his work. I can embarrass Ed because I’d read all of his early autobiographical comics like “Lowlife” and “Detour.” I can pull all of those out at my whim because I have them all and read them all in the early days. I remember that I read a review -Â and now I’m really going to embarrass you -Â that touted you as “The Bill Mantlo of autobiographical comics.” [Laughs] And that always stuck with me.
Brubaker: Yeah, but that’s just because I used Mandrill in most of my stories. [Laughter]
Brevoort: You were constantly doing stories where you were teaming up with Hellcat.
Brubaker: “The Marvel Team-Up of autobiographical comics.”
Brevoort: Ed Brubaker and the Micronauts go to the 7-Eleven! [Laughter] But I had kept up with Ed’s work at DC on the various Batman titles and “Catwoman,” and I had liked what he’d done. So I was interested when Joe put this forth. I was certainly leery because, like you said, this was like Joe rubbing his hands together setting up a nice conflict. “Let’s have these two guys fight over this thing.”
Brubaker: Well, he knew what he wanted, but he figured if he’d got it to you with someone who really wanted to do it as opposed to an editorial mandate, that’s a good managerial style, actually. Because I had no idea when I suggested it that you were super against it, and then I thought, “Oh wow…this is going to be fun!” But I think that it’s like the Lennon and McCartney thing where the people who come in with different ideas [make the whole better]. I mean, your reasons for why it wouldn’t work helped make the origin of the Winter Soldier.
Brevoort: That’s the good part of the process and the part where, when it works, it works well. It’s not like I walked in there absolutely dead set that there was no set of circumstances at all under which I’d allow Bucky to come back. I was open at least to the possibility.
Brubaker: Yeah. You never gave me any indication I couldn’t do it.
Brevoort: Right. That e-mail I sent just said “Here are the things you have to explain to my satisfaction: assuming Bucky’s alive, where’s he been? How is he still young? Why does nobody know he’s around? How is he still relevant today?” And, of course, the most crucial one to me and the one we went back and forth over a couple of times to make it work was “What do we get in the end of this that’s better or that replaced the pathos of Bucky as the lost partner that Cap couldn’t save?” That’s certainly a note and thought that you worked with and sprungboard from all through not just the first Winter Soldier story but really all the Winter Solider stuff at least up to “Cap” #25. And really, it still plays into the stuff that we’re doing now in terms of Steve’s feelings of responsibility for this guy and the things Bucky’s done -Â wanting to save him and give him that second chance.
Brubaker: That’s the thing. You and I both come from the same school of thought on all of this. Like, there was this story where the Justice League got to go to heaven, and Bruce got to meet his parents there. I just thought, “Oh cool, now he doesn’t have to be Batman anymore.” You don’t take away something that defines a character without replacing it with something just as important.
Bucky’s death is what took Captain America from being a jingoistic icon to sell War Bonds and made him a Marvel character. He became the man out of time who was haunted by the death of his partner, so he was always trying to be the best guy. That’s makes him a Marvel character, so you can’t take Bucky’s death away from him without putting in something even worse. Namely, what if Bucky died and came back as his own worst enemy? That’s a broad strokes version, but Steve still has to be haunted by this thing somehow.
Brevoort: You had a really good sense too of the Winter Solider as a quintessential tortured Marvel anti-hero. Even before we got to that point in #11 where he got his memories back and was reintroduced to the world, you had a pretty good sense of where you wanted to go with him and what you wanted to do with him thereafter -Â the role he’d play and the kind of character he’d be. And all that, I thought, made a lot of sense. It spoke to me as well.
Brubaker: I got very lucky, I think. I got to walk into Marvel Comics and write my favorite comic from when I was a kid and bring back my favorite dead character that no one else had ever done anything with. And to have it go over well with Cap fans…that’s something I never expected to happen, really.
Brevoort: The thing you did too that was excellent -Â you and Steve Epting I should say -Â was not just to bring Bucky back in a way that made sense but to make him relevant and interesting for people for whom, up to that point, he was just two flashback panels in an old comic. That’s a real thing. People care about this guy, and he is Captain America now. And the reason we’ve been able to support a book with him being Captain America both while Steve was dead and even now that he’s back is because you’ve been able to make people care about Bucky as a character. His struggles and his flaws and his sordid past and desire to do right and get his life back -Â you’re able to involve people in that in a real Marvel soap opera-y kind of way. That more than anything, even more than being able to make people go “Oh, the Winter Soldier is cool” and make him a character people root for is key to what’s made the whole run work. That same feeling is shared by Steve as well as the readers.
Brubaker: It’s been a great ride. And you were also instrumental in helping form his personality. I had always pictured Bucky as being older than he’s portrayed and being a tough guy, but you pointed out that every third cover from back then was them parachuting behind enemy lines with Bucky shooting a Tommy gun. He was just blowing people away! And I started looking at those old covers and going “Here he is killing people with a flame thrower.” [Brevoort Laughs] That was where I started really thinking, “Well, why does this kid get to hang out with the Invaders? Why does a 16-year-old kid who was a propaganda tool get to hang with two guys who can light on fire, a guy who can breath underwater and fly, and a super soldier? There’s got to be something more interesting that’s different than what other people could do.” That’s where a lot of the personality of the Winter Solider came from. So yeah. I guess Tom is a decent editor. [Laughter]
Let’s move forward all the way from your first work together to your most recent one: the “Fear Itself: Book of the Skull” prologue story, which ships in March. This is another of Marvel’s big, linewide events, and so there’s a lot coming by way of this book. Why do a prologue issue to kick off the whole shebang, and why was Ed the guy to come in and write the story?
Brevoort: When the initial idea that became “Fear Itself” was pitched, we were having an Avenger retreat with a smaller group of guys, and I’d asked everybody beforehand “We’re going to be going into next year, and we’re looking for big stories to do. So if anybody has any ideas, great.” And quite rightly, Ed and Matt Fraction got together and said since one was writing “Thor” and the other “Cap,” they should do a big Cap/Thor story. They walked into the room with the germ of the idea that became “Fear Itself.” It involved stuff Matt was doing in “Thor” and stuff Ed was doing in “Cap.” Then it just kind of grew into this bigger, larger event as people, like we do,Â got more excited about it and interested in it and started going, “And you could do this and this and this! And this could be much bigger than you’re thinking of it now!”
Once it became larger and became both a workload issue and even a “how can we keep it all straight” issue, that’s I called Ed and asked him, “Do you really want to do halfsies on this? Because it seems like Matt is ready to do the heavy lifting.” And Ed realized, “I have enough other irons in the fire with ‘Cap’ and other stuff. Let me just do the lead-in with Sin, which interested me the most.”
Brubaker: Yeah, because we had cut out all of the stuff I had come up with. Originally, the story was going to take place in two different time periods, and I would write the older stuff.
Brevoort: That’s right. I’d forgotten that.
Brubaker: It was going to have two different parts, but then all the ideas at that summit made the story so big and a much larger thing, and suddenly the stuff I was most interested in writing personally was all the stuff that ended up in the prologue anyway.
Brevoort: Yeah, when it was just a Thor/Cap project, there were going to be two stories in each issue – or one story in two timeframes, the past and the present. We were going to tell those stories parallel, and the present day story got bigger and bigger and bigger while the past story stayed the same size.
Brubaker: That’s always what happens at those summits, though. Whatever the story is takes some weird direction and gets bigger. And that’s good. But most of the stuff I’d been excited to do was the stuff I get to do in the prologue anyway.
Well, you’ve been playing with Sin as a character for so long, and even though we don’t know a lot about what “Fear Itself” will involve as a whole, what can you tell us about her personal arc in this issue and how it kicks this entire giant thing off?
Brubaker: With Sin, ever since her father died at the end of “Captain America: Reborn” and she got her face burnt off and became the new Red Skull, I’ve been building her to become the 21st Century’s version of the Red Skull. She’s definitely the apocalyptic version of her father in a weird way. She’s crazier. She’s more dangerous. And she’s more destructive in a way because she feels she as some destiny to fulfill…and she’s a little bit nuts. So it’s not to say the Red Skull was sane, really, but he was definitely more calculating. Sin is like the Joker where you just never know what she’s going to do. I’ve always played her that way, and now she’s playing this bigger role. It got Matt and I talking about “What if Sin was involved with this?” and as the story kept growing, her role got bigger and bigger. A lot of what’s been going on in the latest “Trial of Cap” story in “Captain America” with her character was building towards what happens in this prologue issue and what happens in “Fear Itself” proper.
Brevoort: If I had to put my finger on it, the difference between her and her father is that the Red Skull motivationally, even though the world and his viewpoint have changed over the years, still kind of comes from a place of Nazism/fascism. All of his schemes and plans come from that point of view. I think Sin is a few degrees off from that, much closer to nihilism. She doesn’t necessarily stand for anything. She’s just about tearing it all down. She doesn’t have another ideology to replace it with. She’s just on the destructive side of the argument. That tends to make her a bit of a loose cannon and a bit of a tough character to corral. In “Fear Itself” she’s given the opportunity and the ability to write her message in large block letters across the world in a way that she hadn’t had the opportunity to before and in a way that the Red Skull wasn’t able to accomplish. So the Prologue, in terms of plot, is really about an adventure in the 1940s involving the Skull, Cap, Bucky and Namor wherein the Skull tried to accomplish something but couldn’t get the pieces to line up in the way he wanted. And the information, the secret, the guidebook for doing this all falls into Sin’s hands, and she’s taking up this quest where the Skull left off so that she can prove herself her father’s daughter and her father’s superior by succeeding where he was unble to succeed back in the day.
Brubaker: Yeah. Exactly…wow, Tom, you really danced around the plot. [Laughter] That was kind of impressive and very political of you.
Brevoort: I’m trying to say as much as I can so people know what it’s about without actually giving away the plot!
Brubaker: It’s funny because as I was saying, a lot of the stuff I was excited to write is in the Prologue. It’s true that there was going to be a much larger story with this stuff as it played out if we’d gone in the original direction, but the real creepy, visceral World War II kind of stuff was what I was really excited about. And getting some cool Invaders action to tap into what the story was all about I thought would be really fun. But really, these bizarre Nazi occult rituals and stuff was what really excited me about the whole thing. It’s so wrong, and I love that Captain America came out of that world in some way. It really taps into the pulp roots of the character and his weird mix between the Marvel Universe and the real world of World War II. It’s always fun to tap into that weird Nazi mysticism stuff that they were really doing.
But this Prologue issue does reveal one of the major secrets of “Fear Itself,” which should really have readers asking a lot of questions afterward. It’s an “oh shit” moment, for sure.
Another topic I wanted to hit on was “Secret Avengers,” which we learned last week Ed would be wrapping his run on. I was surprised by that, Ed, because when the book launched you and I had talked about how you never really felt like your past team book work found a way to combine with some of your other writing interests and feel like “An Ed Brubaker book” but you were hopeful “Secret Avengers” would do that. Do you feel like you were successful in the 12-issue run of meeting that goal?
Brubaker: I think so. It’s always a little bit of a balancing act with a team book because you have so many characters. I looked at a lot of other team books and tried to see how different writers played it. The thing that I thought was one of my favorite runs on a team book ever was the “Ultimate Fantastic Four” run that Mark Millar did because each story focused on one character on the team for three issues, and you got to see the other characters there as supporting staff. It’s always hard to find that balance.
My choice on this book to try and make it stand out was to make it much more of a “G.I. Joe” or a “Mission: Impossible” type of a thing where the mission was the main thing. It wasn’t about the characters interacting or who was getting enough face time. It was much more about the team as a functional unit on a mission. Whole arcs would go by where you wouldn’t see one character or another. It wasn’t about that. It was about what the bad guys were doing or what our guys were doing against it. It was set in that “G.I. Joe Vs. Cobra” idea. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s just that a lot of personal life stuff went down at the end of last year, and I was getting behind, and I really felt like something was going to have to give. I knew that other big stuff was coming up in the future. So I called up Tom and suggested that I leave the book at 12. He was shocked to hear it and said “I thought you were doing good on that.” So I’m glad to hear that everybody doesn’t think I was leaving because I sucked at it. [Laughter]
So, let’s dig into what some of the readers had to ask Ed about. First off, BrownShken wodnered, “Did you have bigger plans for Nova when you originally cast him in the book? Did his fate in ‘The Thanos Imperative’ change your plans or did you always know you would only have him for the one arc?”
Brubaker: A little bit of both. I thought we might have him for longer, and then the Thanos stuff came up where we learned they were going to kill him. So I said, “Can I kill him in my book, instead?” but Tom said no. [Laughs] But I knew before I even wrote issue #1 that I only had him for that one arc, we just had to keep it a secret. Like the team.
Next up, user SomeBodyAtCBR asked “Without trying to give too much away, with your departure on Secret Avengers, will the Shadow Council’s story be over? Will we get the explanations before you leave, from another writer, or will they be explored somewhere else?”
Brubaker: I explain a lot about them in my last two issues. They get explained a bit more, though they’ll stay around as a present menace in the Marvel Universe. I know I’ve seen at least one upcoming “Secret Avengers” script that they’re in as bad guys.
Brevoort: And they were also involved in the “Super-Soldier” limited series so it’s also not unlikely that you’ll go back to them in “Cap” at some point.
Brubaker: Yeah, I planted seeds for them in the Captain America world too.
Brevoort: So they’re not going to fade with Ed leaving the book. They’ll still be around doing well-intentioned nefarious things.
Speaking of “Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier,” I know that Marvel has announced those adventures will continue as a backup in “Captain America moving forward. Plenty of people wanted to know what’s next for that story thread.
Brevoort: Backup isn’t quite the right word for the way that we’re doing these over the next couple of months. You’re not going to get a 22-page lead story featuring Bucky and an eight-page Steve Rogers story. The stories of these two characters are intertwined, and the individual page counts of each story will vary each month depending on what the needs of the issue are. So what you’re really getting is 30 pages of Ed writing all this Captain America stuff with two artists. Some months it’ll be that Butch Guice will do 22 and the other guy will do eight, and some months Butch will do 15 and the other guy will do 15.
Brubaker: I went to Tom and asked him how much longer the Nomad back-up thing was running, because I had an idea that since we were doing 30 pages an issue, why don’t I just have the backup story and the main story intertwining where scenes in them will reflect off each other? I wanted to do something a little experimental since I was taking the characters into two different places without revealing what’s coming up. It’s not completely dissimilar to what I did during the “Death of Cap” story where that first arc had each character with their own chapter to play out. I’m trying to do it a little more integrated this time where you’ll read both of them and feel like they’re pieces fitting into place.
Since you bring it up, I can’t even tell you how many people asked about what was coming for Cap with the movie on the way. The guys asked everything from whether we’d see more books like Thor has now split between “Journey Into Mystery” and “Mighty” through the obvious question of whether Steve would become Cap again.
Brevoort: We sort of addressed this in the column where we discussed “Mighty Thor,” but is it likely we’ll do something when the Cap movie comes out? Vegas oddsmakers would not say it’s beyond the pale. But at the moment we’ve got one Cap book. It’s the one that’s got Bucky Barnes as Cap and Steve in there too.
Brubaker: Anticipation is part of the comics experience. That’s the thing we all forget in the digital age. Anticipating a book from one month to the next is part of being a comics fan. You don’t get to know the future.
Shifting topics then, SomeBodyAtCBR also asked “I read that ‘Incognito’ got optioned into a movie; any news on that? I’d go see it twice if it’s anywhere near as good as the original.”
Brubaker: Yeah. They’re just about to start the second draft of the screenplay. Everything is still full steam ahead. I think at the point after the second draft gets turned in in a few weeks, I might hopefully have some more news not long after.
Rogerio wanted to know, “Are you going to write a Black Widow solo story someday?”
Brubaker: I actually am just writing one right now, but it’s in “Captain America.” But I’d love to at some point. I have a project at some point in the future that may allow me to do that. I don’t know that I’d do a “Black Widow” solo series, but definitely she’s one of my favorite characters, obviously. That’s why I hooked her up with Bucky immediately. [Laughs] The minute I realized there was any possibility that they worked together back in the day when I was plotting the Winter Soldier stuff, I went “He might’ve dated Black Widow!” So I’d love to do that.
We had some questions from a guy going by Moose967…
Brubaker: Wait. Did you just say “Moose Knight”? [Laughter]
No, no…Moose- NINE 67. He wanted to know “I’m a huge fan of your work on Cap and Marvels Project. Most of all I love how you returned one my favorite, albeit tragic, characters: The Captain America of the 1950’s. Will we be seeing more of him soon, despite his vague exit last Spring? I believe some redemption is in order for Burnside!”
Brubaker: All I can say is that I can’t say.
TMatthy83 asked, “Are there any plans for Jack Monroe to return as a new Winter Soldier? How about his foster child, Julia (aka Baby Bucky)?”
Brubaker: No. I liked that character back in the day, but having another guy who looks just like Bucky running around the Marvel Universe doesn’t really work for me. I mean, the reason Jack was brought into the series in the first place was because Bucky couldn’t be brought back, and there were interesting things to explore between a “Bucky” type and Steve Rogers. Jack grew into his own character from there, and had a good run as Nomad, to his and his creators’ credits. But we have the real Bucky back now, and Jack’s murder is one of the weights that Bucky has to carry. He killed a guy who just wanted to be him. It’s tragic.
Brevoort: But you did just give me a chance to plug something. A week or so back we released the “Marvel Vault: Doctor Strange” book which was a Doctor Strange story that Roger Stern and Neil Vokes had worked on almost ten years earlier that never got finished. We’re doing three or four more similar projects as the months go on, and one of the next ones we’re doing is an issue of “Thunderbolts” that Fabian Nicieza wrote and Derek Donovan illustrated. I was actually editing the book when this issue was done, though it was never quite finished. And the entire story is about Jack Monroe, who had been in the series at that point as Scourge, traveling around and interacting with the various Thunderbolts of the day. It’s a good, strong, done-in-one story about Jack Monroe back before we put a bullet in his head. And that story will be coming out in a couple of weeks. If you are one of the many Jack Monroe fans, you should check this out.
Finally, Night Swordsman asked, “Is there any Marvel character you would like to write monthly that you are currently not writing or have written in the past?”
Brevoort: I know the answer to this one!
Brubaker: I’ve always wanted to do “Spider-Man,” and Epting and I have talked about doing “Spider-Man” together at some point. He and I are both huge fans of the Ross Andru era of “Spider-Man.” Someday maybe.
Brevoort: Everyone was excited about that until you said “Ross Andru.” [Laughter]
Brubaker: Well, the Gil Kane/John Romita stuff is really awesome too. I will fight anybody who says that Kane or Romita ever looked any better than when they worked together.
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!