Marvel Comics superheroes usually battle large scale crimes, so their adversaries often include would be world conquerors, terrorists, dictators, and hostile intergalactic or supernatural beings. Murders are generally left to the police, but occasionally a killer’s actions draws the attention of a costumed crime fighter. When they do, that hero will hunt a killer down just as relentlessly as they would any of their other foes.
Beginning with “Captain America” #11 in May, writer Ed Brubaker is joined by veteran artist Patrick Zircher (“Hulk,” “Mystery Men”) for “Shock to the System, an arc that puts Captain America on the trail of a killer who preys upon villains in the Witness Protection Program. CBR News spoke with Zircher and series editor Tom Brevoort about the story.
CBR News: Patrick, you’ve been drawing Marvel books for quite some time now, and over the years you’ve had the chance to draw Captain America in other books, most recently in “Secret Avengers” #21.1. I don’t think you’ve been given a chance to actually work on Cap’s solo title, however. How does it feel to be given the chance to draw “Captain America” and work with Ed Brubaker?
Patrick Zircher: Yeah, Cap shows up as a character half a dozen times or so in books I’ve drawn in the past and, according to the History of Ancient Civilizations, I did draw an issue of “Captain America” back in 1999. But working with Ed for several issues feels more like the real thing. There’s a classic Jim Steranko vibe to this story, shadowy action-thriller elements, that I just love (that’s LOVE with capital letters).
Since you mentioned the story let’s talk about that a little more. “Shock to the System” explores an area of the Marvel Universe that we don’t see much of, the Witness Protection Program. What can you tell us about this program and its role in the story? How similar and how different is it to its real life counterpart?
Tom Brevoort: It’s pretty similar, though amped up to superhuman levels due to the sorts of people that pass through it. And it’s probably not all that effective, given the frequency with which our villains turn up again down the line doing nefarious things. But you’ll get a good sense of it in these issues of “Cap” — it’s more of a backdrop to what’s actually going on than the main thing.
In terms of plot and themes what is “Shock to the System” about? How new reader friendly is this arc? And how much does it offer readers who have been following this new volume of “Captain America” from the beginning? Does this story add to the larger tale that’s been developing with Code Name Bravo and the Hydra Queen? Or do those elements sort of move into the background for this story?
Brevoort: The story rolls directly out of the previous issues, so the ongoing themes of the book and the rolling subplots will continue through “Shock.” But the main plot concerns a new incarnation of a classic character who is targeting and executing villains who’ve turned State’s evidence and entered Witness Protection.
In a lot of ways “Shock to the System” is a mystery that involves costumed characters and crime. Patrick, last year you worked on “Mystery Men” which also combined these elements. Are we correct in guessing that stories that mix action, acting, and detective work are some of your favorite things to draw? And if so, what is it about these tales that appeal to you as an artist?
Zircher: Absolutely. This story is the closest I’ve come to drawing like “Mystery Men” since that series. I’d hoped to draw an evocative, shadowy “Hulk” last year but that didn’t fit the sci-fi tone of the story — either that or I just missed an opportunity. In any event, what you said, I love mixing action, acting, and detective work (or at least some of the mood associated with detective work). The appeal? Hold on, I’m having an epiphany (ha!). I’m realizing I’m happiest drawing that way. The look, the way it reads. Dark stories are my favorites in comics, TV, or film and when I read Ed’s scripts, that edge — I feel like it ought to be there in the art.
We also understand this tale brings back some older Captain America characters. I imagine you’re wary of revealing their identities, but are you able to tell us which eras of Cap history these characters played a prominent role in?
Brevoort: The Mark Gruenwald era. One or two much-requested characters make a return to the series from that era.
Patrick, I imagine one of the more entertaining aspects of working on superhero comics is character design. Were you able to update or design the looks of these returning characters?
Zircher: A couple of the main characters for this story arc have been redesigned — but I’ve tried to stay true to them at the same time. If an existing character is changed too much, something’s lost. Character design, especially redesign, is a little like storytelling. What’s on the page should be there for a reason, even if it’s just “keeping with the character’s history.”
We’ve talked about your approach to some of the story’s main characters, but what about your approach to Cap himself? In “Secret Avengers” #21.1 you drew Cap as an incredibly focused man of action. It seemed like he was always engaging in action or prepping for it to break out. As an artist, is that your general take on the character? Or was that interpretation of Cap sort of dictated by the story in that issue?
Zircher: It was a combination of imagery I have of Captain America in my head, the bounding hero of my childhood, and Rick Remender’s breakneck pace for that script. Definitively, I’d like to draw more fully rendered images, more ink– a bold Cap that evokes the artwork of Gene Colan and Steranko. Cap’s costume is so iconic and visually powerful that you can lay a lot of ink on it and it holds up — benefits from it as far as I’m concerned. The 4th cover for this story and the interior pages approach this. It takes time to develop a take on a character.
Let’s talk about your take on the story. You’re an artist who can tailor his distinctive style and look to whatever genre he’s drawing. What can readers expect from your work on the “Shock to the System” arc of “Captain America?” Will it have a similar feel to your work on books like “Secret Avengers” and “Mystery Men,” or does this story call for something different?
Zircher: Tailoring art to the story has been a strength and a fault over the years. I’ve always kept busy but haven’t always drawn the way I most want to. I decided to change my approach to Cap a bit from the initial covers and the “Secret Avengers” issue. Instead of drawing as a response to current “Captain America” issues, I’m going to go a little darker. Put the ink to work. Ed’s scripts really evoke the things I love about “Mystery Men” and, as I said, I’m happier in that place. I like comic art that stands up in black and white, not just in color, and hope to explore that approach further in the future.
I work 10-11 hours a day not to disappoint you, to tell a story at a professional level and make a book you can be pleased you bought. Editors, writers, colorists, letterers, printers, store owners — we’re all working guys. Your support matters, your love of comics matters, and it’s appreciated.
“Captain America” #11 is on sale in May.
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