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Captain America = Dead: Quesada talks Issue #25

by  in Comic News Comment
Captain America = Dead: Quesada talks Issue #25
“Captain America” #25

Comic fans around the world woke up Wednesday morning to the news of Captain America’s death in the pages of “Captain America” #25. It was impossible to avoid having the story spoiled before you even got to the comic shop with headlines like “CAPTAIN AMERICA KILLED” as seen in the New York Daily News. It was top news all over the net, including the front page of Yahoo! News, with banner stories from CNN, CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, ABC News and numerous other august news organizations.

If you thought the media coverage was insane, you should have seen what was going on inside the Marvel offices. A Marvel spokesperson told CBR News that at least eight news crews came through the Marvel offices on Wednesday afternoon, with many more scheduled for Thursday. Stories are scheduled to run in the New York Times, USA Today, on CBS and ABC television and in numerous other locales throughout the weekend. Clearly this is a story that isn’t going away anytime soon.

With the media attention as high as it was, reports of sell outs at stores all over the country were reported, with many stores limiting sales of “Captain America” #25 to one per customer. My own comic shop, DJ’s Universal Comics in Studio City, CA, saw a healthy flow of new customers come into their store looking for the issue. By mid-day, Universal Comics too was sold out, with a massive reorder already made with Diamond Comics Distributors. When we spoke with Marvel Wednesday afternoon and asked if the issue was already sold out, a Marvel spokesperson told CBR News that there is a healthy overprint available at Diamond for reorders and Marvel is taking aggressive steps to make sure retailers have the books in hand.

Wednesday afternoon, CBR News spoke with Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada – in between radio interviews, we should add – to talk about the media attention “Captain America” #25 garnered and to see what the death of Captain America means to Marvel’s publishing plans in the coming year.

Panel from “Captain America” #25

Hey Joe, how’s your day going?

Crazy!

I bet! The amount of attention the death of Captain America received was absolutely enormous on Wednesday. First off, did you guys expect this story to go as wide as it did?

Not really. Especially considering when we came up with the story about a year and a half ago, we had no idea it would be this big a deal. But here we are.

The media really ran with this story, which is a bit surprising considering Captain America doesn’t have nearly the same level of mainstream recognition that Spider-Man or Wolverine have. So, how much of this media attention came about due to the efforts of Marvel’s publicity machine and how much of it was the media just running with the story?

Obviously our media machine got behind this to a fair extent, but the truth of the matter is at the end of the day you can’t predict how these things are going to go. The media has latched onto this particular story and have gone crazy with it. It’s been really unexpected. We knew we’d get some press, but not what we saw today.

While I know Marvel doesn’t talk specific numbers, can you give us any idea how much higher orders were on this issue compared to other issues of Captain America?

Because nobody saw this coming and it wasn’t a stunt thought up just to raise sales – if it was that, we would have leaked this weeks ago – so, I think the sales on Captain America – and they have been going up and that has a lot to do with “Civil War” and Cap’s relevance and importance with regard to that story – so, to answer your question, the orders on “Captain America” #25 were better than usual 1> because it was “Captain America” #25, sort of a hallmark issue if you want to call #25 a hallmark issue, and 2> because it was the final chapter in the “Civil War” arc that’s happening in “Captain America.” I can’t tell you it was anything beyond what we’ve experienced before. Obviously this book is bringing a lot of people into stores, so I think with respect to back orders and reorders, we’ll see some significant numbers.

Let’s talk about the death itself and, specifically, how it took place in the book. Taking the image of Captain America at its very simplest, we have a man draped in the American flag. With the assassination of Steve Rogers in “Captain America” #25, we essentially have an image of a bloody American flag with a bullet through it. That’s a very powerful image, made even more so considering we’re a nation at war. Can you comment on the symbolism of this image?

I think people can read that imagery a dozen different ways because that’s what happens when you have a character who wears a flag. I think every single one of us, every American, when we look at that flag, we all have certain global beliefs and feelings about it, but I think when you get down to the nuances of it, what we each feel about our own patriotism or our country, there are millions upon millions of different degrees of emotions that come up based upon our own life experiences. My parents were immigrants and I’m sure they look at the flag differently than when I look at it. So, looking at it from that point of view, Cap to me has always been a character that, like you said he wears the American flag, so everyone who looks at the character I think they all project something differently upon him. For some it might be intense patriotism, or a rogue ideal, maybe indifference, or they might see him as “the man.” It could be so many things. I think the image of Cap lying on the court house steps will resonate with everyone, but you’ll have a wide variety of opinions of what that image means.

We’re not here to dictate what that imagery is and we’re not going to tell people, “This is what we want you to think.” All we’re doing here is trying to tell great stories and if, in the end, it makes people think, that’s even better.

In an earlier interview with Ed Brubaker on CBR, Ed said that the decision to kill Cap was made between he and Tom Brevoort following the big “Civil War” summit. How much convincing did you need to get on board with this?

It was not a very difficult decision to make because “Civil War” the story – and I know this is going to sound corny and hokey – really did take on a life of its own. There was a point where the story was kind of writing itself and all of us in the room during that summit were saying, “Yeah, that’s got to happen” and “oh, that’s got to happen,” and all of these events started falling into place and the death of Captain America was one of those things that came up and we all just said, “Yeah, it kinda has to happen. There has to be big loss here and it looks like it has to be Cap who suffers it.”

What was really kind of up for debate – and this is the way I remember it keeping in mind that these summits have something of a hive mentality and this is kind of a chicken and the egg type question and you’ll get different answers depending on who you talk to – but I remember the big debate being should the death actually happen in “Civil War” proper within the seventh issue, or does it happen in the following issue of “Captain America.” The other debate was who the assassin would be. So, those things were discussed and eventually we decided it should happen in “Captain America” proper and who the assassin was.

You brought up something interesting there, whether or not to have the attack on Steve happen in “Civil War” or “Captain America.” Now, the online reaction to Steve standing down in the middle of the final battle in “Civil War” #7 was very mixed. Now, if you take that criticism at face value and with hindsight being 20/20, do you think the decision to put the death sequence in “Captain America” over “Civil War” was the right one?

Absolutely. I think we did the right thing. As we were discussing “Civil War,” we knew we were onto something that would globally change the Marvel Universe and make it a very unpredictable place. With that, we also discussed a lot of past cross-overs that have happened, not just at Marvel, but also at DC and across the comics industry, and we were taking the good and the bad from those, especially looking at the bad and saying, “These are the things we will try to avoid doing with ‘Civil War.'”

I think the death of Cap at the end of “Civil War” would have taken away from what the overall message was at that point and then “Civil War” would just become the death of Captain America story and that’s not what we wanted it to be. We wanted “Civil War” to show that this was a different Marvel Universe and that a whole new status quo was taking place. And guess what? Now, go read “Captain America,” go read “Iron Man,” go see what happens with these guys now that you’re playing in a new world. That’s why we felt it was important for Cap’s death to happen within the pages of “Captain America,” especially if you’re a reader of “Captain America” – that’s where you want to see it happen.

The last death of a super hero to get this much mainstream attention was Superman in “Superman” #75. Did you go back and look at how that story was handled and presented? Did those efforts in anyway inform what happened with “Captain America” #25?

No. I’ll be honest with you, when we were discussing the death of Captain America – and keep in mind that was a year and a half ago – and when we decided that was what we were going to, it really was just another passing story element. We knew that comic fans would feel passionate about it, but we didn’t see it as a major media event.

Now you flash forward a little over a year and at our most recent creator summit we’re sitting there and we were talking about how the world has changed – we have a new congress, the war is still going on – and it dawns on us that a year+ ago we thought the death of Captain America was just a cool comics story, but then we started to realize we better be prepared. It was our publisher Dan Buckley who said, “I don’t think we’re quite ready for the media onslaught that could happen if the world keeps going in the direction it’s going.” It was at that point that we started planning out things like the “Fallen Son” mini-series with Jeph Loeb and we started gearing up to make sure we have all our tanks on the ground for this last bit because this could turn into a big media blitz. We weren’t sure, but by taking the temperature of the world at that point we figured it could be a very important story and something the media would want to run with and here we are.

And certainly it’s better to be prepared than to be caught with your pants down.

Yeah, and to answer your original question, I was not at DC when the “Death of Superman” happened, but as I understand from what I’ve heard, like some sort of global urban legend, was that DC really had no idea that the Death of Superman was going to be so big and that it hit on a slow news day. It’s probably a story that [DC Editor] Mike Carlin could tell better, and I’ve never spoken with Mike about it directly, but if you take that urban myth – and it may be truth but I’m calling it that only because I’ve never spoken to anybody directly about it – then it’s best to be prepared for this type of thing. Overall, at the end of the day, I think Marvel as a publishing division is well prepared for this kind of thing, this kind of media assault, because we’ve had a lot of experience with doing it.

Allright, so basically the next step in this story will take place in the “Fallen Son” books by Jeph Loeb. Talk with us about the genesis of this series of books.

The “Fallen Son” idea started when our Dan Buckley was sitting at the last summit and said, “The death of Captain America is much more important than we know right now and we need to do something. We need to address this outside of just the ‘Captain America’ book. We need to see the Marvel Universe reaction to this.” That’s when Joe Straczynski suggested a five issue series representing the five stages of grief. Everybody in the room just went silent. And then the reaction was, “Oh my God!” Joe wanted to write it, but the idea really hit Jeph between the eyes, especially considering where he is in his life right now – he lost his 17 year old son a little more than a year ago, he’s gone through those stages and they’re still pretty raw for him. So, he spoke with me and he spoke with Joe and told us he really wanted to tell this story. Joe being the incredibly generous guy he is, he told Jeph to go write this story. So, a big thank you to Joe Straczynski.

There’s been a lot of talk about “World War Hulk” and how it’s Marvel’s next big event, but following Steve Rogers death in “Captain America” #25, it seems like this event should be the universe shaping event of the coming year.

Well, we want to keep our fans on their toes. I think one of the things we promised post “Civil War” was that the Marvel Universe would be a very unpredictable place and here we are. So, while I wouldn’t necessarily call Cap’s death an event, I could certainly say that it is definitely leaving a void, a huge hole in the Marvel Universe that either gets filled or all the characters fall into it. One or the other.

One thing that’s been going around today was discussion of a sequence in “Civil War: The Initiative” where there was some talk that Cap was still alive. Can you address that for our readers?

I have not read the actual panels that were published, but the truth of the matter is it’s a discussion between Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman or something like that – and I’m about to SPOIL “THE INITIATIVE” STORY for everybody right here, right now, so stop reading if you don’t want to know – but what Ms. Marvel is trying to do is she’s trying to trap Spider-Woman. She’s actually giving her mis-information, none of that is true, but it is an element of the story that eventually gets revealed later on in the story. SPOILER OVER

All right, now bringing things to a close here, under Ed Brubaker’s watchful eye, “Captain America” has really flourished. As one of the premier characters in the Marvel U, it has to be rewarding for you to see him return to the spotlight in such a major way.

Absolutely and at the end of the day it’s the fact that Ed writes thist particular book that we’re completely OK with the death of Captain America because now you have a Captain America book without Captain American and you have to step back and ask, “How does that work? Who fills that void? Can someone fill that void and can they do it successfully?”

And certainly Ed’s up to that task. Thanks, Joe.

Thank you.

Discuss this story here on CBR’s Avengers Forum.

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