Funeral for a Friend: Loeb & Cassaday talk "Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America - Iron Man"

The Marvel Universe has seen many momentous occasions: births, marriages, wars and deaths. As revealed early Sunday by the Associated Press, this Thursday in "Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America-Iron Man" writer Jeph Loeb and artist John Cassaday show readers another momentous occasion for the Marvel U - the funeral for one of its most beloved heroes, Captain America. CBR News spoke with both creators about the issue.

Like the other issues in the series, "Fallen Son: The Death of Captain American - Iron Man" was born when Loeb learned of Captain America's impending death. "I had missed a creative summit and Tom Brevoort had his head down and he's sort of mumbling his way through as he often does, 'In issue #25 Cap gets assassinated and dies. In Cap #26, the Falcon . . .'" Loeb told CBR News. "And I'm like, 'What! Wait a minute!' We then started talking about what eventually became 'Fallen Son.' JMS was the one who had the idea to do the five stages of grief. As soon as he said it I knew exactly what I wanted to do."

Loeb knew Iron Man was the ideal star for the issue of "Fallen Son" that would involve the final stage in the grieving process - acceptance. "To me it was always a Tony Stark story because the impact of what had happened had the greatest value to play on Tony because if you don't read 'Captain America,' you don't know Cap's secondary characters. So, it's a very insulated story when it's just those people" Loeb explained. "But when you open it up to the whole Marvel Universe, then if you're an Avengers fan or a Fantastic Four fan, you understand how the rest of the Marvel Universe is dealing with this. It made for a really interesting way to tell the story."

Once he mapped out which characters would star in which issue, the next step for Loeb was to talk with "Captain America" writer Ed Brubaker. "He was so incredibly helpful," Loeb said. "He had already written issues #25 through #27 and Ed felt like the story that he wanted to tell - and I think he's right - was the aftermath of the funeral."

Brubaker told Loeb he had no plans to show Captain America's funeral in the pages of "Captain America" and went on to share some details already established about the funeral, which would play a major role in "Fallen Son - Iron Man." "Ed really liked how people had said to Sam Wilson [AKA the Falcon], 'I can't believe how moving your speech was. I wish I could have said some of those things,'" Loeb stated. "I thought that was a really interesting way to tell the story because I've been to enough funerals unfortunately that that aftermath is extremely accurate. It's the thing that people often say to you when you speak at a funeral. So I thought he had really captured that particular aspect."

Following his talk with Brubaker and as he worked away on "Fallen Son," Loeb began to get a sense that much like with the death of Captain America, the events in "Fallen Son" would not go unnoticed by the mainstream media. "I was glad I had the instinct that this story was the 'Death of Superman' for this generation, in that it's been more than ten years since the death of a comic book character got into mainstream media and became the story that everybody was talking about even if they didn't read comics," Loeb remarked. "While we're at war you can't kill Captain America and not have every single newspaper in the country report on the story. The man wears the flag. So it went from being a little comic book story to sort of a statement on the political climate of the world right now. I think Ed was very happy with that and I really felt like if that was the case, then 'Fallen Son' was not going to go unnoticed."

It was the huge impact that Captain America's death had on both the comic book buying and general public that lead to Loeb's desire to write the funeral of the Sentinel of Liberty. "In doing the funeral there was really only one guy who could draw it and that was John Cassaday," Loeb said. "I said, 'We have to get Cassaday because there is no bigger Cap fan. There's nobody who has put their own signature on the character the way that John has.' Everybody in the room was like, 'Forget it. You'll never get him. He's doing the X-Men thing with Joss and he's got like forty other things to do.'

"Joe Quesada, to his credit, said, 'I want you to go to Joss first and make sure that it's cool,'" Loeb continued. "Fortunately Joss and I are friends. He didn't blink twice. He said absolutely and if they can work out the schedules it would be great. So, I pitched the story to Cassaday and I barely got three words past the funeral and he said, 'I'm in. We can work out the schedule. Let's do it.'"

Cassaday's feelings were mixed when he learned he was being given the chance to draw the funeral of his favorite comic character. "I knew that burying him would be a complicated experience and not completely unmorbid, as you might imagine," Cassaday told CBR News. "Regardless of what becomes of the character, this would be a real (if not final) chapter in his history. Jeph and I have been talking for years about working together and the death of Captain America had unique meaning to us both. Jeph specifically asked to write this series and I was his specific choice for the finale. I knew the outlets this story would present to him and how strongly he felt about it. Above all, Jeph is the reason I agreed to be involved. This would be a meaningful story."

Once Cassaday was signed on, Loeb was motivated to do something that he rarely ever does. "Because I have so much respect for Cassaday, very early on I got on the phone and I literally told him the whole story page by page. I hadn't written anything, but I wanted to let him know what I wanted to do, which was to tell the funeral and then have these big images of what Sam was talking about," Loeb explained. "They would be sort of these beautiful, almost posters of Cap's life. Some artists really respond to that and some are very intimidated by having to do that because it's a lot of very intricate detail work. You can't cheat that stuff, but that's the pool John swims in. There isn't any kind of big double page splash that he just doesn't make sing.

"So, the story became this really interesting and for me very personal challenge of combining very intense emotional story beats, which would be done sometimes in six panel grids, then the emotional release would be this beautiful painting or splash that would be Cassaday's rendering of what the character was talking about," Loeb continued. "So, there's a beautiful shot of Cap with an American tank liberating a concentration camp. There's a really cool action poster of the Invaders fighting the villains of that day like the Red Skull and Baron Zemo. I don't want to spoil all of them, but they go up to very recently."

When Loeb saw Cassaday's depiction of the funeral, he was blown away by what his artistic collaborator had done. "It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen," Loeb stated. "In the opening I said to him that it takes place in Arlington Cemetery and in the extreme foreground are the pallbearers, who are people that were close to Cap. Then in the background you see there's a memorial designed by Alicia Masters and everyone that's there for the funeral and I said that it's raining. So the way we can get away with not showing a thousand or tens of thousands of people is by showing tens of thousands of umbrellas. I figured John would draw three rows and you would figure that there were more beyond that. There must be a thousand umbrellas in that picture."

Cassaday made sure his art for both the funeral and the flashback sequences of "Fallen Son - Iron Man" accurately conveyed the proper mood and emotional impact, making sure all the attendees had appropriate reactions. "Everyone deals with death differently and I didn't want row after row of some kind of generic crying sadness," Cassaday explained. "Some are looking proudly on about who Steve was and some are simply still in shock. Part stoic, part lost. You run the gambit of human emotion when you consider the event. I've been to more than my share of funerals and the ones that matter the most remind us of what we had, not what was lost. The flip-side would be the flashbacks. Recreating magnificent epic chapters in Cap's career helped to balance out the downward mood of what the funeral would present. I wanted it to help place the reader in that 'proud to have known him' category."

Since the funeral and flashback sequences were such dynamically different events, Cassaday used different artistic techniques to depict them. "The funeral scene would be a moody affair, so I went with simple ink on paper and a middle range of rendering," Cassaday said. "On the flashbacks, I went full-on with ink rendering and graytones achieved with pencil and charcoal. In terms of color scheme, the funeral was a rainy overcast affair, so the palette would be very gray with most of the color sucked out. I also wanted no border line art in order to give the scene more sophistication as well as illustrating a greater difference to the flashbacks and remainder of the story. With the flashbacks, the coloring was all-out. Bumping up the saturation, we went with bright, beautiful, pure colors. I wanted these scenes to seem fresh and strong, while remaining a somewhat sentimental and romantic peek into an incredible journey.

"I think it would be knee-jerk of most writers to go for the easy doom and gloom, but Jeph covered the spectrum," Cassaday continued. "This is how life plays out. He kept it very real. Very human."

Loeb feels it was his artistic collaborator's attention to detail and willingness to commit himself that turned his script into something visually exciting and powerful. "You really get the impact of all the images and what the funeral was like from John's art," Loeb said. "Then it's beautifully colored by Laura Martin who just wakes up and turns on a computer and some how magic comes out of her hands. I don't understand how she does it and I don't want to understand. I just want to enjoy the hell out of it. It's so beautiful."

Loeb's artistic collaborators were able to recreate such a poignant experience as Captain America's funeral because the funeral was a very emotional thing for Loeb to write. "It's only been two years since I lost my son Sam and no one should have to go through that experience and certainly no one should have to go through the funeral part of that experience," Loeb said. "The piece that I chose to do at the funeral was that I wanted to show how many people's lives my son, Sam, had touched. It's difficult to understand, we were in this temple at the cemetery that would normally hold about four hundred people and there were about two thousand people. People were out on the lawn and they set up television sets. He was just so loved by so many different groups of people and I wanted to be able to acknowledge all of them.

"So I asked, 'If you knew Sam from high school please stand up. If you knew Sam because you were family please stand up. If you knew Sam from theater please stand up. If you knew Sam from comics please stand up,'" Loeb continued. "I went through the ten various places in his life that he had touched people's lives. There may have been more. Then I said, 'Now I want to show you something very magical.' And I said, 'Turn around.' Think about if you're at a funeral. You're looking at the stage, you're not looking at anybody else. What happened was that these very emotional people turned around and suddenly realized that everyone in the whole place was standing despite their differences in their ages and what they did for a living. They were all connected by the fact that they knew this great kid. It went from a sad moment to this kind of celebration that we were all sharing."

"I thought this was so personal to me in so many other ways that I really felt like it was okay to do that in the Marvel U, to have Sam ask for various members of different teams from different times because Cap's career spanned so many decades and affected so many different people," Loeb explained. "This was a chance to be able to show the reader the effects that Cap had not only on the superhero community, but on the entire world."

Given his personal experience, some people have asked Loeb about the choice of Sam Wilson to deliver Captain America's eulogy. "People who read the script, and even Richard Starkings who lettered it for us, asked me whether or not I chose Sam Wilson because of Sam Loeb," Loeb stated. "I said, 'No I didn't have anything to do with that. Brubaker actually picked that.' Tony was originally supposed to give his eulogy and then he couldn't because he was too emotionally overcome and then Sam got up and said what he was going to say. There are certain kinds of irony that you don't ask questions about. You just sort of let the universe tell you this is what is going to happen. I'm not a big believer in any of that stuff, but when it happens, you just sort of let it happen."

Each issue of the "Fallen Son" series has focused on how various Marvel heroes have dealt with their grief over Captain America's death, with Tony Stark a recurring character throughout, showing the different stages of his grief. Along with Cap's funeral, Stark's grieving process is one of the things that takes center stage in "Fallen Son - Iron Man." "In the Wolverine issue, Logan is so pissed and so badly wants to find a villain that he practically accuses Tony of having something to do with Cap's death. Tony's only response is that he lost a friend and in fact he probably lost his best friend. I really believe that," Loeb remarked. "When you get to the Hawkeye issue, you really see what Tony is struggling with and that he wants Captain America to live again so much that he is willing to try to convince Clint Barton that he could be Captain America and everything would be great if that would happen. The world won't let that happen. Hawkeye won't let that happen. Tony needs to go through the stages of grief in order to get to that place of acceptance. Whether or not he actually gets to that place I don't want to spoil for the reader because there is an ending which I would say is unexpected given what everybody knows about the story."

"Fallen Son - Iron Man" will play host to a large number of guest appearances, but due to the aftermath of "Civil War," not every Marvel hero is able to attend Cap's funeral. "There is a division between the New Avengers because Spidey says 'We should have gone.' And Wolverine's attitude is 'Yeah, so we can all get arrested.' And Jessica's attitude is 'Maybe we could have cut a deal. It was for Steve,'" Loeb said. "Iron Fist and Luke Cage are really sort of the voices of reason in saying, 'How could we possibly take that chance? And even if we did, how much more of a circus would this have turned in to?' Then it all lands back on Spidey, who says, 'I still think we should have gone.'

"I tried to take from experiences that I know of where people who live in the West and have a relative who died back East and they struggle with 'Should I have gone?'" Loeb continued. "'Would it matter to the person? Would it matter to the family?' It's a very personal and internal kind of thing which fortunately works very well with what's going on in the overall plot of the Marvel Universe. The idea that the New Avengers are criminals according to the Superhuman Registration Act becomes a great metaphor for the personal struggle that we have when someone dies; whether or not we want to take time from our lives, whether or not we can deal with it emotionally, or any of the other reasons why people don't attend a funeral, which are many."

For Loeb, everything about "Fallen Son" - from Wolverine's initial investigation up to Captain America's funeral has been a gratifying experience and made him remember why he's a comic creator. "I enjoy working in the field and I'm very proud of things like 'The Long Halloween' and 'Hush,' but other than the color books - 'Daredevil Yellow,' 'Spider-Man: Blue' and 'Hulk Grey' - I had been looking for something that I could write on that emotional level," Loeb explained. "Fortunately, this was the first thing that I got to do since I signed on with Marvel and it was extraordinary on so many levels. It was a story that came very easily and in many ways unfortunately because of what I had to experience in my life. But really it was great to have a chance to work with Lenil Yu and Ed McGuinness, of course, and John Romita Jr., which has always been one of my dreams. Also David Finch, who I insist that everything Dave does from now on he does with me. And then Cassaday and I have been dating for I can not tell you how long, but I could never get him to go home with me. To be able to get that done - even if it was only for one issue - was an unforgettable experience."

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