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Howard Chaykin Talks “America First!”

by  in Comic News Comment
Howard Chaykin Talks “America First!”
Captain America Theater of War: America First!
“Captain America Theater of War: America First” one-shot on sale this week

In a recent arc in “Captain America,” Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting reintroduced the world to… Steve Rogers? Of course, this Rogers wasn’t the original Captain America, who died in issue #25 of the hugely popular Marvel Comics series. This Rogers was a man so obsessed with the original Cap’s World War II exploits that he changed both his name and appearance to resemble his idol. After finding old documents detailing what appeared to be the fabled Super Soldier Serum, this new Rogers even went so far as to become Captain America for a time during the 1950s. Unfortunately for him, the Serum this ’50s Cap discovered was flawed and incomplete, and later lead to the breakdown of his sanity. Faux Rogers was then put into suspended animation by the government. When he was thawed out years later, he found himself an opponent of the real Steve Rogers.

On December 24, in the one-shot special, “Captain America Theater of War: America First,” writer-artist Howard Chaykin takes readers back to the early days of the 1950s Cap, when he was still proudly living out his dream as the Sentinel of Liberty. CBR News spoke with Chaykin about the book.

To some, the 1950s are seen as a bland, mundane time, best characterized by black-and-white television sitcoms like “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.” These people are in for a big surprise if they read “America First,” because Chaykin’s own experiences of the time helped inform the one-shot. “I was born in 1950, so I was aware of what was going on,” Chaykin told CBR. “And the ’50s, for my money, were a lot less ‘Happy Days’ and a lot more ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn.'”

In “America First,” the 1950s Cap harbors some strong convictions, but he has not yet become the fanatical zealot that the flawed Super Soldier Serum eventually turns him into. “I prefer to think of him as earnest,” Chaykin told CBR News. “He expresses a political and social philosophy that’s fairly common for intellectual conservatives of that period. To a great extent, although I don’t go directly to there, a lot of his philosophy is similar and comparable to William F. Buckley’s conservative writings of the 1950s, like ‘God and Man at Yale.'”

“America First” takes place in the mid ’50s, while Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was still President of the United States. The one-shot pits the Faux Cap not against supervillains but rather a fictional counterpart to one of the more infamous figures in American history. “It’s basically about Cap being defamed by a witch-hunting, right wing Republican senator and what he discovers in his attempts to defend himself,” Chaykin explained. “It’s our guy against a conspiracy of systems. A lot of it takes place in Washington D.C. and some in New York, but it’s very much a 1950s book and if you know my stuff you know that I’m committed to getting stuff right and doing hardboiled reference.”

“Captain America Theater of War: America First” one-shot on sale this week

Some of that “stuff” includes “American Century,” a 1950s-based Vertigo series Chaykin co-wrote with David Tischman, depicting in an edgy pulp style the adventures of Harry Block against a real-life backdrop of political tension and social change both at home and abroad. That along with classic runs on period pieces like “The Shadow” and “Blackhawks” make Howard Chaykin uniquely suited for “Captain America Theater of War: America First.”

“It’s very much what you’d expect to see from me in the context of doing a 1950s story with a hero who’s somewhat more politically conservative than I am,” Chaykin said. “It’s me putting aside my personal politics and finding a way to write this character convincingly. My family tradition has always been anti-Communist liberal. That’s where my politics come from and writing an anti-Communist conservative was a challenge. I’m pretty happy with what I was able to achieve.”

As longtime Captain America fans know, Nick Fury fought along side Steve Rogers during World War II. In “America First,” Fury comes face-to-face with the man trying to fill his friend’s shoes. “At this point in time, Nick is a Central Intelligence agent and he finds himself both adversarially relating to our guy and at the same time working with him,” Chaykin said. “If I had to nail it down, I’d say that Fury is somewhat more politically liberal than Cap. And they sort of meet in the middle.”

Like the WWII era Cap, the “Rogers” of the ’50s had a sidekick named Bucky, but his partner doesn’t appear in the pages of “America First.” “There were only so many pages to work with and I didn’t want to overcrowd them,” Chaykin confirmed.

When former Marvel editor Aubrey Sitterson offered Chaykin the chance to write and draw “America First,” he eagerly accepted. “He asked me if I’d be interested in doing something like this and I said, yeah because Captain America a– long with Iron Man and Damage Control are — among my favorite Marvel ideas,” Chaykin stated. “I’ve always loved Cap.”

“Captain America Theater of War: America First” is in stores December 24 from Marvel Comics.

CBR Staff Writer Andy Khouri contributed to this story.

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