The comics industry is littered with stories untold. From revised superhero serials to stories changed by the waves of big event series that crashed upon the shelves, creators have ideas every day that don't quite make it to the page. But in the case of Marvel Comics' "Captain America" #14 from 1999, the original story of the Red Skull came closer to seeing print than almost any scuttled story in history. And writer Mark Waid has never forgotten it.
At the time of publication, Waid had recently returned to the Star Spangled Avenger after his initial acclaimed run with Ron Garney had been cut short for the year-long "Heroes Reborn" relaunch which saw the new Cap title initially spearheaded by Rob Liefeld. The critical acclaim earned Waid and Garney a second Cap title as Andy Kubert took over art duties on the main book for what was supposed to be the start of a new era for the hero. However, within two years those ambitious plans changed quite a bit. In the midst of a year-long story, Waid and Kubert's special issue #14 -- a unique tale focusing on the origin of the Red Skull through the villain's own eyes -- saw a last-minute set of changes from Marvel Editorial that prompted Waid to remove his name from the comic. It seemed his original draft would never see the light of day -- until now.
In October, Marvel will publish "Captain America: Red Glare" -- the latest in a line of premiere hardcovers reprinting Waid's "Captain America" run -- and the volume will contain the writer's full, original version of issue #14 (as Tom Brevoort revealed recently in CBR's TALK TO THE HAT column). With the story finally seeing the light of day over a decade since its initial creation, CBR News spoke with Waid to get the full story of its long road to print, his view of Editorial mandates then and now and why the Red Skull's story remains one of his proudest moments in comics.
CBR News: Mark, some readers may have heard this story, but many haven't. And even the people who have may not know the full context, so could you lay out for us exactly what happened to your original "Captain America" #14? From what I understand, you wrote the issue, and just before it was ready to go, it got pulped and replaced by an inventory issue by Kurt Busiek about Captain America's dog, right?
Mark Waid: That's exactly it! [Laughs] It's like you were there! No, actually the story to this was that years and years ago when Andy Kubert and I were working on "Captain America," it came to us one day to do an issue that was focused solely on the Red Skull. It was his origin and his background, but all told first person from his point of view -- which meant going into some really ugly places. We were all excited about it -- Andy was the one who came up with the idea of doing a book of all full-page splashes, and I want to say that either Andy or our colorist Chris Sotomayor decided we'd even take it one step further and do it in all blacks and whites with spot color on the Red Skull, with his actual red skull being the only color in the entire book.
We knew we were in dangerous territory, and we went out to lunch many times with Editor Matt Idelson, and we approached it very carefully every step of the way. I made sure that the upper management read the plot. Matt made sure that the upper management signed off on the script and on the art. In other words, we treated it very seriously because we were aware that we were not pulling punches when it came to the level of evil that was going through the story. It didn't make the Skull seem very sympathetic, obviously, but we knew that we were on very thin ice, if you understand me. Basically, we have an Aryan supremacist narrating an issue of "Captain America." In clumsy hands, that could have gone very badly. That was Marvel's fear, and so to alleviate their fears, we made sure that Marvel was aware of everything and signed off on it all along the way. We made sure there was a paper trail so anybody who could have possibly objected to the story in the building got a chance to look at it and give their notes and evaluate and so forth.
And we made it all the way through. We made it all the way to the finish line. I was so happy. It was a Friday afternoon, and it was going off to the printers. The cover had already gone off to the printer. That's how late in the game it was. And then that Monday morning, I got a call from my editor saying, "Listen, there's been a problem." And without getting into the laundry of it, let's just say that at the last possible second, someone in the Editorial chain had second thoughts and, despite assuring us over and over again that we were on the right track, decided that it was too hard-hitting a book. It was just too on the edge for Marvel at that point. So over the weekend, it was given to somebody else at Marvel to write. Pages were pulled out of the book, so there are pages no one has ever seen. The story wasn't changed dramatically -- it's not like you went from a story about the Red Skull to a story about Aunt May -- but a lot of the tone of the story and the character stuff was no longer there.
At that point, I was given the option of leaving my name on the book or not, and I thought, "This is not really reflective of what I wrote" so I asked my name be taken off the book. Unfortunately, the cover had already gone off to print, so there you go. It came out in that bowdlerized version, and I wasn't happy about it, but at the same time, they're Marvel's toys. It's not my sandbox. It's their sandbox and their characters. So it's certainly their right to do that. I was just disappointed that we got all the way to the finish line doing everything we were supposed to do, and at the last second, the wheels fell off, to mix a metaphor.
At C2E2, I saw you on a panel with Matt Fraction where you talked about what working on "Captain America" was like for you. You'd done a run with Ron Garney that was very well received, but at the time Marvel was already planning for Rob Liefeld to come and relaunch the book, maybe even unbeknownst to you guys then. But when you came back after "Heroes Reborn" and started "Cap" again, it was different, wasn't it? What was that like overall?
Nothing punishes like success, because Ron and I were dead men walking on that first run -- which we weren't told of until there were about two issues to go, even though Marvel did know that before they assigned me my first issue. We were kept in the dark, which is probably just as well. That way I could concentrate on the story instead of worrying about anything else. But [in the first run] we were allowed to do what we wanted to do. The editorial demands were just negligible. Everybody was very supportive because it's not a book anybody had a lot of confidence in, editorially.
When we came back with the same team -- same letterer, same colorist, same artist, same writer, same editor -- suddenly, we were under the microscope. God, I rewrote that "Captain America" #1 issue like five times and changed villains like three times to accommodate different requests and different angles from different parties and different editorial factions and so forth. That was running the gauntlet. Another example of it is that we had we had Kang show up in that first issue, and Kang was a subplot player in the entire first year. But then by the time we got ready to play the Kang card, we were told "Oh no, Kurt Busiek is getting ready to use Kang over in 'Avengers Forever,' so you've got to use someone else." We were sort of non-plussed and going "But but but..." However, we made it work. Spoiler alert, but we made it into a different villain and gave him a reason for looking like Kang, but that's the kind of stuff we had to leap through on what seemed like a monthly basis. We got plenty of support, but at the same time we were constantly being told that we didn't quite know what we were doing on "Captain America" even though we seemed to do pretty well the first time. These things happen.