During World War II, one of the Marvel Universe's greatest hero partnerships was that of Captain America and his teenage sidekick Bucky Barnes. The team met its end in the closing days of the war when a plane exploded, dumping Cap into the waters of the North Atlantic and sending him into suspended animation. When he was revived years later, the Sentinel of Liberty was told his young sidekick had died in the explosion.
What did Bucky mean to Cap? What defined their partnership? How did their relationship evolve? These questions and more will be answered in the upcoming six-issue miniseries "Captain America: White," which reunites the fan-favorite creative team of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. CBR News spoke with the pair about their highly anticipated project, and why it's one of their most ambitious yet.
As fans of their work know, "Captain America: White" is but the latest installment in Loeb and Sale's long line of "color" books for Marvel. Like those works, their latest's title will have a double meaning. "'Daredevil: Yellow' was both the costume and cowardice," Jeph Loeb told CBR News. 'Spider-Man: Blue' had the costume element, but it also was Peter's mood and frame of mind. In the 'Hulk: Gray,' he had a gray tone to his skin, but also in a black and white world, there was always room for gray. So, somewhere in those notions, 'Captain America: White' was born."
Loeb and Sale have had the idea for "Captain America: White" for quite a while. "That's one of our favorite points in Cap's career," said Tim Sale, whose scarce availability had kept the project from becoming a reality.
"Every convention, every interview someone inevitably asks when we will work together," Loeb said. "Now's the answer."
Loeb and Sale's "color" books have all seen the title character reflecting on someone close to them, someone who they lost. In recent issues of "Captain America," Bucky was revealed to be alive and took over as Captain America after his mentor Steve Rogers was assassinated. As such, "White" takes place earlier in Rogers' career, when he still believed Bucky to be dead.
"One of the reasons Jeph and I work outside of present day continuity so much is that we like to have what I think is a much purer approach," Sale explained. "Jeph is much more interested in present day continuity and the latest goings on but I personally like to get back to the beginning and tell stories about what was initially cool and powerful about these characters."
"We try not to affect current continuity, but to spend some time reflecting on the past," Loeb agreed. "What's that old saying? 'Those who don't learn from mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them.'"
The events Steve Rogers is looking back on take place early in his life, before he became the consummate hero of World War II and leader of the Avengers. Back then, Rogers was just a young, idealistic American, one of the qualities Sale finds particularly powerful about Captain America. "He stands for what is best about the United States," Sale stated. "In our story, he's a pure of heart recruit in his early 20s who's learning more about the ways of the world as he goes along. I like that."
"This is a guy who something like a month ago was a 98-pound weakling," Loeb added. "He's both excited by having a dream fulfilled in being able to be part of the war effort and still very much under the thumb of the government -- he works for them. He takes that responsibility seriously."
"I also think his relationship with Bucky is very interesting," Sale continued. "They're really not that far apart in age and yet they definitely have an older mentor-younger boy relationship. It's interesting to explore that and Jeph's take on it is particularly powerful and unique."
Bucky's perspective at this point is the exact opposite of his mentor's. "He's a teenager who finds this all thrilling and really doesn't care what the government thinks," Loeb explained. "It's that wonderful arrogance of youth. Here's this kid, stuck on an army base in Lehigh Virginia, orphaned and continually abandoned by the men shipping out after they've gone through Basic Training. He finds in Steve a ticket out of there and he's going to punch it."
"Captain America: White" takes its heroes to Europe during the beginning of American involvement in World War II. "Not everyone was crazy about the Americans coming over to save them -- it was a matter of national pride," Loeb said. "At the same time, the Nazis had to be stopped. It's one of the central points of our story."
"I've never done a war comic before," Sale stated. "I've never done something that takes place in a setting quite like this; where people, their ideals and experiences, are forged through such extreme circumstances. That's very intriguing to me."
It was in those dark days when Captain America and Bucky were assigned a very special mission; an almost impossible objective -- but Captain America and Bucky had a little help. "Sgt. Nick Fury and **ALL** of the Howling Commandos will be involved," confirmed Loeb. "It plays right into a relationship that Steve and Nick will share in the present. Great characters. And it gives Tim a chance to draw tanks and jeeps, which he hates!"
Indeed, Sale will seek to achieve an authentic vision of WWII with historically accurate props and locales, a goal that will undoubtedly prove to be the most challenging aspect of his work on "Captain America: White." "I really like to do a fair amount of technical research on guns, tanks, planes and other details like that," the artist said. "I've already bought maybe a dozen books on the early stages of World War II and things like German uniforms. So the most difficult aspect may just be immersing myself in the research until I get to the point where I can sort of fake things authentically.
"It's probably closer to 'Daredevil: Yellow' in that it's going to be in ink wash," the artist said of "White's" overall tone. "I'd like to have a different kind of color approach and I probably will take a somewhat grittier technique approach to it. It will probably have a mixture of charcoal and ink wash in the final drawings.
"I do like to mix things up every time I approach an assignment. Until I start inking it, I won't know exactly what I'm going for but in my head I see a mixture of some of the Jack Davis work from the old EC Comic, 'Two-Fisted Tales,' 'Daredevil: Yellow' and Jack Kirby. Probably not so much of Kirby's Marvel work but he did a title called 'Foxholes' earlier on with Joe Simon that I found really impacted the visual approach to ['White']. It was very gritty."
Being a Captain America story set in World War II, "White" inspired Tim Sale to turn the work created by Cap creator Jack Kirby while he served in the war. "Jack Kirby was there on D-Day," Sale said. "He was an infantryman. He drew things with the sense of authenticity but he didn't concern himself with making sure the designs of what he did were exactly accurate. They felt accurate. I don't have that so I need to create it and I think that will be my biggest challenge. Kirby did a few drawings from foxholes with little nubs of pencils on the backs of things like envelopes. I want my art on 'Cap: White' to somehow have that quality to it, almost a war correspondent feel. There's a political cartoonist named Bill Mauldin who worked for years and did a lot of war correspondent style stuff from a G.I. perspective. That's also in my head."
With longtime collaborator Tim Sale bringing "Captain America: White" to life, Jeph Loeb knows the project is in great hands. "Some people feel that my best work is when we collaborate," Loeb remarked. "It certainly feels that way sometimes, so I'm just happy to have him back at Marvel," where the writer is working under an exclusive contract.
Sale feels similarly, saying of his friend and creative partner, "Jeph is unique in how well he can craft what he does to an artist's strengths and at the same time away from both an artist's weaknesses and dislikes. Plus he's got a way with words and I think we share an interest in a certain kind of melodrama and sentiment that's found in all of the Marvel 'color' books. It's that idea of the main character writing a love letter to a lost loved one."
Joining Loeb and Sale on "Captain America: White" is another friend and frequent artistic partner, colorist Dave Stewart. "He and I are sort of joined at the hip at this point," Sale said. "I think Dave is really the best in the business. He's actually a big Captain America fan so he's really looking forward to working on this series. I couldn't be happier. We also worked together on the 'Heroes' TV show with Jeph."
Additionally, "Richard Starkings (my good luck charm) and his Comicrafters are handling the lettering and design," Loeb said. "New to us is Mark Panic [the nickname of Marvel editor Mark Paniccia] -- who I've been working closely with on 'Hulk'-- and the aforementioned Ned Crosby. It's a great crew."
"Captain America: White" may not be the last of the Loeb and Sale's "color" books for Marvel. "There might be a few more. Nate Cosby (our assistant editor at Marvel) keeps pitching 'Northstar: Pink,'" Loeb laughed. "We've told him that's in incredibly bad taste, but he's kind of a moron."