By now, you’ve probably had a chance to read last week’s issue of Marvel’s Fear Itself--number 7.1--by longtime Captain America writer Ed Brubaker and artist Butch Guice. The issue, centering on Cap preparing for the funeral of Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, slain in issue 3 of Fear Itself involves a twist leading into January’s new Winter Soldier ongoing. Brubaker and Guice are teaming up again to chronicle the not-dead-quite-dead-yet Bucky as he travels the globe, taking out WMDs spawned by the Soviet-era program that brought him back and brainwashed him into a deadly assassin.
Mr. Brubaker was kind enough to answer a few questions about the reveal in Fear Itself 7.1, why Bucky couldn’t remain Captain America, reacting to comment culture online, as well as throwing out hints about Bucky’s future in his new solo series and some updates on the Criminal movie in development with director David Slade.
MTV Geek: What was your reaction when a lot of professional “angry on the internet”-types like myself expressed their frustration with Bucky’s death in Fear Itself #3?
Ed Brubaker: Well, I try avoid stuff like Twitter anymore and I only spend about 1% of the time that I used to spend looking at internet message boards, and usually that’s those moments where I said “Oh, I’ll just glance at the message boards and see what they thought of the issue,” or whatever. And we all have a mantra among our circle of comic book writer friends which is “Don’t read the comments.” [Laughs] You can’t. Nobody would have ever gotten anything done back in the early days if they were looking at message boards. You’re not going to avoid that stuff.
For me, the hardest part was seeing people freaking out all over Twitter about it and knowing that I was going to do this exact same story in Captain America. I was going to end the “Gulag” arc with it being an issue longer and it would appear that Bucky got killed. And I would have kept him dead in Cap for four or five months, and then revealed that the whole thing was a fake-out. So, I would have milked all of the sympathy out of the fans that I could get, while having laid out the clues that—when you went back and looked, it would have been like “Oh my God!” That’s what I would have done differently.
Matt was doing so much in Fear Itself that he didn’t have time to lay out as many little red herrings as I would have done. And then, the way Stuart actually drew the death scene—I remember when Matt sent me those pages—and I was like, “Oh my God, I didn’t know you were going to make him that dead!” I mean, he looks really dead there. So there was a little bit of making harder to make it believable that the whole thing was a fake-out.
It made me change the story a little bit which ended up making [the 7.1 issue] a little bit stronger in some ways. And plan has always been, for years now, that Steve was going to come back and be Captain America again and Bucky was going to become the Winter Soldier again, and go through the trial and get sent to a Russian prison and have to fake his own death and become the Winter Soldier again and get his own series. We’ve been talking about this for two or three years now at our meetings. And this is something I’ve been building towards since ever since Bucky became the most popular new Marvel character since Wolverine and Deadpool.
None of us ever expected when I brought Bucky back that he was going to become a popular character. We just thought we’d be lucky if people didn’t hate it. And instead, initially everyone as resistant and then he was embraced by fans. And when he became the new Captain America, he became even more so. We had no idea people really grabbed onto this character, and then we were like, “We have to give him his own series.” He went from supporting character to most popular. I never thought this would happen when I first started Captain America, but when it happened, it became like f***, should we give him his own series, and then how long should we wait before we do it?
Because he’s really popular right now, to the point that he’s in the Captain America movie this summer, and that’s my Bucky in there. (Read about how Brubaker consulted on the Captain America movie at MTV Splash Page) That’s my version that’s the older, sniper rifle, super badass. And I talked to the writers of the film and the director (Joe Johnston), and they all said without the “Winter Soldier” storyline, without the comics that I wrote, Bucky wouldn’t have been in the movie at all. But it changed the way that everyone looked at that whole relationship and that whole character entirely.
Sebastian Stan as Bucky in the 'Captain America' Movie
Geek: For me as a reader, part of the draw of Bucky as Cap was that wearing the costume and being in that role seemed to be rehabilitative after years of effectively being a villain. Why do you think he needed to shed the costume and reclaim the Winter Soldier identity?
Brubaker: Well, I thought it was sort of important for him to take back that name. You know, it’s like, I used to work at The Stranger in the early 90’s—I don’t know if you know who Dan Savage is, but he’s a sex columnist and he’s become a well-known political commentator—
Brubaker: His “Savage Love” columns, all the letters are written, “Dear f****t,” or “Hey f****t.” And I remember talking to him about it, you know, 20 years ago, and the whole point was that he was taking back the word. [Laughs] He was making it not a bad word anymore, because he’d been called it so many times in his life by people out of hatred.
And I, you know, thought, the Winter Soldier’s such a—I mean, there’s toys with Bucky as the Winter Soldier and it’s a cool name, you know. And it’s sort of become his identity, and I didn’t want to have to create a new identity for him, or make him become the next Nomad or any of that stuff. He’s haunted by the things he did, but he can’t deny that that stuff actually happened. So he’s taking back that identity because that’s when he shows up at one of those dark corners and some weapons dealer who knew him from 20 years ago sees his face, they’re going to s**t their pants because the Winter Soldier showed up. He’s not going to deny that all this stuff happened, even though he wasn’t in control of it—he’s going to use all of that to his advantage now.
Geek: One of the things I’ve always loved about your work, one of the recurring themes, is that the past is always afflicting the future. What draws you back to that in your writing?
Personally, I made a lot of decisions in my life early on that I wish I could go back and do differently. I’m haunted by my own past in a lot of ways, and I think it’s just part of what I write about, from Criminal to Fatale to Winter Soldier to Captain America. Especially with characters like Cap and Bucky—they’re so steeped in the past, and Cap is one of the first superheroes and literally fought in World War II for five years and so did Bucky. And so, so much of what makes them who they are is what they’ve done. And Bucky was in the Cold War, too. There’s just this rich stuff to explore.
Geek: I’ve always thought of Cap as something of an aspirational character—like he’s the best of all of us as a nation. Do you feel like that still holds nowadays, particularly with the heightened divisiveness about what’s “best” about our nation?
Brubaker: You know, I never really thought that he—I’ve always really seen him as a person and not a symbol. He tries to be a symbol of the American dream in a lot of ways and the American pulse, but I’ve never seen him as being a political tool necessarily. But certainly, the mood of the country and what’s going on in our country right now are things that you’re going to be seeing reflected in the Cap book moving forward over the next several arcs. Because Cap the series really lends itself to being able to reflect the real world a little bit while still being a few steps removed because it’s Marvel.
The thing that I always liked about Captain America as a kid was my dad was in the military intelligence and I grew up in Navy bases all around the world—I started school in Gitmo, actually. I spent my youth sitting at the sidelines of these cocktail parties listening to career military people talk about politics and politicians. So I knew that people from that world aren’t necessarily right-wing or left-wing, and a guy who was raised during the Great Depression and spent most of his adult life in going to be a much more complex character than right-wing or left-wing fans want him to be. He’s going to know about things that happened that the American public isn’t going to want to know about or shouldn’t know about, and he’s also going to be from that New Deal America. He’s going to have conflicting views on a lot of subjects and he’s going to be a complex person—he’s not going to be some one-note right-wing or left-wing character.
I guess, in some ways, it’s somewhat how I view the world, so that’s always what’s appealed to me about that character. I felt like there was a similarity to the things I witnessed as a kid and [Steve Rogers’ experience]. If that makes any sense.
Geek: You characterize yourself as a mystery writer at heart. Could you tease out a little of the central mystery of the first arc of Winter Soldier?
Brubaker: I don’t want to reveal too much because we’re putting out the first two issues in February. I don’t want to reveal too much except to say “The Trial of Captain America” and the “Prisoner of War Book” collecting “Gulag” and other stories, that’s the place where I was trying to lay the groundwork for this series, and I had already started to do that stuff before Fear Itself came out and we decided to do the death of Bucky inside Fear Itself. So, there’s a lot of groundwork being laid and if you go back and read “The Gulag,” there’s a lot of stuff there that sort of leads into what we’re doing.
The first arc of the book is about these Cold War sleepers, which actually the kind of thing that you read about in the paper today—guys who’ve been living here since the 80’s, and they were Russian spies. But when the Cold War ended, they stayed here. But we’re taking it to the Marvel comics level of it being characters that Bucky trained as the Winter Soldier, characters trained to pass as Americans who have the same kind of combat training as him who’ve been kept in stasis, and they were just never awakened when the Cold War ended. They’re human weapons of mass destruction that are being sold on the black market. And what the first arc is about is Bucky trying to track down these human weapons and prevent them from destroying this country. They’re like Cold War weapons that went unused, and now someone has bought them.
We’ll find out who at the end of the first issue and what they’re up to, but Bucky and Black Widow have no idea what they’re up against, really, and that’s one of the first mysteries of the book: who’s got these guys and what are they trying to do with them. And by the end of the first arc, we’ll have created some new villains that tie into this Cold War mythology of the Marvel universe.
[Apologies to the incredibly gracious Mr. Brubaker and our readers, but the last third of this interview, where we discuss some of the early stages of prep for his upcoming Criminal film based on the “Coward” arc with director David Slade, was lost thanks to an unreliable (and now destroyed in a fit of exasperation) recorder. Below you can find some of the highlights of that conversation that I was able to salvage.]
On working with David Slade: Brubaker is meeting daily with the Hard Candy/30 Days of Night director about updates and iterations to the script. In the process, it has been a learning process for Brubaker in terms of learning how to bring his visions to the screen. They’re starting the casting process and looking to start shooting soon. (Read more about David Slade's Coward movie with Ed Brubaker at MTV Splash Page)
On sound: Working in the print medium for so long, Brubaker says that he’s come to take sound for granted. For instance, Criminal features extensive narration from its leads, however that storytelling can in turn be covered by music and sound in the film.
On working outside of the studio system: When pitching Criminal to studios, often they would get notes like “could we make it more like Die Hard 4” which lost the spirit of the source material. Working outside of that system has allowed Slade and Brubaker to keep Criminal close to its original vision without being slavish.
On working with producer James Patricof: Brubaker knows that working with Patricof, Criminal will avoid the route of so many comic-to-film adaptations that languish in development hell, thanks in large part to the producer’s lengthy resume of completed projects.
Winter Soldier #1 will be on shelves starting in January.