After making good on titles like Venom and Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender has earned himself a flagship position at Marvel. Already tapped to helm the first Marvel NOW! title Uncanny Avengers, he’s also preparing to champion Captain America, one of the most recognizable characters, not only at Marvel, but in comics in general.
We caught up with Remender to have an in-depth conversation about how this gig on Captain America came about and to hear what he had planned for the Star Spangled Avenger. We’re also excited to exclusively present the cover to Captain America #1 by series artist John Romita, Jr.
iFanboy: First it was announced you were writing Uncanny Avengers, and now we hear you’ll be the new writer of Captain America with John Romita Jr. on art. Your Captain America #1 follows Ed Brubaker’s long run on the character. How did this all come about?
Rick Remender: There wasn’t enough pressure on me, so they wanted me to follow up the most popular run on Cap, ever. [laughs] I was like, “Yay. I need more pressure.”
It’s obviously an honor. It’s terrifying, given how amazing everything Ed did with the character is. It was just part of the reshuffling, I think. They were asking what characters I had some love for and thought I could do something with. You’re looking at the Marvel Universe, going, “Really? I can… I have to… What?” I was like, “I’d probably like a shot at Cap,” and immediately the other voice in my head said, “You’re going to follow Ed, dumb-dumb.” [laughs] The fear-ometer kind of took off at that point, but I still like the challenge, and I love the character, so I wanted to take a crack at it. It was something that everybody seemed to agree that they thought I could pull off, so off we go.
iF: On art, you’re working with John Romita Jr. who, in his own right is one of the artists that we can actually call a living, active legend working in the industry. I found this team up interesting because he is such a veteran, and has such a legacy of work, but also you’ve made a name for yourself by working with a stable of artists (like Jerome Opeña and Tony Moore) that you came up with. How has the experience been working with John Romita Jr., who isn’t necessarily someone you’ve collaborated with a ton?
RR: Well,We killed the Punisher together. It was the issue before Franken-Castle came, and that was the first time I worked with Dean White and John. It was a dream come true, and I never imagined that I’d get a second shot at it, especially in something like this. It’s like getting to work with Kirby. John Romita Jr. is as good as it gets. The initial fear, again, is that most of the books I’ve launched have always been either with Tony Moore or Jerome Opeña, and these are guys I’ve been working with for years. Part of the challenge that Axel [Alonso] and Tom [Brevoort] were presenting here was “You’re going to have great artists, but it’s going to be outside of your comfort zone.” They’re taking a ballpeen hammer and just shattering everything and it’s a big shift-up for everybody. Everybody has to get used to this.
It’s invigorating. It’s a hell of a challenge. Obviously, anything John does, storytelling comes first, and that’s always a big priority for me, so it’s been a real perfect collaboration in that. I got the final pages from the first issue today, and it’s great. It’s a dream come true. We get on the phone and we talk stuff out. John’s free to, as anyone who I work with is, to rework panel structure and to jimmy around with the pacing. Doing it that way with somebody like John is the way to go, because ultimately he’s adding in beat panels and shifting things around and it’s smooth like butter. It’s absolutely fluid and dynamic. When the pages come in I still get that shock of like, “Wow, that’s John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson and Dean White showing up and bringing the game.” This stuff is stunning. I would say it’s akin to what John was doing with Frank Miller on Daredevil: Man Without Fear stylistically. It echoes that. It’s craziness.
In the tone of the thing, I decided to try and draw from the Kirby era of Cap where characters like Arnim Zola were created in the mad bomb stuff. All of these giant huge ideas, and a bit of sci-fi leaning as I am wont to do, that seemed perfect to me. To sort of emulate, as much as I could in my own voice, that era of Cap. So that’s sort of where we’re going. Seeing Johnny do that stuff, there’s nobody who could do Kirby and still be himself like Johnny. It turns into this, it’s like Man Without Fear mixed with all of the mad bomb Zola Kirby stuff.
iF: I did want to ask about the general tone of the book. Considering Brubaker’s run was focused on the World War II and Bucky/Winter Soldier stuff, it sounds like you’re moving away from that with mentions of more sci-fi and pulp stuff. Is that because you’re cognizant of the work that Ed’s done or because it’s just more like that’s what you want to do with the character?
RR: Well, it is what I would like to do for sure. It’s the stuff that when I thought what character do I want, before I made a decision I was trying to figure out with each one of them, where I would fit and what I would do with it. I immediately had ideas. Tonally, it’s very different. It’s a hostile takeover. It’s a complete shift from what Ed was doing and I loved what Ed was doing, but if I were to try and emulate that or to continue that tone, it would be Ed light. It wouldn’t be the same thing. So I’m leaning in to what I like to do, which is high adventure, sci-fi, with spy fantasy, with a heavy focus on the man under the suit. It’s very character-focused conflict stuff.
At the end of the day, it was more frightening to do that, but I felt like it fit the Marvel NOW! What they’re looking for is something that very much is hostile takeovers of the books, and creative juices flowing, giant shifts. This is definitely going to be a big change from what Ed had been doing.
One of the mandates I have to myself is, I don’t want to touch the World War II stuff. I think that that has been done, now, and it’s been done perfectly. To go back and to keep focusing on Cap in World War II at this point, again, would be following too closely to what Ed has already done. What I’m doing is spending a lot of time in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 20s and 30s, showing Steve grow up. The first arc is 10 issues, and it’s called “Dimension Z.”
I don’t want to give away too much, but a big portion of it is Cap dealing with Arnim Zola in Dimension Z. I’m trying to take Zola and do with him, what we did with Apocalypse over in Uncanny X-Force. Where we take what’s there, re-imagine it, build a new mythology and really expand Zola, and try and build Zola into a very, very big and important character.
The other half of it is going to be a lot of flashbacks to a young Steve Rogers growing up in Depression-era Lower East Side, and getting to know his family and his friends, and how this 98-pound weakling became such a tenacious, strong person; focus on the fiber and the integrity of who he is, and really develop that for the first time.
iF: Of all the icons of the Marvel universe – Captain America, Son of Liberty, and everything that he represents – who is Steve Rogers, or Captain America, to you? How do you interpret the character?
RR: Beyond the patriotism, that was really one of the things that I wanted to get to the heart of, is how this character became so strong and so focused, and what is he fighting for? He’s fighting for the safety of humanity, for freedom, for liberty, for justice for all. These are concepts.
You want to have him be apolitical, because you want to have a character who represents America, and represents the core of it, whether you be left or right. What he’s fighting for, he’s fighting for a perfect world without war, without strife. He’s everything that you imagine a hero to be. He embodies all of those things.
The question for me, when I come back around that, was here was this 98-pound weakling who insisted on fighting in the war, and he would not stop until he could be a participant. He saw a wrong, and he wanted to stand up to it. How did that guy become that?
To me, without telling too much, the story that we’re telling in Dimension Z, in the first 10 issues of the series, is going to be an examination of the core of Steve Rogers, and how this son of immigrants, this kid who grew up on the Lower East Side in the Depression, became this person. It has a lot to do with his parents and his grandfather, and the neighborhood he grew up in, and the conflicts that he was thrown into. To tell exactly what it is I feel leads to that would be giving away a lot of stuff that’s coming up, but I will say that I wanted to show his very first character arc.
We take him from the age of four to about the age of, I think 11 or 12 and, in that span, hopefully define what it was that happened, and how he was raised, and the situations that he had to persevere through that then create this guy who had such a strong heart and such a noble spirit that, no matter what his physical limitations were, he was still going to do the right thing and fight against the bullies, and fight against evil to protect the innocent and stand for liberty.
Liberty and democracy, that’s what you’ve got to lean into with this guy. It’s an incredibly refreshing thing to be writing, given that I’ve been doing all the black ops and the murder patrol. It’s very nice to write this. It is completely different, while he’s going to have a lot of challenges to persevere through it. His life is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
We are badly banging him up in the first 10 issues. There’s not a lot of navel gazing. There’s not the same angst, because it doesn’t fit the character and I’m really enjoying writing that, and writing somebody where’s there a character like Heath Houston [of Fear Agent], or Flash Thompson [of Venom], or Wolverine. When I write them in a circumstance the world is against them and they’ve got a thousand things going wrong. The way Cap feels with that is entirely different than how the other characters I’ve been mostly working on deal with it. It’s nice to be able to not only do that and show it, but then to define at the same time, why is this dude that way?
That all comes from childhood I think, that’s the other 50 percent we’re building on. If you’re going to do a seven year old Steve Rogers fighting his way through the mean streets of the Lower East Side in 1928, you want John Romita Jr., and Klaus Janson and Dean White making that art happen.
A lot of this is inspired by stuff that I’ve read about Kirby and a lot of that was in the initial version anyway. A lot of this stuff has been hit on in very brief snippets in the past and basically established. If you wanted to know how it ends for him when he’s 11 or 12 you can find that out on the Internet or some back issues. I don’t think it’s been developed in the same way — definitely has not been. Nor has it been given the focus we’re giving it here.
I wanted the current Steve Rogers to really be defined and reflected by who he was growing up in that period of time. That was one of the real exciting things that got me super charged to get writing on this.
iF: With the first arc being 10 issues, that’s a bit longer than the standard 4 to 6 issue story arc that readers are used to. Why make this first arc longer?
RR: Because it’s two stories, the A and the B story. Because the A story is capped in Dimension Z dealing with Zola and the other half is Cap growing up. To tell “Year One”, but to really tell it, it demanded five issues. It deserves five issues. It’s very exciting and I think we’ve got a really great story to tell here. I think that juxtaposing it against what he’s dealing with in the other half of the story really helps both halves. Instead of telling them in separate chunks, they’re inter-spliced for the first 10 issues so it really is kind of two stories being told concurrently.
iF: You mentioned the main villain being Arnim Zola but in the first issue solicitation, it says we’re getting introduced to the Green Skull, what can you tell us about him?
RR: The Green Skull is somebody that I want to seed here, and he’ll be popping up a little bit later. We get a taste of the tail end and sort of like a classic Indiana Jones style cold open, we get a taste of who the Green Skull is, and Cap dealing with the end of his first encounter with him, which I thought was a fun way of handling that.
He’s seeded here. He is someone who believes that humanity is the cause of all problems on earth and he wants to turn humanity into soil for plants. He’s got a chemical agent that can do that. We open with Cap dealing with sort of the classic 007/Indiana Jones cold open where he’s dealing with trying to stop that.
It really is a big seed for what’s coming up into year two more than anything. It’s exactly the 007 cold open where we get a nice bit of action and then he’s on to the next complication. We’ll see that kind of bubble up in the C story and then come to light probably next year.
iF: Is there any relation of the character to Red Skull, or is it just taking the “skull” kind of concept.
RR: When you see who he is and we get into him and define him, it’ll obviously open up a can of worms with Red Skull as well. This is somebody who is P.R. minded as well and he wanted something that he thought could. The green representing obviously plant life, and ecology and stuff, and then the skull representing death. This guy is a contrivance and he’s aware of it. I’m trying to dance around it because pays off a couple few times. Without giving away too much, no — he’s not connected to the Red Skull. Yet.
iF: What can you tell us about Arnim Zola and your plans for him?
RR: The thing I really love about Zola is he’s the bio fanatic. He’s just the guy who is, he’s twisted and crazy. He’s constantly mashing up creating new takes, creating new forms of life and searching for that perfect life to create this perfect being. Personality wise, this guy is equal parts, he’s like the twisted evil Joffrey in Game of Thrones, and sort of like a cold amoral, like the amoral minions of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. He’s a very interesting character the more I read about him and try and build him up.
He’s one of those characters that visually always are very distinctive but he’s been relegated to Red Skull’s henchman, sort of a guy who pops up once in a while. He poses a threat but it’s never the kind of threat where you’re like, “Wow, this is going to be huge.” He’s got an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and he needs to be free to experiment on whomever and however he desires. It’s not like power or revenge he’s out for, his drug is knowledge and he’ll go to any lengths to accomplish this. He’s the archetype of the Nazi concentration camp experimenter taken to the extreme, and that is such evil.
That all life to him is this clay that he can do with what he will. When we see what he’s up to and what his plot is, and how it ties into Cap, I’m really hoping in the dimension Z story that we can take Zola and really elevate him to an A level villain, and I’m pretty confident that we will. There’s a lot of fun stuff planned.
iF: Over the past couple of years we’ve seen you get immensely successful with Uncanny X-Force and with Venom. Part of that success, I think, has been from how you’ve thought out those stories over a long period time and how while you broke them up into arcs, there was a longer story. Are you taking that same kind of approach here with this run on Captain America?
RR: I like to read things in serialized pulp stories. I want you to be giving me conclusions and endings but I also want to know that it’s the joy of reading the Game of Thrones books or something like what they’ve done with The Walking Dead, where everybody enjoys a long form tale that keeps moving forward. I’m also a big fan of that kind of storytelling. Like I did with Uncanny X-Force and these other series where there will be defined arcs, there will also be stories that are bubbling and boiling to create a mega-arc.
It won’t necessarily be the same amount of issues, it won’t necessarily fall into 18 issue increments, but the way it’s broken down right now, the mega-arc for here pays off in issue 22 or 23 I think. I do like to know where I’m going and like with the Green Skull, I like to be able to seed stuff. If I know where I’m going I can start hanging rifles and seeding things that then you start seeing kind of growing in the background. So when they finally come to fruition and they explode, it was Chris Claremont used to do that so well when he was on point with X-Men. It really kept you engrossed. Not only in the story you were reading but all the questions you had of the other mysteries. He was getting boiling in the D&C stories.
iF: I see what you did there with like having things grow with the Green Skull. [laughter] Very clever, Mr. Remender. I guess the one last question I have for you is that Captain America, again such a big icon and present across so many other booksm whether you’re going to be writing him in Uncanny Avengers or writing him in here. I’m sure he’s going to appear in Hickman’s Avengers. How much worry do you put into being the Captain America voice in the solo title and resolving that with all the other stuff that’s going on in the general Marvel Universe?
RR: I’ve read what Hickman’s doing. I know what I’m doing. The way it’s always worked is the solo books have always set the tone for the character’s life and moving them forward and their progressions. Their love affairs and family, things like that. While Cap is obviously going to be seen elsewhere, I do have the pleasure of being able to dictate who he is moving forward.
With writing the solo book as well as Uncanny Avengers, both of those things will bounce off of each other in a pretty nice way. It’ll start around issues eight, nine, ten of each one where we start really seeing one book reflected in the other a little bit more. I know that I’ll be in close contact with Jonathan talking about any plans he has and what he’s doing, we all like working together and making sure it’s cohesive. I think that’s important to readers so we’re all very mindful of that.
Like for Thor, I just got off the phone with…you know Jason Aaron’s doing the ongoing Thor book, and I’ve got Thor in Uncanny Avengers. I spent an hour on the phone with Jason yesterday listening to his plans and finding ways that things he is seeding in his book can show up in Uncanny Avengers.
I think that that kind of connection worked really well with X-Force and will win in the X-Men. It’s something that again helps with cohesion and makes things seem like it is all part of one big story, which is one of the allures of the connected universe I think. It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re all in contact and working together to do things, that while are true to what we want to do, also reflect what the other people are doing.
Captain America #1 will be in comic shops in November for $3.99. Here is the full info on the issue from Marvel:
CAPTAIN AMERICA #1
Written by RICK REMENDER
Pencils & Cover by JOHN ROMITA JR
The Saga of Dimension Z begins here!
The all-new, high-adventure, mind-melting, tough-as-nails, sci-fi, pulp-fantasy era of Captain America is GO! You’ll need a neck brace for this boss ride, true believer!
Who is the Green Skull and why does he want to transform all of humanity into plants?
What is the secret behind the unmanned rocket train running miles beneath New York? How will Captain America’s life be forever changed with one ride?
Plus, the first chapter of the never before told origin of Steve Rogers! Enter: Depression Era New York, and the mean streets that made one 98 lb weakling earn the heart of a hero.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99