“All-New Captain America” No. 1, starring former Falcon Sam Wilson in the red, white and blue title role, launches Wednesday, and as the story unfolds in the coming months, writer Rick Remender, supporters and doubters will finally see how this change flies.
That Sam would replace his longtime friend Steve Rogers as Captain America was announced by Marvel’s chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” back in July, part of a two-part TV reveal that also saw ABC’s “The View” tell its audience that the comics giant’s next Thor would be a woman.
Those choices were hailed by some as progress and derided by others as politically correct pandering and/or sales stunts.
Rather than coming from an editorial edict, Marvel, Remender and “Thor” writer Jason Aaron have said, the ideas for the changes to the two classic names (which, it should be noted, have both been temporarily carried by other heroes before) emerged independently in the two creators’ storytelling processes.
In the recently concluded “Captain America” series, the super soldier serum that in the 1940s had transformed the scrawny Steve Rogers was drained from him by a villain, advancing the hero to his true age. In the final issue, released last month, Rogers introduced Wilson as his handpicked successor.
Remender, who has written “Captain America” for two years and also pens a number of highly regarded creator-owned series in addition to his considerable Marvel work, spoke in a phone interview with Hero Complex about what prompted his idea to have Sam wield the shield, his experience with the reactions, and his approach to the character going forward — including which seminal Marvel character renovation he sees as a guiding example.
Hero Complex: What was appealing to you about having Sam Wilson become Captain America?
Rick Remender: Well, at the very core of the decision was [that] you get to a point with a character and in terms of Steve Rogers … there’s not much else you can do. That’s not to say that somebody more clever than I am couldn’t come up with another Steve Rogers story, but I had reached a point where in the development of the series I recognized that there was a certain rigidness to the character and there’s a lot to be mined from Steve Rogers, given that he’s a man out of time — an FDR Democrat who survived the Great Depression, fought World War II — thrust into modern America. But that story has been told since the mid-1960s.
And as I was developing the story and moving through it, I recognized Sam Wilson was the character I was starting to gravitate toward in terms of the choices that need to be made and trying to reflect a more modern sensibility in the characters. Sam seems to be a much more – not a blank slate, but what had been written on Sam left a lot more story to be told and a lot more room for interpretation. So at the core of it, the choice was really about character and my own desire to write somebody who wasn’t as entirely as defined as Steve Rogers and there was still some room for some exploration.
HC: When you presented this plan, do you recall the initial reaction within Marvel?
RR: It was at one of the retreats, and the reaction was a lot of heads nodding yes, like everybody was very interested in it – and I guess this is going back years now because we’re always working so far in advance. So this would have been four retreats ago, five retreats ago – so this is going way back. I think I was just finishing the first volume of the Dimension Z arc with Steve Rogers when it started to come together. The reaction was a resounding yes. I think that everybody there – this was before the movie [“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”] had come out, and none of us had seen anything about how Anthony [Mackie] would portray the Falcon, or how he would be represented in the film. It was mostly just a fun idea that allowed for a new Captain America with a different power set and a whole different way of looking at things and a different methodology. And then fortunately the movie was amazing and you had a really terrific performance and a really wonderful character in Falcon in there that gave it a wider audience and I think made the choice a little more commercial after the fact.
HC: When did you become aware of Jason Aaron’s plans with “Thor”?
RR: I think toward the end of “Original Sin,” so probably six, seven, eight months ago.
HC: Those very high-profile television announcements pretty much back to back made it appear like a coordinated effort, but you get the sense that these things evolved independently of each other. What do you think that those two changes to really marquee-level Marvel characters happening independently and being allowed to happen and promoted says about where Marvel is now?
RR: Frankly, it doesn’t even seem – as a left-leaning punk rocker – this doesn’t feel that progressive to me. This doesn’t even feel – I mean, it was exciting news and it’s an interesting change for the characters – but it doesn’t feel that earth-shattering. A lot of what was done in the ‘80s – we had an African American, James Rhodes, as Iron Man for most of my youth. I just remember Iron Man as being an African American character. In fact, when he became Tony Stark again, I was bummed out because I started reading comics when “Secret Wars” was coming out when I was about 11 years old or 10, and that was James Rhodes. That was the only Iron Man I really ever knew. That’s 30 years ago. This just doesn’t seem that earth-shattering to me.
I think it’s nice. I think that the fact that we’re able to do a lot of these things in a lot of different ways potentially has a really positive effect. And I think there needs to be more of it.
My best friend growing up was an African American and he loved when James Rhodes was Iron Man – he could identify with it, there’s a very simple reflection, a very simple identification. So it always occurs to me that the more places that more types of people can see themselves reflected in the culture that they live within, the more they belong to that culture.
One thing that was really nice to see was that when we announced that Captain America was going to become Sam Wilson, I had a number of people sending me photographs – teachers from various classrooms across the country – with predominantly African American students that were grade-school kids that were holding up Captain America shields and going crazy at the announcement.
So beyond all of the other trappings of it all, or the ins and outs and the pros and cons or some of the very ugly … nasty comments that were being generated, beyond all of that, if one kid can feel like there’s a potential for him to feel like this is his as well, and that there’s one less disenfranchised human being or somebody who feels that they have something that they’re being reflected in their culture, then that’s a real positive, I think, beyond just me being excited to write the character.
HC: As that initial public reaction was coming in, what were your feelings?
RR: I shut the Internet off for the most part. There’s a small vocal minority in the mainstream comic book audience that want to spew vitriol, and I find that they are the more vocal across the board. I just try to filter that stuff out. I think that’s almost the modern challenge as we’re all connected to one another is trying to filter out the negativity and the vitriol from the type of people that want to spew exclusively that…. I’ll tell you, the hate that I received via Twitter – which is the last place I’m accessible on the Internet – paled in comparison to when I turned Frank Castle into Frankenstein. [laughter] People hate Frankenstein a whole lot more than they hate the idea of Captain America becoming somebody else. That’s what I learned from the Internet.
HC: What do you say to those who when something like this is announced call it a stunt or gimmick?
RR: There’s a certain level of cynicism that I understand people having, and it’s unfortunately so ingrained in our culture now that everybody anticipates that every maneuver is going to be some coldhearted banker sitting in a vault full of gold coins twirling his mustache and conniving ways to cook up more funds.
You know, Marvel is a group of diverse people who are interested in making good comic books, and everybody is doing the best they can within the structure to say something interesting and to tell an interesting story and to hopefully reflect the world we live in. It’s almost becoming cliché, but it’s very true. Everybody wants that. We all want to see that diversity.
It’s difficult being a former strident indie punker who saw that in all of the corporate machine, but having been the person who generated this idea and knowing the place it came from and then seeing the reaction Marvel had to it, I can honestly say that you also have to look at the other side, which is that there wasn’t a cynical instinct in this whole thing.
Would it make money to make a new Captain America? Sure – probably the same as if you were to kill a character, but I think this is a far more interesting thing with a lot of positive results. People have said that [it’s a gimmick], and I get it. I get it. But, you know, what can you say other than it’s not true and it’s misguided?
I don’t know how the Thor thing came about, but I know that Kieron Gillen and I cooked up Iron Man becoming a bad guy and I cooked up Sam becoming Cap, and we did it all out of excitement to tell cool Marvel comics, and that was the genesis of it.
HC: What are the storytelling risks and rewards for you of making a change like this?
RR: I’ll start with the rewards, because that’s what’s on the top of my mind. It’s to be able to develop a new character who’s not only the first African American superhero but somebody who has recently broken into the public consciousness in the new “Captain America” film. And to give him a rich back story and to kind of do for him what Frank Miller did for Daredevil, and try to round him out and show the pieces of his history that informed him and turned him into the man he is, and to define his motivations and define his passions and his ideology and hopefully come out the other end with a character that people love that much more and gravitate toward that much more.
But that’s at the same time as the risk. I’m adding to the mythology of this character, and I’m exploring his origin and trying to clean it up because there are so many various versions of his origin. I’m spending a lot of time trying to make sense of what’s there and to honor the continuity, but to also make it clean and, again, I think do what Frank did with Daredevil, which is to take what’s there, fill in the gaps, pick the best parts, take some of the other bits like Snap Wilson and that nonsense and erase it and discount it – acknowledge that it was a piece of continuity but that it didn’t happen. And for people who don’t know what Snap Wilson is, you’re lucky. We’ll address it in the series briefly.
Hopefully we’ll come out the other end with something that works and people are excited by. But any time you’re taking an existing and beloved character like Sam and trying to really flesh out and completely fill in the gaps of his background, you run the risk that people might not enjoy the choices you make. But at the end of it, those are kinds of risks you take doing any of these beloved mainstream superhero comics.
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