After gaining recognition as an independent cartoonist via the semi-autobiographical series Lowlife, Ed Brubaker followed a career path from Gotham City to a power position at Marvel as one of the company’s “Architects.” This summer will be the first time he’s writing a character who’s simultaneously seeing a big-screen push. Headlining a new Captain America #1 featuring Steve Rogers back in costume, and simultaneously co-writing the flashback series Captain America And Bucky with Marc Andreyko, Brubaker continues his seven-year run writing the star-spangled Avenger while launching The Last Of The Innocent, the latest chapter of his creator-owned Criminal series with Sean Phillips. Brubaker’s other recent projects include Incognito, another creator-owned project with Phillips, and the first 12 issues of Secret Avengers, a spin-off he helped launch. Brubaker talked to TheA.V. Club about what’s drawn him to the superheroes he’s worked on over the years, the benefits and hassles of the co-writing process, and how superhero movies can ultimately help the industry.
The A.V. Club: Captain America was the first big title you did for Marvel. How was Captain America offered to you?
Ed Brubaker: I had been on an exclusive contract with DC. I was just wrapping that up, and Brian Bendis, who I’d known since the early ’90s, when we were both working in independent comics, was becoming a big writer at Marvel, and he’d been wanting me to come write something at Marvel. And I just kept staying at DC and doing Catwoman and Batman, and stuff at Vertigo and Wildstorm. He basically called me up and was like, “Come on. I’ve been trying to get you over here for years. What character could Marvel give you that’ll get you over here?” And I said, “Well, I’d really like to write Captain America at some point, but you guys just hired someone for that.” And then he said, “Oh no, no. That guy is actually not gonna stay on the book. That’s an interim thing.” So the next day, Joe Quesada called me up to talk about Captain America. And my big idea coincided with the one thing Joe was really hoping someone would do on Captain America, which was to bring Bucky back.
The reason I wanted to write Captain America was, I’m a military brat. I was a Navy brat. I actually started school at Gitmo. There’s a military base there that officers, at least back in the early ’70s, would bring their families there, and there were neighborhoods where you would live, and there’s a school, and stores. It’s like a tiny American town on Cuba. This is back in the days when nobody talked about Gitmo at all. But when I grew up living in military bases and traveling around, comics was one of my main things as a kid. And I grew up surrounded by all these naval intelligence and Marines and all sorts of people like that, and for some reason just liked the idea of growing up reading Captain America comics in this sort of milieu. It really spoke to me. Because he was a super-soldier. He wasn’t, like, Superman or something. He actually was a guy who fought in World War II.
It was the kind of character that really appealed to me as a kid, and I always wanted to try to do a more modern version of that. Something that blended a… I wouldn’t say “real-world feel,” but I definitely wanted to try to make it seem more like 24 or James Bond or something. There had been a few issues that I got later in life that Jim Steranko had done. Those were always my favorite Captain America issues. It was, like, three issues. It really felt like his Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff, but with Captain America as sort of an operative. I always thought that was the most appealing way to use Captain America. As some sort of cool Delta Force, special-mission kind of soldier. I had this idea about doing that, and I’d always been angry as a kid when I found out that Bucky dying was some huge retcon that they did because Stan Lee didn’t want to have sidekicks. [Laughs.] So some part of me was always like, “You know, if I ever get to write Captain America, I’m bringing Bucky back.”
It’s kind of amazing that six and a half years ago, we brought Bucky back and people were furious. And now he’s become one of the more popular modern Marvel characters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to shoot down people wanting to do side one-shots or miniseries about the Winter Solider, and I’m like, “No, no, no. That’s my character. You guys can’t go mining his history.” [Laughs.] So it’s kinda funny. It’s pretty awesome, though, that he became basically the most popular new Marvel character, probably since Deadpool. You know, there’s toys. I have toys made from this guy. That’s pretty nuts.
AVC: In an interview you did with Comics Journal a couple years ago, you mentioned that the major themes of your writing are family relationships, personal relationships, and people not being able to escape their pasts. How have you found it different exploring those themes in your superhero writing vs. your more realistic crime books, like Criminal or Lowlife?
EB: Well, I mean, those are pretty broad themes. [Laughs.] I don’t set out, ever, to go, “What’s the theme of this story?” Everything I write comes from the character and what it is. The major difference is when I’m writing something that’s going to be in Criminal, I don’t necessarily ever have a moment where I e-mail Tom Brevoort and go “I need a really big Marvel supervillain.” Because I know I’m building all the characters and the world by itself, and I don’t necessarily need these sort of James Bond setpieces. But whether you’re writing a superhero action thing or Die Hard or a small character-driven crime story, all of it is the same writing, really. If you’re doing it right, you’re still plotting your story the same way, or you’re still looking at this story through your characters’ eyes, the same way as you would if it were any other story.
AVC: Your Captain America is political and grounded in real-world situations. Last year, there was the Captain America Tea Party mini-scandal, and this year, Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship got mainstream press. Do you think people should just be more accepting of comics as potentially political criticism?
When I was a kid, during the time that Watergate was happening, in the Captain America comic, the supposed president turned out to be in league with a group of supervillains. And that was kind of how Marvel reacted to what was going on in the real world. And Captain America discovered, “Oh my God, my government is corrupt.” And he quit being Captain America for almost a year. I remember reading that as a kid and being blown away by it. But the important thing with any Marvel comic is to remember, it’s not our world. And when you’re writing Captain America, the most important thing, at the end of the day, is whatever your story is, it’s a superhero comic. It’s never our world, specifically. Marvel feels a lot like our world, but it’s always one step removed. The Nixon in the Marvel comic wasn’t the same guy in the same scandal as the one in real life.
And the whole thing with the Tea Party getting all furious at us… I never intended it to specifically be the Tea Party. And I don’t think that I was necessarily critical of anybody in that actual two-page sequence or whatever. I was trying to show that when you get outside of major metropolitan areas like New York City or Seattle, or any major city, when you get 10 minutes outside and into the country, attitudes are completely different. That’s very American, that experience. And that was what I was really trying to do.
And the thing that was interesting about that was: In Marvel, it’s not Exxon oil, it’s Roxxon Oil. It’s always something different. It’s not the Mafia, it’s the Maggia. They’re always one step removed. So that was the only thing that I was like, “Oh, shit. The letterer threw a sign in here that specifically says that this is a Tea Party rally.” I wouldn’t have done that, because it’s one step removed: I would have called it the Coffee Party or something. Or, I don’t know, the Patriot Party. Just something to make it one step removed. But suddenly it was this huge uproar, and I was getting death threats from people for… I guess just showing a rally in a Captain America comic, and having The Falcon say he wouldn’t feel comfortable at an anti-tax rally in Boise, Idaho? A black guy from Harlem is not gonna feel comfortable in that situation. I was just writing the character as he’s always been portrayed.
But the reaction to it was, literally, I was getting death threats for two panels of a comic book. How is that not like the Taliban or al-Qaeda? So that really shocked me. And that made me basically give up having a public e-mail or any way other than Twitter for people to reach me. Wingnuts, man.
And the thing is, I’m not some sort of hardcore political animal. I’m pretty moderate. So it’s just kind of appalling that just because I say someone’s an idiot on Twitter, suddenly I’m some sort of left-wing crazy. My dad was the head of naval intelligence, and my uncle was in the CIA. I’m not some sort of left-wing or right-wing kind of person at all.
AVC: You’ve said you wanted Captain America to be like a spy novel, and you seem to have different genre influences for your projects. For The Immortal Iron Fist, you took elements from pulp serials and martial-arts movies. Catwoman had a very noir feel. Are there other areas of genre fiction that you still want to explore?
EB: Honestly, at some point, I really want to do a romance comic. [Laughs.] That’s the one thing. I’ve done crime comics, I’ve done sci-fi comics. I’ve done superhero comics. I don’t like romance novels. I will watch the odd rom-com movie, and my wife makes fun of me for it. But romance comics, for some reason, really spoke to me as a kid. I don’t know why. I think it was the John Romita art. It’s too bad, because the only person I would really want to do a romance comic would probably be John Romita. But maybe I can get Butch Guice to draw it like John Romita instead. So yeah, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m not saying I’d want to do a monthly series of romance comics, but I’d like to do a “tribute to romance comics” kind of thing. It’s a genre I always thought was kind of cool. They’re so funny to reread now. They’re so over-the-top. It would be interesting to try to do a bunch of romance-comic short stories. To get Marvel to bring back Modern Love for a few issues and let me write it. With a big artist drawing short stories. Call it Postmodern Love or something. [Laughs.]
AVC: Your books have had a lot of male protagonists, but there was one book where you explored the feminine side of superheroes. What drew you to Selina Kyle and Catwoman?
EB: Well, that one started weird in that I liked her character from the old days. Back when she was a jewel thief who Bruce Wayne was in love with. And I loved all the Earth One or Earth A or whatever Earth they call it, where they have the All-Star Squadron, and Catwoman eventually retired, and she and Batman got married, and their daughter was Huntress. I remember all of those stories from my childhood, from getting old Batman collections from the ’50s and ’60s. And so I’d sort of had that early attachment with her as a character. And I liked this idea of a character who was this person who can exist on the streets or in high society, or is some awesome jewel thief, or just a badass. She seemed like the coolest comic-book character they had, in a lot of ways. And when I just started on Batman, Matt Idelson called me up and asked me what I thought of the Catwoman comic that was going on. And I had read the odd issue here and there and I felt like it was not living up to that potential. There was too much T&A.
AVC: Jim Balent—
EB: Well, not so much that, as much as just… Yeah, I don’t want to call any names out, it’s been so long since I looked at any of that stuff. I just recall thinking that I felt like both the writing and the art weren’t letting the character be the character. They really weren’t getting who I thought she could be. And I really liked the way Frank Miller portrayed her in Batman: Year One. I liked elements of that a lot. The sort of dominatrix kind of character who has this really tough upbringing. So I wanted to try to find a way to blend that Frank Miller Year One version of her history with the things I really liked in the Silver Age Catwoman character, who was more like a high-society sort of person. And Matt asked me what I thought of it, and I told him, and he said, “So, do you want to take over the book, then?” And I realized I had kind of talked myself into it through the conversation. And I just said, “Well, can we redesign her costume?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, I’ll do 12 issues, at least.” And I ended up staying on it for almost 40 issues, I think.
I got lucky enough to meet Darwyn Cooke before anyone knew who he was. And I got him to redesign Catwoman, and 10 years later, that’s the look of Catwoman. It was a lot of fun, though. And I really felt like we had established a good backstory for her as an orphan raised within the system who goes on to figure out her way through life, and be someone who can play the part of someone from high society, but who actually knows how rough it can be on the street at the same time. I’m really proud of a lot of stuff we did on that book, especially the stuff with Holly.
AVC: I especially loved “No Easy Way Out.” Right after the big storyline where everything bad happens.
EB: And that was something that we never see in comics, it seems like. Especially back then. Like, eight or nine years ago. We rarely saw a comic where the whole storyline after a big thing happened was about the aftermath, and the effects this kind of violence has on people. Because we’re always on to the next comic, and it’s not a big deal. But Green Arrow shot an arrow through someone’s eye last issue. [Laughs.] Or whatever. I’m being facetious, but basically, it just feels like these characters never have to deal with that kind of stuff. And if you’ve ever actually been in a fight, or seen any kind of hardcore violence go down, it’s jarring. It stays with you for a while. So I wanted to do something that really dealt with that. And it’s great that I got three issues of Javier Pulido to sort of be my aftermath guy.
AVC: I love how you guys showed Holly’s drug addiction with the images in the bubbles.
EB: Oh yeah, the junkie vision. That might be my favorite single issue of anything I ever did at DC. I loved using… I kept getting that spam e-mail from the Dalai Lama, where he was asking you all these questions. I was like, “Why is the Dalai Lama sending e-mail spam?” And this is the early days of e-mail for me. And it just occurred to me that I should use that somehow in a story. That each of these questions he says represents some part of how you feel about life, and should be the climax of a single issue about Holly.
AVC: On Twitter, you’ve mentioned that you’re a Batman: The Animated Series fan. Did that show have any influence on your Batman run at all?
EB: Definitely. That was one of the reasons Darwyn and I had the exact same vision for who this character should be. Because he came from working on that animated series, and working on Batman Beyond. Honestly, when I first started getting published, I was writing and drawing my own independent comics, and I didn’t actually have a clue I could write superhero comics. I had stopped reading superhero comics about six years earlier. I’d pick up the odd one, and it really wouldn’t connect with me. This is during the period when Image Comics was just starting, and you’d pick those up and flip through them, and it just felt like they were all splash pages. And I didn’t think anything was grabbing me. I think storytelling in comics has come a long way in the last 20 years in general, like mainstream superhero comics. Things they learned from the ’70s and the ’80s and things they learned in the ’90s about the widescreen, sort of splash style have all blended into things that are much easier to read now than they were in the early ’90s. And much smoother to read than they were in the ’70s and ’80s, when they were completely overwritten. The best comics out now are almost a completely different language when you put them next to comics from the ’70s. The best stuff from the ’50s onward is still amazing, but I go back and read comics from the ’70s a lot for research, and it’s just stunning how much they’re overwritten. [Laughs.]
I think what happened was, I didn’t have cable at the time, and I went to someone’s house, and they had videotaped some of these Batman cartoons and showed them to me. And I was kind of blown away by it. It was the first moment where I could imagine writing a Batman story. I was like, “This is what I should do for a living. I should write stories like this. I could do a Batman comic if I could do something like this.” Not realizing that would be really hard to do. And it took me six years to get to the point where I was writing Batman comics after that. But that was the first moment where it even occurred to me that I could possibly do it. Anytime there’d been an opportunity before, I’d just think, “I don’t have any ideas for Batman.” But there was this specific episode where the Scarecrow goes after Batman and he has this nightmare-dream sequence, and I remember being really affected by that one. Where he sees his parents walking into the tunnel, and the tunnel becomes a gun, and the bullet fires out of it, and blood is dripping from the barrel of the gun, and I was like, “Holy shit! This is for children?”
AVC: Apparently, though, the blood in that scene was actually miscolored. It was supposed to be sand, and that’s how it got past the censors. That scene is great.
EB: I got the complete set of that stuff last year, and I’ve been watching them here and there. For a while, it was hard to go back and watch the really early ones, because I loved the design they did when they brought the show back later, and everything was much more streamlined-looking. All the characters looked a lot cooler. Those early ones looked so much like they were going for thatFleischer Superman look. But now I really like those. I think there’s a lot of really good stories in those. There’s one in that second run that they did when they did the Batman & Robin Adventures, or whatever it was called. It was another Scarecrow one where Batgirl dies. That’s one of the best episodes ever.
AVC: That’s a really dark one.
EB: Yeah. [Laughs.] I know. That’s why I was like, “I like this show.” That was a big influence. When Bob Schreck first got the job in the Bat office, I’d been talking to him about doing some stuff, because I’d worked with Bob at Dark Horse. And then he told me he got the job at the Bat office and he was tentatively offering me a run on Batman, and I was like, “Well, can I do theBatman animated comic instead?” [Laughs.] Thinking that was the better job to have. And luckily for me, career-wise, that job was taken by someone else, and that was their steady gig. I did end up getting to do one issue of that when there was some fill-in they did. I got to write one issue of the Batman animated-series comic.
AVC: What was the co-writing process like on Gotham Central? You’ve done that for a couple books now. How does the work get divided, and what do you think having two writers brings to the story?
EB: Well, it’s different with every writer you do it with. That’s the problem with co-writing. Sometimes co-writing is practically just being an extra editor on the book. Sometimes co-writing is doing more than half of the work. And then sometimes it’s pretty smooth and easy, where you evenly divide it up. With me and Greg [Rucka], we designed Gotham Central to be a book we could share without stepping on each other’s toes or without having to check with each other or making each other read our scripts. Because sometimes reading another writer’s comic script is more difficult than just writing your own comic script, because it’s work. [Laughs.] They pay editors to do it. It’s not always fun to read comic scripts. It’s much more fun to read their comics when they’re drawn.
So with Greg and I, we wanted to do a book where once a year, we could team up and divide up the work and do a big story, our red ball, basically, like from Homicide [Life On The Street], where it would be the big moment. And then between that, we would each get an arc that we could do that would focus on… He would do the night shift and I would do the day shift, or vice versa. That was how we came up with it. We decided to divide up the book between shifts. Because there was this great episode of Homicide that showed what happened in the homicide squad when our main characters all weren’t there. They actually shared desks with the people who were on the other shifts. So we sort of took that as our inspiration to develop the MCU, which would have the 24-hour police shifts in there. So we divided it up and took first shift and second shift, and that was really easy with Greg and I. I think because of the way we started out, we both came into writing superhero comics in the Bat office. I was a little bit behind him, but we both came from a real crimefighter sort of perspective. He was a crime novelist already, and I had done some crime-related mystery comics, and that was definitely where I approached my storytelling from. I was thinking of it as a crime story at that point.
We were working on an outline for this Batman event called“Officer Down.” It was about Jim Gordon getting shot and retiring. That was a one-month-long or two-month-long event. And Greg and I were tasked with writing the beat sheet for the whole thing after we all sat in the room. I think I came in late on this, but somehow I got corralled into being the person who… Greg and I batted the ideas back and forth, and then we put them in, basically, the spine of the story, so everyone else knew what to write in their parts. And when we were working on one part that had [police detectives Crispus] Allen and [Renee] Montoya walking through this crime scene where Gordon gets shot, and we realized how cool it would be if we did a comic like this every month. Where it was always about a crime scene where The Joker walked through and killed a bunch of babies. Just seeing the horror from a perspective that… You don’t see it from Batman’s point of view. These people, they do this every day to the point that it becomes a grind. And how angry they must get, and feel powerless that they can’t catch these people, but Batman’s going to do it. And half of the time, they’re not gonna get convicted, because Batman arrested them. Things like that. It just seems like a comic that really needed to exist.
We spent a couple of years trying to get DC to let us do it, basically. And by the time we got them to agree to do it, Powers had come out and become this huge hit. So we had an example to point to, going like, “Look! Someone is already doing this, and it’s a huge hit! We’re missing the boat here.” So that’s kinda how that came about. But Greg and I wrote really easy. I brought him on to help me on an arc of Daredevil just because I thought it would be fun to get the band back together. Because we had [illustrators] Stefano [Gaudiano] and Michael [Lark] and [colorist] Matt Hollingsworth. So I thought, “Okay, let me do, like, a legal thriller.” Because Matt Murdock is a lawyer. Let’s do “Matt Murdock has to save someone from death row.” So we got on the phone, and it was just like Gotham Central. We came into it knowing what big beats we needed to hit, and then we’d need to figure out, “Okay, well what happens this issue?” We’re on the phone for an hour, and by the time we’re done, we’ve got most of our major beats figured out, and then we figure out who’s gonna take which scenes. That’s kinda always how it went. With Gotham Central, we’d take our character scenes, but we’d try to make sure each of us were doing exactly half of the issue. Or if I did one page more on an issue, he’d take one page more on the next issue instead. It was always very evenly balanced. So it was really, really easy.
Co-writing with Matt [Fraction] on [The Immortal Iron Fist] was pretty close to how Greg and I did it, at first. And Iron Fist was a book I had been really wanting to write. And Marvel wouldn’t let me write it because I had too much on my plate, so they said if I wanted to do it, I had to bring on a co-writer. And Matt was just getting in at Marvel, and I thought, “Well, I’ll do it with Matt, then.” Because he was doing Punisher, and I know he was looking to do more comic stuff, and we were already friends. It seemed like he would have the right sensibility, so I asked him if he wanted to do it, and he did. And I kind of had bits and pieces of the first Iron Fist arc already figured out, and Matt had a lot of ideas about these women who would turn into cranes, and these villains who wanted maglevtrains, and all this stuff that ended up becoming a three-arc-long storyline. So we kind of integrated.
I wanted to do a story about the guy who was the Iron Fist before Danny Rand. That was the thing that always bugged me about Iron Fist. The thought that Danny Rand was the only one, somehow. Yet they had this costume, and this legend of this person who would be the Immortal Iron Fist. I’m like, “Well, these guys are all a thousand years old, and they have this Immortal Iron Fist costume sitting there. There had to have been previous Iron Fists.” That was my main thought on that. “Okay, well, we need to do a story on the previous Iron Fist, who, it turns out, didn’t actually die.” And so Matt and I plotted out the first six issues pretty tightly together. And for the first issue, we divided it up pretty evenly. And then once it was done and lettered and everything, we did a pretty major polish over the lettering, because we had just written too much stuff. I think we were both trying too hard to make sure it was… You’d have to see the non-published version and compare it to the published version. We made some mistakes that you can make when you’re co-writing, where you each accidentally write some similar stuff.
But for the most part, it went pretty smoothly. And after the first arc, and even toward the end of the first arc, Marvel was really pushing me to step away, and Matt didn’t really need me so much. So I was co-plotting, and then I would pick certain seasons to write or rewrite. And all the way through issue 14, from that point on, Matt always wrote the first draft, and then I would go in and tweak stuff or rewrite a few scenes. Certain stuff, I would just take. And when Matt’s first kid was born, there was an issue where we divided up the scenes, and I wrote half and he wrote half, and then I sort of polished everything and made it all fit together perfectly. Because that’s the thing about co-writing: When you do break up the scenes, when you put them all together… Like with Greg and I, we’d plop a thing out, and then we’d have the beat-by-beat outline, and we’d kind of race to see who could finish their half first. And if you finished your half last, you had to be the one to make all the scene transitions look good. [Laughs.] So whoever finished last got to do the cleanup.
I think the issue of Iron Fist I’m the most proud of is the one I didn’t have anything to do with at all. It was Matt’s last issue and [David] Aja’s last issue. It was the epilogue issue. The one that ends with Danny’s birthday. I just love that issue so much. It was everything I always wanted the Iron Fist comic to be, and I didn’t have anything to do with it other than reading the script and going, “Hey, great job!”
That was an odd thing, because I always worried that Matt felt like people were giving me too much credit, but at the same time, I felt like, “Well, I want some credit.” Because I did work on stuff. That can be a problem with co-writing. I was a much bigger name than Matt at the time. And reviewers would credit me with something he’d written. What was weird was, working with someone like Matt, who has a really good sense of humor, and would write really oddball dialogue sometimes, that will bring out that part in you when you’re working with him. So there were specific lines of dialogue where I remember reading reviews where someone was like, “That’s such a Fraction line of dialogue,” and I’m like, “I wrote that.” [Laughs.] So it’s kind of funny. Yeah, co-writing is a really mixed bag. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun. And sometimes working with another writer, like someone like Matt, especially… I had a couple of ideas of what I wanted the Iron Fist comics to be when we first started, but I think it became a much more exciting, kinetic kind of thing, because Matt’s energy brought that to it. And Matt was still really learning—I think at that point he had written two or three issues of Punisher—but he was still really learning the constraints of the 22-pages-a-month Marvel comic, and how much you could or couldn’t do. So he was trying to do so much within it, and a lot of what I was doing was cutting this or cutting that, but because of that, it gave us comics that I think had a different kind of energy than a lot of stuff that was on the stands. And he and I both really loved the idea of this previous Iron Fist, who then allowed us to bring in new pulp-universe kinds of characters.
So our sensibilities are really lined up on a lot of that stuff. It’s like being in a writing room, sometimes. When you’re co-writing with someone, it can feel like a hassle, and sometimes it totally just makes the story better. Same as having a good editor. Sometimes you’re stuck on something and you call your editor up and you tell him what you’re stuck on, and you kick some ideas around. Even if they don’t give you the idea, the kicking-the-ideas-around-with-them part sort of gives you the idea somehow. It’s like House and Wilson. Wilson always helps House whether he means to or not. [Laughs.]
AVC: The most recent Criminal goes in a newly meta direction. What made you decide to bring in those Archie parallels?
EB: Well, it’s more than just Archie. I’m going for a little bit larger than that. But there is an analogue kind of thing to it. I think part of it is that with Incognito, I had done a lot of little nods and Easter eggs to various things from comics and comics history, and pulp history, and I really liked layering in extra meaning into scenes, giving scenes two or three different meanings, so when you read it, thinking one way, you’re like, “Oh, wait. He’s actually saying he knows he’s in a comic that’s being read” or “Is that a nod to Grant Morrison, actually? Or Alan Moore?” I like being able to create something where it has multiple ways that it can be interpreted. I grew up reading Richie Rich and Little Lulu and Archie and Binky Brown and Swing With Scooter. All those teen comics, really. And when I think back to my youth, I think about those comics a lot. Like the Rankin-BassChristmas specials and the Peanuts specials. It’s just part of nostalgia for me. Cartoons and all of that.
My father was on his deathbed most of last year, and I was sort of wallowing in that childhood nostalgia a lot. And then this story just kind of appeared to me. Like, what if I did a story about these characters from this made-up, analogue version of a kid’s comic, who all grew up? But they grew up fucked-up, because they grew up exactly like Dr. [Fredric] Wertham’s worst fears of what kids reading comics would be. It took on a lot of different levels. And all of that stuff is really just the window-dressing for the story, in a lot of ways. To me, it’s a really, really personal story about memory and the way we view our past. Idealize different periods of time that we lived through as being so much better than the period we’re living in now. I agree that the ’70s and ’80s were way better than anything we’re living through now, but while we were living through them, they didn’t seem like the best time. [Laughs.] So I wanted to do something that approached nostalgia in a crime story. A crime story about nostalgia, instead of a crime story about sex or greed or anything. It’s about sex and greed and murder, but the driving force behind it is also this feeling that you’ve screwed up and you wish you could get your past back to do over again.
And I really wanted to do a comic that didn’t feel like a pitch for a movie. I’ve done comics that have been optioned for Hollywood, and I’ve done screenwriting, and I see a lot of comics coming out now that really just look to me like pitches for movies. And I wanted to do something that really only works as a comic book, that uses the language of comics. That was where using Dr. Wertham’s complaints from Seduction Of The Innocent and having the flashbacks be drawn in a sort of young-adult-comic style from the ’60s or ’70s came in. I really wanted those elements to be a part of it, and to have that sort of meta element on top of it. If you know about that stuff from comics, then the characters can be viewed with extra meaning even though they’re all just parts of my own self and my own history.
I wanted to do something really ambitious. I really wanted it to be something that only really worked best as a comic. It’s like Watchmen. Alan Moore always said that people shouldn’t make a Watchmen movie, because the things that are most interesting about Watchmen are things that only make sense because it’s a comic book. The way it’s structured, the way the stories are told, the way the characters talk, the things they do. All of it really works best because it’s kind of making commentary on comics at the same time. I wanted to approach something that way, where it was really important that it was a comic. I think I’ve accomplished that goal, at least.
AVC: On the subject of comic movies and the connection between Hollywood and the comics industry now, do you feel that the movies’ influence can sometimes slow the character evolution?
EB: Boy, that’s a really weird question. [Laughs.] I don’t think so. The main thing, I think, is when comic-book movies are done right, they sort of tap into the best things about the comics. Like, Spider-Man 2 is the best of the Spider-Man movies, and it really feels like that late-’60s, early-’70s era of Spider-Man. Bits and pieces of that are in there. You can tell. I think the ones that are done right become their own thing. The Dark Knight feels like various things that have come out over the years in Batman comics. But ultimately, it feels like its own thing. Anybody could watch it and not have to know anything about the comics. I’ve never perceived any pressure… I wasn’t at DC when Batman Begins came out. I’ve never been working on a character that a movie was coming out for until Captain America, and I never felt any pressure to make it feel like the movie at all. I know from talking to people who worked on the movie or saw the movie that the tone I established within the series was one of the things they really liked and were trying to get across. I don’t think there’s anything in the movie that actually reflects anything I’ve done in the comic at all, but I think the tone of it is something they tried to get.
The reason we’re trying to get Steve to become Captain America again and having a new No. 1 issue when the movie comes out is because we’d be fools not to. [Laughs.] But Steve was always going to become Captain America again, and I was able to stop it for a while, because I still had more stories to tell with Bucky as Captain America. But I never had planned for Steve to not be Captain America again. It was always in the cards. It was always just sort of an accepted thing that this would happen by the time the movie came out, so there would be a Captain America on the stands that millions of people walking out of that movie theater might want to go, “I wonder what’s happening in the Captain America comics?” And I wanted to make sure that the comic was something that would feel like, “Oh, okay. This is cool. This does not feel completely dissimilar.”
If the movie had done something completely foreign to what we were doing in the comic, then we might have had a problem. But no, I don’t necessarily see the comics industry trying to change what it does just to appeal to the movie market, as much as just trying to grab some of the audience of those movies and present them with good comics about these characters. I mean, the thing that it looks like was the biggest-selling Thor item around the Thor movie was the big Walt Simonson omnibus. Thank God, it’s like a $75 book or something. But that was the book I saw everywhere. I saw Thor books at the bookstores, but that was the book I saw prominently displayed everywhere. It’s like that just became the book. And that’s stuff from 20, 30 years ago. I don’t see comic-book movies as a problem, necessarily. It’s great if they’re good movies, but hopefully it’s something that will bring other people to the comics. I mean, after those Spider-Manmovies came out, Walmart was carrying Ultimate Spider-Man paperbacks for a long time, and selling them to kids that had never been to a comic-book store in their life. I would see kids at the airport reading Ultimate Spider-Man for a few years after those Spider-Man movies came out. So the potential for that is great.