Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, creators of the short superhero film "The League," make their comic book debut in December with a "Captain America: Theater of War" one-shot. Subtitled "Prisoners of Duty," the latest installment of Marvel Comics' World War II adventures of Captain America finds the hero behind enemy lines and at a significant disadvantage. CBR News spoke with the writers about the project, which is illustrated by Agustin Padilla.
In "The League," Higgins and Siegel explored the darker side of superhero labor unions through an atmospheric period piece set in 1960s Chicago. The half-hour film is available to view for free online. That film caught the attention of Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who sent the link around the office. Higgins and Siegel were then contacted by editor Tom Brevoort and given the opportunity to pitch some one-shot concepts.
"At some point, Alec and I had the idea of pitching for a 'Theater of War' book. I'm fascinated by World War II, and Alec's a huge WWII buff, so we thought it might be fun to tackle it together," Higgins said of their project. "We came up with the POW concept pretty quick, but shelved it for a couple months until just before Comic-Con. Tom liked it enough to give the go ahead, with Lauren Sankovitch editing and Agustin Padilla on art."
"Both of whom have been a blast to work with," Siegel chimed in. "The pages Agustin has been sending in are fantastic. It's been a very exciting process."
Their story finds Captain America captured by German forces, leading to a daring escape plot - but there's a catch. "The big reversal that we're playing with here is that Steve's not in the Cap suit when he's caught," Higgins said. "As far as the Germans are concerned, they've captured Private Steve Rogers."
Siegel added to this context, saying, "Aside from figuring out how to eventually break out of the prison, Steve also has a bit of a political situation to navigate. Being only a private in the army, he still has to follow orders from any superior officers in the camp, unless he wants to blow his identity."
Higgins and Siegel's short film, "The League," had a very distinct sense of place, being set in Chicago in the 1960s, and now the pair are focusing on another distinctive historical era with their "Theater of War" one-shot. "We've all seen images of prisoner-of-war camps during WWII and the plot conventions of an escape story at one of those camps - digging a tunnel, hiding it from the guards, the POWs having allies amongst the guards, etc. We wanted to stay away from all of that," Siegel said. "Drawing inspiration from places like Colditz Castle and films like 'Where Eagles Dare,' we thought setting the story in a castle would be more interesting. Cap and the other POWs can't tunnel through the castle walls. They have to think of another way to break out."
Higgins added, "it's a fine line we walk with a story like this - with any WWII superhero story, really. We've got a fictional character in a very historical event - not to mention, our fictional character is a super soldier. So what would an escape be like if you had Captain America leading it? You obviously have to be very careful with something like this - to not over gloss the subject matter, but still keep the piece entertaining."
"We're still writing a story about Captain America and he's still going to do things that you or I can only dream of," Siegel said, "but we've tried to ground things as much as possible. We spent a lot of time on the history. The story fits into the larger backdrop of the war, and so we were very careful about where and when everything is set."
"It's the same approach we take with everything relating to 'The League,'" Higgins said. "Here, we designed the world and the situations to be as realistic as possible, drawing heavily from history - the goal is verisimilitude. And then we put in our one element of the fantastic, Captain America."
There is, of course, a good deal of attention on Captain America at the moment, with the "Reborn" miniseries bringing Steve Rogers back to life and the status of the current Cap, Bucky Barnes, up for speculation. But as a historical Captain America story, "Theater of War: Prisoners of Duty" will be accessible even to readers less familiar with the hero's ongoing adventures.
"Let me say that Alec and I are both huge fans of Brubaker's run. It's been one of the few books I can't wait to pick up every month - and it's been that way for the last four years," Higgins said. "If you're not reading it, you need to pick up the trades. The storytelling is just truly brilliant. I mean, the book went for, what, six or seven months without a Captain America even in it? Fantastic.
"That said, you don't have to know anything about current events to read our book. The great thing about the 'Theater of War' line is that it's designed to be mostly self contained - it's set up for one-off, classic Captain America stories."
"If you're up on your WWII trivia, you'll catch some references to events taking place on the larger scale, against the larger backdrop of the war in Europe," Siegel said. "But at the end of the day we've tried to design this so that if you know who Captain America is, you can come in to this cold."