Captain America (AKA Steve Rogers) is armed with a Super Soldier Serum-enhanced physique, an indestructible shield and a genius tactical mind, but he's still a human being. Emotional traumas can still have a deep and lasting impact on him, especially ones as intense as losing your child and the woman you love. That's what happened in the inaugural arc of Marvel Comics' new volume of "Captain America" written by Rick Remender, which opened with the Sentinel of Liberty stranded in a dimension ruled by his enemy, Arnim Zola, where time passed at a much faster rate. Decades later, Cap escaped with the help of Zola's daughter Jet Black but both his foster son Ian, whom he had raised from the time he was a baby, and his girlfriend Sharon Carter seemingly perished.
The loss of Ian and Sharon left Cap fragile and emotionally scarred; a situation villainous former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Ran Shan (AKA the Iron Nail) exploited. He used Cap's disillusionment to fuel a scheme to crush the Sentinel of Liberty and S.H.I.E.L.D., a plan that would have worked if Sarah Rogers had not taught her son to stand back up no matter what punishment life deals out. Cap metaphorically stood up and crushed the Iron Nail's scheme, but not before the villain robbed him of the Super Soldier Serum that kept him young and physically powerful after all these years.
What's next for Steve Rogers and how will he handle the reemergence of Arnim Zola and his arch-enemy the Red Skull? For the answer to these questions and more CBR News spoke with Remender about the fallout from Cap's battle with the Iron Nail, how it will impact "The Tomorrow Soldier" arc and how Remender's "Captain America" work will tie-in to this fall's "Axis" event, which he's also writing.
CBR News: Rick, let's begin by talking about the ending of "Captain America" #21. The way I read those final scenes was that Cap recovered his fighting spirit but soon after was robbed of the Super Soldier Serum that kept him young and vital. Is that what you intended?
Rick Remender: Yeah, that's about it.
What made you want to take the serum away from Cap? What direction does that allow you to take the book in?
I've got to be really careful here because there's big, big things coming up and I don't want to tip our hand yet. It enables us to put Steve in a position where his mind and his tactical abilities are at the forefront because he no longer has the physical abilities. It also gives us a visual representation of where's he at and who he's become.
I think the plans and what we have coming up will put Steve into a very unique situation that I also can't talk about. [Laughs]
I understand. So essentially he's in a unique situation in that he's still a tactical genius with a sharp mind but his age and his physical frailty keeps him from throwing the shield and taking a punch?
Right, Steve is no longer going to be in the field. That will lead to some interesting changes in the next three to four issues as we discover who will be on the field.
This was an exercise in putting Steve back through the wringer and forcing him to make a large sacrifice to undo the damage of the past year's worth of stories. Basically everything that has happened since "Dimension Z" has begun to unravel around him. He hasn't been proactive in that. He's been sort of reactionary. He's been stunned, depressed, and broken from the loss of Sharon and the loss of Ian.
Those events led to him being in a weakened state and he began to crumble; a man out of time in a world he hadn't been in for over 12 years after all that time in Dimension Z. We wanted to make sure it was something that, once he stood up and put things right, it wasn't just a matter of it being a simple thing. He needed to pay a price for it, and he did.
The way I interpreted Steve losing his Serum was that the Iron Nail's tendrils drained it from him. Is that correct?
Yes, and I set that up I believe in issue #13 where we momentarily saw him do that to Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan when he used his needles on them. One of the powers of his needles is to drain the strength and power out of a person's blood. So that was something I set up and he only did it momentarily to Nick Fury and Dum Dum. It was just a quick drink, but on Steve he drained it all.
The Iron Nail is defeated at the end of "Captain America" #21 and ge catches fire. When that happens he calls out to Mila, whom readers of your "Winter Soldier: The Bitter March" miniseries know is the woman he's trying to protect in the past and is perhaps falling in love with. Is this another way in which Steve Rogers and Ran Shan were similar? Were his actions and motivations also affected by the loss of a great love?
I won't say that it's the loss because that would spoil how things end up with Mila and Ran. I will tell you, though, that the events of "Winter Soldier' #5 are going to play very heavily into defining who Ran is and why he did what he did. That was the reason why I wrote it the way I did.
Originally a lot of the "Winter Soldier" stuff was going to be in "Captain America," but it seemed so nice to have it as this loosely connected side story where you got a Bucky story instead of a Cap story that sets up Ran and really focuses on who he is and why he does what he does. Then concurrently you're getting a story where he's twisted, broken and sold his soul, and after many decades of planning is now going to exact his revenge and enact his evil plot.
So you get to see two different people separated by many decades of change. And that's not the only thing I seeded in that "Winter Soldier" series that will play a big role in Captain America's life coming up.
We don't see the Iron Nail again in "Captain America" #21 after the glimpse of him catching fire. Does this mean his role in the larger Cap story you're telling is done, at least for now?
Possibly. I think it's always fun to leave that up in the air. Sometimes I'll kill a character and they stay dead. Then sometimes you do the fake out death and pull a little soap opera move and they come back in an issue or a year. That's kind of the fun of it all; to see when he's going to pop back up especially given what he's just done to Steve and the animosity a large part of the super population will have toward him because of it.
The Iron Nail's plan involved using S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Gungnir carrier to destroy the small Eastern European country of Nrosvekistan and the world saw the carrier devastate the country. Can you talk about the status of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Maria Hill's leadership of it going into "Captain America" #22? I know Cap wants to have some words with Maria, but I imagine S.H.I.E.L.D.'s United Nations leaders will want to talk as well.
Issue #22 will show their reaction. I feel like to discuss it right now kind of injures that reading experience. I'm working on sending #22 to print as we speak and it's well covered in there.
Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D. are not going to be seeing eye to eye necessarily. I think that it's safe to say that much. That relationship is going to be fairly strained.
So issue #22 will definitely have some fallout from a United Nations security agency's very public attack on a country?
There's big fallout for S.H.I.E.L.D., Maria, and Steve Rogers in the issue. The Iron Nail ran a pretty good smear campaign against Steve. If you look at the last 10 issues I wrote them to kind of be the perfect indictment of Steve where every single thing that happens ends up making him look worse and worse. From Nuke, to Nuke's detonation in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hub, to what looks like a S.H.I.E.L.D. retaliation in Nrosvekistan, and then it goes all the way back to when it looked like Cap was working with Nuke and invading that country. So the Iron Nail worked long and hard to make sure that Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D. ended up looking like real jerks.
Right. So "Captain America" #21 was sort of where Steve got the metaphorical wake up call and realized he'd been asleep at the wheel?
Yeah, the Iron Nail pulled all of this at the worst possible moment for Steve. If you break things into 10-issue chunks, that's been the second year of the book, really. Dimension Z was one story that ran through our first ten issues. Then #11-21 with Nuke, Doctor Mindbubble and the Iron Nail was all one story. Then from issues #22-25 we're going to get the wrap up of all that. So everything that happened in Dimension Z and everything that happened with Nuke, the Iron Nail and Mindbubble collides into one crazy explosion. That gives us the next four issues. I always end up writing 25-30 issue arcs and that's how this is coming together. I think issue #25 closes out this whole story.
These next issues comprise an arc called "The Tomorrow Soldier." Some of the issues of that arc have been solicited and they suggest that this story is where both Arnim Zola and the Red Skull come back into the book in a big way. Is that correct?
Yes, and of course now that "Axis" has been revealed and people are seeing art from that it's no secret that this is all going to play into "Axis." So all of these trains are leading to "Axis." Not only are we cleaning up the Zola of it all, we're also showing his connection to the Red Skull as was hinted at in the first arc of "Uncanny Avengers." We're showing how that all leads to "Axis" and how that leads to a major status quo [shift] in Steve's life and the Avengers' lives.
This and "Uncanny Avengers" all feed into "Axis" as well as a number of other titles that will be revealed. All of the titles for "Axis" were specifically selected because they dealt with the characters that I had been building the story around. So "Axis" will be very intimate in that regard. Everything involved with or connected to "Axis" is involved for a specific reason and actually has close connective tissue to the series. That will include the "Captain America" issues that lead into it and a number of other fun things that will be revealed soon.
While we're on the topic of "Axis," it sounds like in addition to writing the main book you're also playing architect a bit when it comes to the tie-ins. Is that right?
The characters who are involved in the event are characters that I have had a hand with, wanted to deal with, or chose or negotiated for. I think it just kind of came together where the writers of the books whose characters play the biggest roles in the event were all the people I talked with and approached about having connective tissue.
I'm working closely with the writers of the tie-ins to make sure that they are essential to the story in terms of what we're doing. There's not a peripheral tie-in. Every single one of them is in some way very important to the overall story.
So it was very interesting the way it all came together. Everything was sort of put together based on its actual connectivity to the story and I think that will lead to something kind of different. I'm getting pages in and I'm pretty excited.
Let's circle back to "The Tomorrow Soldier" and talk about that a bit more. How large will Jet Black's story play in that story?
A big one. "The Tomorrow Soldier" stuff is going to deal with everybody around Steve and everything we set up: Zola, Red Skull, Jet Black, Falcon, and it will be an escalation. It will involve a new plot by Zola, a back up plot, one where he's working closely with Red Skull in order to accomplish a particular goal that will not be revealed until around issue #25.
So there will be a big story arc in there for Jet and for Falcon. We'll also see the continued growth of Steve. This is all payout now for all the characters that we've been building up throughout the series. We've now arrived at the fireworks factory.
In in terms of cast it sounds almost like what Ed Brubaker was doing right around the time Captain America appeared to perish and the book became somewhat of an ensemble book.
I think any book kind of ends up becoming that or else the character is off on their own. In that regard there's definitely a larger cast that we've been building here. I think Jet, Falcon and Zola are the three biggest that are as of yet unresolved in terms of where they end up at. Then when you add in Maria Hill and Nick Fury, yeah, I guess it is an ensemble cast.
Cap's weakened state and the presence of two of his biggest enemies suggest that we also might see some guest star heroes in "The Tomorrow Soldier." Can you confirm that?
For sure. We're going to be seeing a lot of Avengers show up. Most of these things end up being revealed in solicitations anyway, but I've got three or four big surprises here that I'm really hoping stick. So I'm trying to dance around some things. [Laughs]
When you play the long game and you spend so many months planning out such a long story, when you finally get the point where you're getting to the fireworks factory, everything is going to blow up and you're finally going to give all the big payouts for all the arcs that you started, you really hope there's a way to maintain the integrity of the story; where the readers can hit that without having too much prior knowledge.
Artist Carlos Pacheco returns to "Captain America" for "The Tomorrow Soldier" arc. What do you feel he brings to this particular story ?
There's a gravity and weight. Not that there's any less of that with Nic Klein or John Romita, Jr., obviously, but Carlos is such an iconic Avengers artist that when you see the stuff that he's doing, the different guest stars, the threats and the action it's legitimately his best work. I always thought that would be "Avengers Forever," but I think there's stuff in here that really blows that out of the water and is a return to that stuff for him.
Plus it plays to his strengths. There are sequences in here where I've gone and tried some very experimental things with the action and Carlos just stepped up to the plate and has done such amazing work with the action, the emotions and the acting. I'm really excited for people to see his work.
Issue #23 is where the wheels come off the car officially and everything goes completely insane. Carlos has already drawn that. I think it took him like nine weeks. It's stunning! It's probably my favorite issue of the run to date. Issues #23-25 will probably all hold those spots especially since it's where we're getting to the payout of everything.
Issue #23 is Carlos at his very best. He's very excited about what we're doing and the pages really show it.
Finally, since as you hinted earlier that "Captain America" #21 ended with Steve no longer capable of being in the field the larger question now is who will wield his shield? Will we get an answer to that right away in "The Tomorrow Soldier?"
Readers will find out the answer to that question in issue #25. We're throwing some misdirects out there so people think they know who it is, but by the time you get to issue #23 you'll have a good guess of who the top three contenders are for this spot. The way we actually end up solving the problem, though, I hope is unexpected and is something that keeps people excited. For me it breathes new life into the book and is an entirely different angle that I'm incredibly excited to be writing. So hopefully people will enjoy it.
It sounds like you're setting the stage for some big things with "Captain America" #25. Is your run going to continue past that issue? Or are you going to pass the baton off to a new writer after issue #25?
I'm sticking around for awhile. I've got a bigger story here that I still want to tell. This is one of those opportunities where I'm able to do it.
I've found with "Uncanny Avengers," and "Uncanny X-Force" as well, that when I'm in the middle of my big stories I get a lot of people groaning at me on Twitter, "What's going on? This is taking forever!" Then you try to explain to them, "Hey, I'm doing character building here. In order for the payout to make you feel anything I must spend time introducing you to these people and putting them through stuff that seeds things which will grow into giant plans that you can enjoy." And I think it's finally wonderful to get to that place.
It happened in "Uncanny Avengers" around issues #14 and#15. My Twitter feed just filled up with people saying, "OH! I get it!" I'm starting to get those responses about Cap and I think it will become more and more with every issue. Now that we're here and I've got the big payout coming I definitely do not want to walk away. I want to keep playing in the sandbox for a bit.
"Captain America" #21 is on sale now; "The Tomorrow Soldier" begins in Issue #22, on sale July 2.