The blockbuster success of Captain America: Civil War confirms it: Captain America is one of the most iconic superheroes in the Marvel Universe. That’s true on the comics side as well as the movies, and this week brings the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers (covers and art below), the series that returns Steve Rogers to his youth and vigor after spending some time as a de-superpowered old man. Sam Wilson (the Falcon) had been filling in as Captain America, but it’s safe to say fans are excited to see the original character back.
Too bad Marvel decided to throw a wrench in all of that.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, out today, ends with the revelation that Steve Rogers is, and has always been, an undercover operative for the nefarious organization Hydra. Writer Nick Spencer and Marvel editor Tom Brevoort spoke with EW about the genesis of this twist, what it means for Sam Wilson, and emphasized that yes, this really is Steve Rogers.
That’s right, the most recognizable superhero in the Marvel Universe is actually a supervillain. Here goes something.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long has this been in development? What inspired you to rethink such an iconic character in this way?
BREVOORT: It made something new and unexpected out of restoring Steve to youth and vigor. Nobody was especially surprised that Steve got restored, but hopefully readers will be surprised by this revelation—and by the stories that follow on from this point.
SPENCER: Rick Remender, who was the previous writer on Captain America, had been building towards this story of Hydra having infiltrated various institutions of government and various super teams. I thought that sounded like too big of a story. I drilled it down and thought, what if there’s just one very valuable Hydra plant? What if they’re looking for 100 people, but there’s just one? So I started asking, who’s the worst person it could possibly be? It was really obvious straight away that there’s nobody who could do more damage and nobody that could be a more valuable Hydra plant than Steve Rogers. That was really the genesis. It sprang pretty organically from story ideas that were already on the table.
Issue 1 lays the groundwork for the reveal with flashbacks to Steve’s childhood and his first contact with an operative of Hydra. Does this mean it’s been this way his whole life?
BREVOORT: Well, No. 2 rolls back the clock a little bit to further illuminate where Steve’s head is at and how he got this way. And from there, the story will get larger over the course of time than you probably imagine that it can.
SPENCER: Issue 2 will lay a lot of our cards on the table in terms of what the new status quo is, but the one thing we can say unequivocally is: This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.
What does it mean for the Marvel Universe to have its most iconic superhero flip sides like this?
BREVOORT: Well, it puts the readers one step ahead of most of the characters in the Marvel Universe, so that, in Hitchcock tradition, they’re aware that the most trusted and most respected superhero within the Marvel Universe is now a wolf among the flock, who could strike at any time.
SPENCER: Captain America is not just one of the most recognizable faces in the Marvel Universe. He’s an inspiring figure, somebody who brings people together. Everybody here obviously gets that. What you hope is that this story, in its own very different way, highlights those things and only continues to elevate the character in importance, and only serves to illustrate how powerful that symbol is.
Sam Wilson is nowhere to be seen here. What can you tease about his role in this story going forward?
SPENCER: Obviously this is going to change everybody’s perception of Sam’s situation. When Steve came back to youth and full vigor, people worried about Sam’s solvency, they worried about his relevance, and I got to just sit and grin while everybody was doing that. It goes without saying that this is going to have a profound impact on Sam’s story and Sam’s life. He’s about to be put through the ringer in a way we rarely see with a character. He’s going to be challenged in fundamental ways. Sam is a huge part of what we have planned.
This issue also introduces us to a new generation of Hydra fighters, who resemble ISIS and white supremacist organizations. What were your influences there?
SPENCER: That’s exactly right. Those are the two things that are being conflated here to some extent. The Red Skull obviously has a lot of experience with fascism and Nazism and white supremacy movements. What we’re seeing here is an adoption of modern-day terror tactics. For me, those were an interesting couple of components to put together. What we see throughout the world right now is that these kinds of movements are heavily resurgent and seeing record-breaking recruitment numbers. So some of this is trying to be a little forward-thinking in picturing what the world might look like if these kinds of organizations decide to adopt these kinds of tactics.
What do you like about keeping Captain America stories topical like that?
BREVOORT: Captain America is different from all other characters in that he’s not just a guy in a colorful costume — he is literally draped in the flag of our nation. As such, there’s a certain responsibility to keep Cap’s adventures metaphorically grounded in the zeitgeist of the moment. When you fail to do that, when you start to treat him like just another random superhero, his stories inevitably lose a lot of their potency.
SPENCER: I didn’t want the Red Skull to just do a saber-rattling “Hydra’s going to crush everyone and rule the world” kind of speech, because that probably is not going to fill the basement of some truckstop bar with guys who feel like they’ve been kicked around their whole lives and feel like they’re losing their way. So I looked around in the real world at what’s driving recruitment into these kinds of groups, what in the real world is motivating the guys in that basement. The Skull has a long history of co-opting various movements, and this one is really just tailor-made for him.
What kind of relationship will Cap have with this new generation of Hydra?
SPENCER: It’s a big part of our story, what Steve’s beliefs are about what Hydra should be, where it should go, what it should focus on. To me, I always get really fascinated by this kind of thing. Any World War II history buff can talk your ear off about the internal power struggles of the Nazi Party. There were some fun parallels to play with here. There’s also a little bit of The Man in the High Castle here. It’s a difficult challenge to get people invested in Hydra characters because their ideology is so repugnant, but what The Man in the High Castle did so well was get you to pull for the lesser of the evils. You might be seeing some similar things here.
One thing I like about this storyline is it really helps separate the current comics status quo from the movies. Is that something you were thinking about when planning this?
BREVOORT: Not specifically. Honestly, while we love the films, we tend to chart our own course and not get too tangled up in where they happen to be in the curve of their own storytelling. By definition, we operate at a different pace—they produce one Captain America story every two years at maximum, whereas we’ll release a number of different stories involving Cap every single month. So we look at what we do as being the trailblazers. This gives the studio’s team a big swath of raw material to cherry-pick from when working out what next to do with the characters in their medium. Our stories of today are potentially the inspiration for the movies of tomorrow.