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Stories I Never Told

Stories I Never Told: Startling Stories — Rogers

Around the Turn of the Millennium, Marvel experimented briefly with the idea of some slightly “off-brand” versions of certain characters under the banner (pardon the pun that will make itself clear soon) Startling Stories. The idea was, in a nutshell, to take some characters and let a very talented creative team go at them without the burdens of continuity. If the notions panned out, they could be folded into the “official” continuity. If not, well, at least we got a cool story, right?

The first of these was Startling Stories: Banner (see, here’s that pun I promised you). It was a very unvarnished look at the Hulk by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben. Slightly off-kilter, not entirely bound by continuity, but familiar enough that the differences made the story more powerful.

I came up with two Startling Stories notions of my own. The first was Startling Stories: Rogers. Yes, it was my own weird take on Captain America.

I actually have the original springboard proposal I wrote, so rather than recap the idea, I’ll just present it to you as I originally wrote it back in 2001-ish. And then I’ll be back at the end to talk a little more about it.

Steve Rogers knows all there is to know about being a Captain.

Steve Rogers is about to learn what it means…

…to be America.

STARTLING STORIES: ROGERS

In a hidden government compound in the year 2002, the men in their black, off-the-rack suits once again wake up the Captain. They bring him into the briefing room, remembering the cautions pounded into their heads:

“Do not engage in idle conversation with the Captain.”

“Never answer questions not directly related to the mission at hand.”

“Most important of all, never forget that Captain Rogers thinks that it’s 1947…”

During World War II, Steve Rogers volunteered to be injected with the Super-Soldier Serum, a chemical formula that imbued him with fantastic powers and abilities, making him a one-man army for Uncle Sam.

Do you really think they were going to let that slip away?

Hitler, the men in black tell the Captain, has new allies. He has made an agreement with forces in Colombia to import a deadly drug into the United States. He’s feeding our children poison, Captain Rogers. Something called…cocaine.

Don’t pay attention to their strange clothes and their odd weapons. They may even try to use psychological warfare by telling you bizarre lies, like Hitler is dead, or it’s already past the year 2000.

Don’t listen to them, Captain Rogers. Just do your patriotic duty. Interdict these drug smugglers and come back to base…

So begins Startling Stories: Rogers, an intense, ultra-modern take on Captain America by way of conspiracy theories and the dark side of the American Dream.

In 1945, as it became obvious that the Allies would win World War II, the U.S. government realized that with the end of the war they would also lose one of their greatest assets: the only man to survive Operation: Super-Soldier, Steve Rogers. With hostilities at an end, Rogers would be free to return to civilian life, beyond the control of the military.

So they began a grand cover-up. Rogers was placed in cryogenic freeze (“To help maintain your altered metabolism,” the doctors assured him) in a secret military installation. When needed—by Military Intelligence, by the CIA, by the NSA—Rogers would be thawed, awakened, subjected to briefings that convinced him that it was still the 1940’s…

And then sent out on covert missions against “Hitler” and the “Nazi menace,” threats that had been eliminated years ago.

“Wet works” behind the Iron Curtain. Black ops in Soviet-controlled territories. Even ultra-classified missions in the U.S. itself, infiltrating left-wing groups in the sixties and taking out militias in the nineties. The brainwashed “Captain America” has done it all through the post-War era, the ultimate Cold Warrior, still fighting World War II after all these years.

But then comes a day in the year 2002, when Rogers is sent to combat a growing narco-terrorist cell in South America. On the way, his plane hits rough weather and crashes. Leaving Steve Rogers as the sole survivor…

Loose in an America he could never begin to imagine.

With a wink and nod towards traditional continuity (his code-name of Captain America, his CIA contact named Bucky, cryogenic suspension, and more), Startling Stories: Rogers re-imagines Captain America for the twenty-first century, recasting him as an icon for a nation that is troubled, solipsistic, and deeply cynical. The question at its core: Can the values of the so-called “Greatest Generation” still be brought to bear at the Turn of the Millennium? Or is Captain America’s only function in the modern world to hold a mirror up to what has become a society of extremists and thought-terrorists?

As Rogers attempts to make sense of the new world he finds himself in—as well as the true nature of the government that lied to him—we will learn the answers to these and other questions. By the end of the mini-series, we will have delved deeply into the meaning of America, how it has changed in the years since World War II, and what place a man like Steve Rogers—and the government that spawned him—can possibly have in such a world.

We will also tease the audience with a notion that would be utterly taboo in the Marvel Universe: Is it possible that Steve Rogers (a man born in the 1920s and raised in the 1930s) is a racist?

Startling Stories: Rogers—Hold onto your flags, and get ready for the ride of two centuries.

Whew!

So, let’s get that lingering question out of the way first: Nah, of course Cap isn’t a racist! But it occurred to me that he would be completely ignorant about the progress made in terms of race since World War II. So, I thought I would play around with this and have some fun by showing him being startled and shocked by, say, an interracial couple, or blacks and whites sharing a meal at a restaurant. He wouldn’t say anything, but it would be obvious that was stunned.

His eventual guide to the 21st century (an ex-CIA operative, natch) would notice his reactions, put two and two together…and assume the old man’s a racist. He would put Cap through a crash course in recent racial history, culminating in a video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

And Cap would turn from the screen with tears streaming down his face and shock his handler (and, if I’d done my job right, the reader) by saying, “This is wonderful. I always wanted the Negroes to have equality!”

The handler would say, “Well, the sentiment is right. Let’s work on the language.”

Most interesting to me from the remove of many years is that my approach here parallels that taken with the Winter Soldier, created years after I conjured this mess. (As with Mark Waid, apparently Ed Brubaker and I are on a similar psychic wavelength.)

WiRL: “Nancy Drew’s Bra and Panties”

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Episode 36: The One about Pop Culture

Barry goes to Comic Con; Morgan does not. What happens when your personal nostalgia becomes mega-big business? Bringing babies to comic book conventions. A discussion of the awe-inspiring opening scene of season two of The Leftovers. Badass cavewomen. Barry’s billion-dollar idea.

Stories I Never Told: Bruce Wayne for President!

Bruce Wayne introduces himselfThis one is of slightly more recent vintage than the others in this series, probably the late 1990s. Influenced, I am pretty sure, by Ross Perot’s bid for President as an independent candidate.

Because, well, Ross Perot = eccentric billionaire and Bruce Wayne = eccentric billionaire, so you do the math. Seemed very obvious to Young Barry, a story ripe for exploitation.

We would open on Batman in darkness, struggling to get into his Bruce Wayne suit and tie. There’s a loud voiceover; someone is introducing someone very important.

Batman is actually sweating as he attempts to get into Bruce Wayne’s garb. Something is wrong and the voice keeps going on and on, until suddenly a curtain is pulled back as the voice says, “…introducing the President of the United State, Bruce Wayne!”

And there he is, half-in and half-out of his Batman costume, revealed to the world.

It’s a nightmare, of course. One of many he’s been having ever since a consortium of moneymen and politicians came to him a week ago, encouraging him to run for President as an independent candidate.

“You’re young, good-looking, and popular. You have a record of being tough on crime, but you’re also known as a compassionate philanthropist. You can’t lose, Bruce. Think of the good you can do.”

And he does think of the good he can do. He thinks of it every night as goes out to stop crime as the Batman. In a good night, he can prevent maybe a dozen crimes. Solve maybe three more unsolved cases. In his spare time, he can help the police, dropping ideas into their laps that will help them solve dozens more. His mere presence — his legend — is a deterrent throughout the city. But — he wonders as he crushes a thug’s jaw — is that anything compared to the power of the Presidency?

He goes to talk to Superman. For advice. Perspective.

BATMAN: Can I be honest with you, Clark?

SUPERMAN: When have you ever NOT been?

BATMAN: Sometimes you annoy me. I think of what I could do with your powers. Change the world.

SUPERMAN: That’s not my job. I’m a steward. I protect the status quo. Anything else would be interfering with human destiny on a scale I don’t like to contemplate.

BATMAN: Then how would that be different from me being President?

SUPERMAN: The difference is that the people would be giving you the power, not a yellow sun. They’d be ASKING you to change their world. And hey, Bruce?

BATMAN: Yes?

SUPERMAN: Sometimes it annoys me, too.

Ultimately, Bruce would choose not to run because he realizes it would put him under such a microscope that his identity would be revealed…and no one would vote for Batman.

But at the end, he wonders — is he just using that as an excuse? Is he so obsessed that he’s turning down a chance to change the world because he loves the feeling of righting wrongs personally, not in the abstract?

And he wonders — what does this mean about him?

A nice, simple, done-in-one character piece. I liked it then, and in all honesty, I still like it now.

I seem to have a dim memory of one of the Bat-books feinting in this direction some time in the 2000s, but that’s the closest DC has ever come to plucking this one out of my brain. Interestingly, a few years after I came up with this, though, they did have Lex Luthor run for President…and win!

Stories I Never Told: The Time I Read Mark Waid’s Mind

SPOILER ALERT for “The Return of Barry Allen”

Last time, I said that there were some startling coincidences related to some of the Stories I Never Told. I’ve decided to spend this week focusing on two of them, both of which happen to relate directly to one of my favorite comic book writers, Mark Waid.

A little background, for those of you who don’t know: Waid started in comics in the ’80s as an editor, but didn’t really hit his stride until the ’90s, when he became the main writer on Flash. When he first took on the writing chores, no one really took note — Flash wasn’t a book most people were paying attention to, and Waid was pretty much unknown. In short order, though, he made the book his own and did some truly astounding things with it, sending his reputation into the stratosphere and cementing his bonafides as a truly talented comic book writer.

I’ve always loved the Flash. In the early eighties, Barry Allen (the Flash of my childhood) was forced into a situation where he had to kill his nemesis, the time-traveling Reverse-Flash, in order to save an innocent life. A trial for manslaughter ensued, there was much drama, and in the end, Barry ended up sacrificing himself to save the universe.

So that ended well. [Read more…]

Stories I Never Told: Future Justice

One weird element that keeps coming up as I look through my old files is that many of the ideas, notions, and “bits” that I developed actually ended up happening “for real” in later comics! Maybe it’s a weird coincidence or psychic thievery or maybe it’s just that — given time — sufficient permutations of comic book stuff will result in any possibility coming true.

Last week, for example, I mentioned my plan to use an obscure character called The Wrath…and years later The Wrath was, indeed, resurrected. Similarly, there are some strange coincidences between this week’s entry and what eventually happened in the actual comics. I’ll point them out when we get there, and will also point out such coincidences going forward. Because why not?

This particular Story I Never Told is similar to the last one in a couple of ways. For one thing, it’s of relatively early vintage — probably 1990 or 1991, making me a college freshman or sophomore. For another, it involves an alternate version of the Justice League.

Future Justice logo

Future Justice was a mini-series idea that would have been set some time in the 26th century, a period of DC’s future history that — as best I could tell — hadn’t been explored.1 It was a pretty simple story, really. [Read more…]



  1. The Legion was in in the 30th century and Reverse-Flash came from the 25th.