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This is the ninety-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous ninety-three. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: J. M. DeMatteis planned to kill Captain America during his run on the title.
Reader Garrie Burr asked me this one just last week, which was quite topical considering the death of Captain America in last week’s Captain America #25. Burr asked:
I cannot recall where I saw this, but I remember that the end of DeMatteis’ long run on Captain America was supposed to wind up with Steve Rogers dead and a new character taking up the Red-White-and-Blue. An urban legend?
I posed the question to the man himself, J.M. DeMatteis, and he offered me this extremely interesting story:
It’s true. My last year on the book was one long ongoing saga involving Captain America’s final battle with the Red Skull. It was to reach a turning point with a double-sized CAP #300 in which the Red Skull dies and Cap, after (at the time) forty-plus years of solving problems with his fists, begins to wonder if there’s another way to live his ideals and change the world. In the proposal I presented to my editor, the late, great Mark Gruenwald, Cap was, ultimately, going to disavow violence as a tool for change-essentially rejecting the entire superhero mindset-and start working for world peace. (Keep in mind that this was at the height of the Reagan “evil empire”/cold war period, so it was a pretty radical idea for its day.)
My plan was to have the world turn against Cap, his own country rejecting him as un-America, other world leaders shunning him: The only allies he was going to find in his quest for global change would be the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom. This was the period when Jack Monroe-aka Nomad, the Bucky of the 50’s-was Cap’s partner…and Jack, with his cold war mentality, would be manipulated by Cap’s enemies. In the climax, as Cap speaks at a rally of his few remaining supporters, Nomad (perched on a roof across the way) assassinates him. Only then, with Cap dead, would the world realize what they had. In tribute to Cap, all nations of the world would lay down their weapons for one hour. One hour of peace on Earth.
The plan was then to find Cap’s replacement. I toyed with the idea of Sam Wilson, the Falcon, becoming the new Cap
…but (as I recall-and, let’s face it, it’s been a while) I finally settled on Black Crow, a Native American character I’d used in the book, as the new Captain America.
Who better to represent America than one of the first Americans?
Gruenwald approved all this, I wrote the double-sized Cap #300, went ahead and plotted the next two or three stories in the arc; but editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, hearing what we were planning, shot the idea down. Jim said, essentially, that my idea violated Cap’s character, that Steve Rogers would never act like that.
Cap #300 was then cut down to a normal-sized issue and substantially rewritten, I think by Jim himself-or perhaps Gruenwald under Jim’s direction. (Which is why I used a fake name in the credits and quit the book.) At the time I was angry but, in retrospect, I totally understand Shooter’s POV. Jim-a brilliant editor and a guy who really helped me along in the early days of my career-was the custodian of the Marvel Universe: he had to protect the characters as he understood them. As noted, my idea was extremely radical for its day: I mean-Captain American involved in political controversy and then assassinated? How could anything like that every happen?
Just goes to show you how times change.
Pretty darn interesting story, yes?
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