The Shield, like all of Dark Circle’s upcoming comics line, is a reboot — of sorts. The first Shield debuted in Pep Comics #1 jn January of 1940, only months before Captain America’s debut in December of that year. The character was the first patriotic superhero but many followed: Captain America and Minute Man in the United States, Johnny Canuck and Brock Windsor in Canada, and Captain Britain in the UK. Few of those characters lasted long after the end of the war that inspired their creation. The Canadian heroes were victims of foreign market pressure (American comics once again entering the Canadian market), while others were axed in light of readers’ changing tastes. Others transformed into very different characters. Wonder Woman kept on adventuring in Man’s World, but stopped punching Nazis.
In American comics publishing, the 1950s were the era of the Western, and by the end of the decade, when superheroes came back in fashion it was science heroes who ruled the day. Like Captain America, the Shield attempted a comeback in the 50s, but unlike Captain America’s it didn’t stick. The only patriotic superhero with an unbroken publishing history is Wonder Woman — even Captain America, now the archetypal patriotic hero, was out of print for over ten years.
The Shield has been rebooted a few times now, by MLJ Comics and DC Comics’ old Red Circle imprint, but unlike Captain America, every new Shield book has featured a new character behind the mask. The heroic character “the Shield” has a long publishing history, and its various iterations have loads of story to them, but there’s no one way to do a Shield comic — which makes it ripe for the kind of reboot that Dark Circle will be publishing in 2015. To wit, once again we have a new Shield with a new backstory, contemporaneity, and mission. But what’s different about this reboot, is how Dark Circle is trying to fundamentally transform the old MLJ properties, rather than just revive them.
I spoke to the writers of the new series, Chuck Wendig and Adam Christopher, both novelists, about transitioning to comics and trying to debut a new patriotic hero in 2015.
How did this gig come about and what was the hook for you? What makes the Shield appealing from a creative perspective?
Chucker Wendig: Alex Segura at Archie has been a friend of ours for a while and he’s a novelist, too—and we’d been kind of talking about jumping into comics for a while, and apparently he caught that vibe and asked us to pitch for The Shield. And really, that’s the hook—the chance to take a character from comics history, a character who really sets the template for the ‘patriotic soldier hero’—and reshape that character for the year 2014. The bonus appeal was that our first pitch was met by Alex saying to go bigger, go bolder—that’s the sign of someone you want to work with.
Adam Christopher: It was definitely one of those things where all the pieces just fell into place. Chuck and I wanted to write comics—in fact, we’ve been working on a couple of things for a while now. We knew Alex, and when he moved from DC Comics to Archie, he made the call. And as Chuck says, they made us a really remarkable offer—take this Golden Age character (remember, the Shield pre-dates Captain America) and reinvent them completely, creating a new, modern superhero with a new history yet one that is actually woven into the 70-year continuity of the original. We had the freedom—and the permission—to do whatever we liked. That kind of project doesn’t come along very often at all.
You’re both best-selling novelists. What kind of challenges did writing in a less familiar medium present? For example, was the move from novels to serialized fiction difficult? Going from prose writing to scripting?
CW: Bestselling novelists! You’re too kind.
MP: Bestselling in my heart. Which is the only place that matters.
CW: For me, it’s not too difficult in that comics writing seems like a very nice mix of forms—it’s like the prose of a novel and the screenwriting of film/TV had a baby. It’s very visual, and isn’t really the final product that readers will see—but at the same time it still possess some of the internal dimensions that novel writing affords writers and readers. Film and television are visual, too, but tend to keep the audience at arm’s length—comics opens the door, lets the reader into the character more.
AC: I’ve always felt that comics were in my blood—while I’m a relative newcomer to the medium (a handful of childhood memories aside, my first proper foray into comics didn’t come until I was about 22), there is something about them that flicks a certain switch in my brain. Switching from prose to scripting is certainly a challenge but both Chuck and I have experience with these different forms. It’s also immensely satisfying—we are the co-writers but together we’re only half the team, and knowing that our superstar artist David Williams is going to take our words and craft something different again is part of the magic of working in comics. Every day is a new surprise.
You’re friends and now collaborators. How do you balance the work and how do you keep from killing each other? (And so successfully that you’ve hinted there are more comics projects on the way!)
CW: This is very awkward, because I actually murdered Adam about six months ago, and now I’m just traveling around with him, Weekend at Bernie’s-style. Now, I’ll let Adam—sorry, “Adam”—answer that question more completely:
AC: Well, that explains a few things. Like why I keep waking up in different hotel rooms and why I can’t feel my legs.
But working together is… fun! It’s as simple as that. It’s also very rewarding, creatively, because we are two very different writers. If you look at our novels, they occupy completely different parts of the SFF spectrum, not just in terms of style and voice but story. So when it comes to collaborating it’s really exciting because the other writer will come up with an idea, or make an edit, that is totally unlike anything the other person could have come up with. I think this is a kind of synergy, a sort of “greater than the sum of the parts” thing, because the finished product is something that neither of us could have written alone. It’s probably harder if your collaborator was closer in style and concept.
Our working rules are actually pretty simple—if either of us don’t like or don’t want something, it doesn’t go in. That doesn’t mean we don’t argue our case for things if we really feel stronger about something, but it goes back to the fact that we are different writers. If one of us comes up with something the other is not sure of, after we kick it around a little it usually transforms into something else anyway, something that neither of us could have done individually. That’s true collaboration.
This Shield is apparently a reincarnated legacy hero, a “daughter of the revolution,” while the original Shield was, well, a dude with superpowers. Is she specifically the reincarnation of a previous iteration of the Shield? One of many people who’ve worn the costume and tapped into the spirit of the Shield? (Shades of Jenny Sparks?) What’s her deal, guys?
CW: I’ll merely crib a line from our own script here:
“I’m the Shield. I’ve always been the Shield.”
She is, to us, the original Shield. In terms of metaplot and in our hearts.
Also: very important to note that word: revolution. Because that’s when our Shield comes from—not from World War II, but really, from the American Revolution.
AC: Ha, I love this question because I love our answer. Chuck’s said it. She is The Shield. She has always been The Shield.
But… that’s not to say Joe Higgins doesn’t exist. Far from it…
I’ve seen the book described as a superhero actioner with an espionage twist. Should we expect high adventure or something darker? Is it more super or more spy?
CW: We’re not running away from the ‘super’ part. I think we’re trying for equal parts superhero, spy, and soldier. The thing about her is, really, she’s really not a spy. She starts off as a saboteur in the Revolution but over time is more a soldier. The espionage component comes into play when she discovers a conspiracy at work in the present day.
AC: Exactly. She wears a costume and a mask. She can punch through armor plate. Make no mistake, she is a superhero in the truest sense of the word and first chance we get she’ll punching a giant robot in the face. Very, very hard.
As Chuck says, while there is going to be plenty of action, there’s also more to her than that. She’s in a difficult position and has been returned in a difficult time. She’s also up against a foe she can’t just have a big smack down with.
There will be adventure. There will be excitement and really wild things. There will also be intrigue and drama and mystery.
The Shield is a reboot of one of American comics first patriotic superheroes — reimagined as a woman. Marvel writers have kept their flag-themed hero relevant by complicating his relationship with America, sometimes using him to question social and political trends. Why does America need (or not need) a new patriotic superhero in 2014?
CW: Times are strange here in ‘MERICA. Politically, socially, economically. Very divergent. Class, race, gender, guns, religion, it feels very polarized, very tumultuous, and a lot of that comes from the American identity. So we have a character here who is figuratively and literally born of the American identity, so what does that mean for her? Where do her allegiances lie? To the nation? To the government of that nation? Or to the people of this country and their ideals?
There have a number of critical patriotic heroes in recent years (America Chavez, Isaiah Bradley, Kevin Keller, and even Kate Kane and Carol Danvers if you want to stretch). They’ve reflected many of America’s contemporary and historical problems, while modelling a new way of being American heroes. What cultural trends does the Shield tap into, critique, or affirm?
CW: For me, America is often its own worst enemy. And that’s a theme I think we’re going to run with a little bit.
AC: What does it mean to wear the flag of a country on your uniform? Not just the stars and stripes, but the flag of any country? And, as Chuck says, if you are irrevocably the product of a single moment in time and then time moves on, what does that mean for the things you once stood for? One thing is for sure, the Shield is back at a strange and difficult time and a time that is very, very different to 1776.