Back in 1979 or so, when I was first getting my foot in the door at Marvel, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter came to me and asked if I’d be up for doing a Captain America story, in the then-popular Treasury Edition format, that tied in to the upcoming second Captain America TV movie, starring actor Reb Brown as a version of Cap that had very little to do with the character we know and love.
Let’s be honest: it was a weird premise. But I was brand new to the business, hungry to make my mark, and there was no way I was turning this gig down. So I went off, pondered, and came up with a pretty solid story—I’m sure Shooter had significant input—writing a detailed plot that featured Cap teaming up with Brown (not with the television version of Captain America, but with the actor himself) in an adventure that involved the making of the movie and a sinister plot by the Red Skull.
Someone up the food chain thought things through and decided that crossing over with the movies wasn’t a very good idea (they were right) and the plug was pulled on the Treasury. I was disappointed—this would have been my first printed work at Marvel—but I was paid and, by doing work that pleased Shooter, the door into the House of Ideas was opened a little wider.
Time passed and, by 1981, I was a contracted freelancer at the company. Jim Salicrup, who was editing the Cap monthly at the time, asked me about the derailed Treasury edition, wondering if I could toss out the TV movie tie-in and come up with a story that would work in the ongoing title. I went back to the Treasury plot, deleted the Reb Brown-related material, did some rewriting and restructuring, and came up with the three-part story that ended up becoming my Captain America debut, in issues 261—263.
That Red Skull trilogy became a kind of audition and, as a result, I was hired on as Cap’s regular writer: the beginning of a very enjoyable three-year run, in tandem with the extraordinary art team of Mike Zeck and John Beatty and, later, British superstar Paul Neary.
Which is why I tell my writing students that, when you’re starting out, the operative answer to any job offer is a wildly-enthusiastic “Yes!” You really don’t know where an assignment—however odd or ridiculous it might seem—will lead. At the very least, the challenge will help you learn and grow. At best…well, you might find yourself chronicling the ongoing adventures of one of the greatest comic book characters of all time.
©copyright 2023 J.M. DeMatteis