“I want you to know,” said John, “that you completely ruined Captain America for me.”
This was last summer at our local SF convention, Bubonicon. (Which, yes, is named after the bubonic plague. But that’s another story.) John and I belong to the same writing community here in New Mexico, so we chat from time to time. But we didn’t see this movie together, or even in the same city. Which made his complaint a bit confusing to me.
“Oh, about 20 minutes in,” he said, “my wife leaned over and said, ‘Hey! He looks like Ian!’ So all through the rest of the movie I kept picturing you up there fighting Nazis.”
Steve Stirling overheard our conversation. He joined us, nodding. “Yeah. Me, too.”
And so it became a running joke at last year’s convention. (A joke at my expense, naturally. But I refuse to carry a shield.) Fast forward 10 months to last weekend, when I shared this story with a visiting friend. Corry said, without missing a beat, “We saw it on video recently. I told my husband, ‘That’s what Ian looks like.'”
Now, if you ask me, these people are quite mad. There isn’t the slightest resemblance. But when I object, they’re always quick to clarify: No, we didn’t mean the strong, square-jawed, charismatic Captain America. We mean the early version of Steve Rogers. The pre-super-soldier-serum, pre-Vita-Ray Steve Rogers. Of course you don’t resemble the superhero, Ian. We meant the scrawny runt.
Aside from my desperate need for a solid dose of serum and Vita-Rays, I share little in common with young Rogers, much less his superheroic alter ego. I’ve never punched Hitler. Not even once. (I’m not saying I wouldn’t, but I’ve never had a chance.) I have, however, used Nazis and superpowers in my novels, which meant I was firmly embedded in the target audience for Captain America.
And Steve Rogers and I would surely agree on one thing: Nazis are a pain in the neck. For him, fighting them. For me, writing them.
I expended a fair bit of time and energy ruminating on the fictional superpowered agents of the Third Reich in Bitter Seeds (UK | ANZ). I wanted to tell myself an entertaining adventure story; something chewy and fun, like a good comic book. But I also wanted to tell a story that could be molded around the nooks and crannies of history. So I had to think carefully about the grim realities of the Third Reich, which forced me to consider carefully the portrayal of Nazis in my novel. And I did. I thought long and very hard about how to approach these books before I started.