It started as a way for Steve to vent what had really happened. The comics back home wrote his story out as some patriotic thing to boost morale of the folks back home, and eventually they became a serial that sold out like hotcakes to the youngsters and soldiers alike. Captain America the comic was given to soldiers in care packages and parcels sent from back home. Everyone loved them; all but the real Captain America that is. Steve had come up with the costume for the stage and some group of comic book artist approached him after the show to get permission to create a comic of him for the kids. Steve loved the idea, until he saw it, that is.
You see, Steve was in art school, when the war broke out, and had aspirations of becoming some big shot illustrator. So when he saw the actual comic itself presented to him by young kids clamoring for his autograph, he was taken back at how brightly colored it was. Pastels and bright colors shocked his eyes. Then Steve got a good look at the comic itself. Though nicely drawn and well put together, but it was campy and cheesy to the point of ridiculousness. The lot was silly and over patriotic, and the more Steve read them the more he regretted letting the artist and writers make it. There was also the fact that the Steve Rogers in the comic looked nothing like him; now that just ground Steve’s nerves to the point of irritation. As time went on, Steve learned to hate those comics. Sure, he signed them, when the little kids pushed them under his nose for an autograph, but he did it with clenched teeth and a fake USO smile.
There wasn’t much he could do about the comic though, and simply left it alone. Then the comic’s publisher got wind of Steve having a team and the jokingly proclaimed sidekick. So when Steve saw the next issue of Captain America, and it proudly proclaimed “Captain America and his Howling Commandoes, with his young partner Bucky,” he was shocked to silence. Bucky on the other hand was fuming.
“They turned me into a little kid!” he screeched indignantly, clutching the comic with a look of horror and humiliated disgust. He threw the comic down on his bunk and howled his indignation. “I am a sergeant in the US Army, not some snot nosed mascot! I’m a sniper, a soldier, and they put me in little red tights!” Muffled snickers and snorts erupted throughout the room, but were instantly quashed under Bucky’s cold glare; promising death to all those that dared to laugh at his expense. Steve had no such reservations and began howling with laughter. Bucky turned his furious face on Steve and the Captain laughed all the harder. “You… you… TRATOR!” he yelled, and launched himself at Steve.
The two fell back in a wrestling match that Steve wasn’t even putting any effort in. Bucky landed a blow to Steve’s shoulder before the Captain pinned him underneath his body.
“You gotta admit, Buck,” he laughed with a bright smile, “it’s kinda funny.” Bucky huffed and glared up at his friend. “It is!”
“Gee golly wilikers, Cap,” Dugan mimicked as a young kid with a high falsetto and broke into snickers at the end. It set the whole group back off again into peels of helpless laughter. Bucky’s glare twitched and he tried to suppress a smile.
“I hate you,” he groused, and Steve giggled.
“Oh, Come on Bucky,” he snickered, “it is kinda funny.” Bucky groaned in humiliation.
“Why me?” he bemoaned. “Why did they need ‘Bucky’ to be a little kid?”
“It gives kid appeal to the readers, and your name of choice is Bucky,” Steve explained. “Could you imagine Dugan being typed as some little kid?” Bucky choked on a strangled note of hysterical laughter.
“You think that’s bad,” Steven grumbled, “I’m not in this; not even a mention!”
“It could be worse, Bucky,” Steve said once his giggles subsided.
“How?” Bucky asked with an incredulous snort. Steve shrugged his shoulders and gave it a bit of thought.
“They could have gotten everything wrong about you,” he said with a smile and then wrinkled his nose up with distain. “Like with me; not even a thing is right!” Bucky shoved Steve off his chest and rolled over onto his belly to look at his friend, who was looking at the new comic with a particular kind of distain he reserved for bullies.
“Everything was wrong!” Steve grumbled, “I mean I get that they had to classify a lot of it, but my back story; now that just smarts. There’s not even a peep about you and I growing up together, or about my dad and mom. Hell, they even turned me into a jerk.” He looked over at Bucky and smirked. “That’s your job, not mine.” Bucky narrowed his eyes and smacked Steve with the back of his hand into his stomach. “Oof! Ow!”
“Punk,” Bucky grumbled over at him with a glare. Steve grinned and rubbed his stomach. Suddenly Bucky was struck with an idea and brightened. “Why don’t you write it?” he said off handedly and rolled over onto his back to look Steve in the eye. “You could do the artwork too. I’ve seen your work. It’s a lot better than those mooks too. You could do up a whole comic book novel, paint it up and everything, and send it off to the comic publishers; see if they want to publish an unclassified version of Steve Rogers’ autobiography.” Steve looked thoughtful and hummed over it before he brightened with a smile.
“Maybe I will,” Steve mused, and stood up. Bucky’s eyebrows arched up on his brow as Steve grabbed his brand new sketchbook he bought from a shop in Italy, and started to draw. The commandoes looked at each other and dropped the matter for weeks.
They had all but forgotten Steve’s offhanded statement, until Steve dropped the sketchbook onto Bucky’s lap during lunch. Bucky had half a fork stuck in his mouth as he looked down at the book in his lap, and then back up at Steve; who was already eating his meal.
“Steve,” he asked around the mouthful of food, “what’s this?” Steve swallowed his mouthful of mashed potatoes and smiled at his friend.
“It’s my comic book novel,” he answered proudly.
Bucky raised a curious eyebrow and put down his fork, swallowing his food, before picking up the book. He inspected the cover off the sketchbook, and after finding it as plain as before, opened the cover. When he looked inside, his jaw dropped open. The cover art was beautiful, and tasteful, like some movie poster from the early moving picture years. It had a swing towards the twenties Nuevo illustration, and it looked like something that he would want to pick up, just to see what was inside of it. It wasn’t just the style that had him gaping; the quality of the work was exponentially more refined and skilled than anything Steve had ever attempted before.
“Wow!” he said as he thumbed through it and caught snippets of things from the factory and some of their battles after. “Steve, this is amazing! You didn’t say that your art skills had improved too. It looks like you’ve had a whole year’s worth of classes and practice.” Steve blushed and shrugged at the question.
“I could see better,” he said simply as he took a drink, “and I have a better spatial awareness; at least that’s what Howard says.” A whistle from behind them drew their attention.
“Man, Cap,” Dugan said, “you really are good!” Steve blushed as the rest of the commandoes clamored behind Bucky to look through the drawings and water colored work.
Steve knew that doing the book in color would be hard, so he came up with a technique that was similar to the poster style of the movies but was minimal in the shading; so that it replicated the comic book style art. He let the ink crosshatching create the shadows and gradients while the colors only varied a little in shade. The style was so unique that it became the standard for Comic books and later the Graphic Novels. It was simplistic and beautiful.
“What are you gonna title it?” Bucky asked.
“Captain America and the Howling Commandoes,” he said. Bucky nodded with a pensive look on his face as he contemplated the title.
“It’s not bad,” he finally conceded. He turned a page and saw Steven dressed in his typical uniform of a red wool jacket identical to Bucky’s, but aged slightly younger; more like a young adult on the cusp of man hood. “Steve, what’s this?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. Steve blushed.
“Kid appeal,” he managed to say with a straight face and went back to his lunch. Steven peered at the drawing of him and looked out the corner of his eye at Steve with skepticism.
“’Little Buck’?” Steven asked, and went on to read the narration bubble on the Character. “‘Captured at Azzano with Bucky Barnes and the rest of the 107th, Steven ‘Little Buck’ Buchanan was a civilian caught up in the war. After Captain America’s daring rescue, Little Buck joined the Commandoes as an officer to become their best advanced scout, next to Barnes himself. Little Buck’s powers of the mind have proven time and again that he is an integral part of the Howling Commandoes, and a valued Ally to Captain America.’ You were really laying it on thick, eh, Steve?” Steve blushed at his description of Steven’s “official” file.
“I want ‘em to know how important he is,” Steve said. “He’s not just some sidekick; he’s one of the most important members of the team.” Steven smiled and looked at the very action pose he was drawn in, as he used his powers.
“I like the domino mask,” he said. Steve beamed with pride.
“You gonna send it off to that publisher, Steve?” Bucky asked as he thumbed through the last pages. Steve shrugged and finished off his lunch.
“Maybe,” he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin. “The comic book publisher wants a reply about the next issue we previewed. I might send it with my letter.” Bucky handed Steve his sketchbook back and gave him an honest look.
“You should,” he urged.
Steve sent the sketchbook off with the comic and his letter about how he felt about the next Captain America serial issues. Steve was honestly expecting for it to be written off and the paintings just left in some desk drawer. What he was not expecting, was the publisher to write back waxing poetic about how beautiful the art work was, and bemoaning the fact that he didn’t know Steve was an artist. Steve gaped at the letter and couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that they liked his artwork. Not only did the like it they wanted his permission to publish the whole thing in a five part serial issue for the folks back home.
They also, per his request, render the work in painstaking detail for a special single issue novel on glossy thick paper. They bound it just as he asked on paper back, with the cover art he had drawn for the whole piece, and sent the original back with the twelve copies he requested. They sat in the packaging next to him, all shiny and new with the sketchbook beside them, while Steve re-read the letter’s request.
Not only did they want to create the five part serial out of it, they wanted him to create the covers and backs for each issue. Steve felt vindicated as an artist for the first time in his life, and was more than glad to have them publish it. He had only one stipulation: he wanted full credit, and billing as the writer and artist. He wrote down his reply before putting the telegram and the sketchbook back in his footlocker. He picked up the package of books and went to find his friends.
He found them all lounging in the control room as they looked over the “HYDRA map”, as they’d dubbed it, planning their next attack.
“Hey guys,” Steve said and dropped the box on the table with a loud thump. The Commandoes all sat up straighter and took notice of the large package. Stark looked at it curiously and smirked at Steve.
“What’s in the box, pal?” he asked and Steve smirked back. Steve opened the box and dug out one of the books. He sat it on the flat table and opened the cover. Taking a nice pen off the table, Steve signed the inside first page.
‘To Howard: keep dreaming, and don’t lose sight of your goals. Yours always; Captain Steve Rogers,’ he signed and handed the book over to the inventor. Howard handled the book with reverent care. He looked over the inscription and smiled then saw the little foot note Steve added. ‘PS: let your kid read this before the other ones; I want it to know the real me first.’ Stark snorted and blinked away the wetness in his eyes.
“Thanks, Steve,” he said.
“Hey,” Steve said, “it’s the least I can do.” Steve picked up another from the stack and signed it; this time to Falsworth. Steve signed all but two of the books in the stack and handed them out to their new owners. Philips grumbled about getting a glorified comic book, but Steve knew that the grouchy old Colonel had a few younger nephews back in the States that would love to read it. Even Peggy got a copy, with a blush from Steve; it’s message intimate and very private.
Only two remained unsigned until Steve could get back into a more private room. Once there, Steve simply signed one as ‘Property of Steven G. Rogers’ and the other one was signed simply and personally.
‘Thanks for the chance, Doc. It saved a lot of lives. I only hope I can be the man you saw in me: not a perfect Soldier, but a good man,’ it said and Steve signed his name in the most careful signature of his life, and dedicated it to Dr. Erskine. This one was sent back to be buried next to the man in Queens. This copy later found itself next to Steve’s copy in the Smithsonian, in Steve’s exhibit; cover open, with the intimate and grateful message displayed for all the world to see. ~**~
The Comic gained worldwide fame as the only one of the Captain America comics to be written and illustrated by the Captain himself. “Captain America and the Howling Commandoes:” Scripted and Illustrated by Captain Steven G. Rogers - Captain America gained a backing that not even Steve could have imagined. Issues sold out the moment stands got their hands on them, book stores couldn’t keep the little comics on the shelves. Fans realized the value of such and unprecedented comic, and started collecting the comics. The biggest fans even went so far as to have them bound together in hardcover with a dust jacket illustrated to look like the originals that the comics were made after. And just as Steve promised, he did the front and back of each issue; keeping the originals once they were sent back.
The art work for the comic version of his novel was the same but the color quality was different; because they traced the artwork and recolored it to make it easier to print. Though subpar in color quality, none could deny Steve’s skill as an artist. His illustrations and dynamic action scenes jumped off the page, making them popular with kids for their action and drama. Steve’s rendering of Steven’s powers as a bluish glow to his eyes erasing the pupils in their light, and a golden glow around his hands, sparking with electricity, awed the kids that read them; and, inadvertently, Steve had planted the seed that Mutants weren’t just freaks and monsters and could be the good guys. That they could be the protectors of all they held dear.
Steve had been planning a second volume of the story when Bucky fell. That copy went unfinished in his footlocker, taking its place next to his daily doodles and personal sketches. ~*~
The Commandoes and the SSR command kept their copies of the book as treasured relics of Steve’s existence. Bucky’s and Steven’s copies were still in their footlockers when they were sent home to the Barnes family. Philips kept his copy in the family for his grandkids to read and faun over long after his death. Peggy kept her copy in her desk right next to Steve’s photo, to remind her that he was real. The Commandoes gave their copies to their children to enjoy and read. ~*~
Only Howard’s copy never saw the light of day after Steve crashed the plane. It remained hidden in a safe next to his medical files on Steve, in his office at his New York mansion. It stayed hidden for almost thirty years before Howard took it out again. Tony was sitting in his office looking bored and playing with his erector set, and Howard had just had a huge argument with Maria. Stark opened the safe to put away some new project he was working on for SHIELD, when his eye caught on the book’s cover. The inventor went silent, as with shaking hands he removed the book from the safe and brought it into the light. The colors were still vivid and bright, just as beautiful as the day Steve signed it, and Howard opened the cover to the very first page. The signature was still dark and clear, as if it were freshly signed. Tears built up in the inventor’s eyes as he remembered the man, when his fingers traced over the loops and whirls of the man’s signature.
Tony looked up from his erector set, when he heard a sniff from his father. Howard had a look of melancholy on his face and tears in his eyes, as he read Steve’s message over and over with a soft smile.
“Daddy,” Tony asked gently, and Howard looked away from the page to his son’s nervous face. Howard looked every bit the broken man he was in that moment, his grief undimmed by alcohol and time. “Are you okay?” Howard smiled softly and wiped away the fallen tear on his cheek.
“Yeah,” he said softly, “yeah, Tony, I’m alright.” With a pensive look, he strode over to the couch and sat down. He patted the seat next to him and smiled at his only son. “Come here, Tony. I wanna show you somethin’.” Tony scrambled up onto the tall couch and settled into the crook of Howard’s arm. Howard wrapped his arm around Tony’s shoulder and pulled him close. Tony smiled up at his father and looked down at the book in his lap.
“What that?” he asked.
“This… is something I should have showed you a long time ago, Tony,” Howard said with a soft smile. “My good friend, Steve Rogers wrote this book a long time ago, and he made me promise that I would show it to my kid someday; before he saw the other comics first. I haven’t exactly kept that promise but that is something I aim to fix.” Tony brightened at the name Steve Rogers and scooted closer to look at the book. Howard smiled at the enthusiasm and opened it to the first page.
“You knew Captain America, Dad,” Tony asked when he saw the signature and the personal message. Howard laughed with bittersweet tears in his eyes.
“Sure did,” he croaked, “best man I ever knew, and he made this book, did all the drawing’s and wrote it out himself. He wanted to be sure they got his story right.” Tony grinned and Howard turned to the first page of artwork, once again marveling at Steve’s skill and gift with a pencil and pen. “Captain America and the Howling Commandoes, by Captain Steven G. Rogers – Captain America,” Howard started and began reading the story to his son. For once, Steve was a thing that brought them closer together, and Howard realized that he made a huge mistake in his life. He hoped it was not too late to fix it. Howard could almost swear he felt Steve’s warm presence beside him as he read to his son.