In a previous episode of Murphy’s Law, Charles and I talked about our pitches for Captain America 4 on the podcast. The caveat we agreed upon was to set the story during WW2 which gave us a lot of leeway on what stories to tell. Suffice to say, both our ideas of what we wanted the next Captain America adventure to be were very different and for good reason. We talked about eventually writing up and have fans compare the two. Well, here’s mine.
1944. Leyte, Philippines.
Yes, this Cap story of mine is set in my home country. For all those unaware, the entire Philippines was ground zero for countless battles between Americans and the Axis Powers, specifically the Japanese, with my people pretty much caught in the middle. The Philippines was under Japanese occupation for 3 years and in those 3 years, the Filipinos suffered inexplicable horrors. A chunk of my life growing up was spent listening to horror stories experienced first-hand by my elders, like my grandmother. These stories were nothing short of horrifying and to be a descendant of Filipinos who suffered directly under Japanese cruelty makes this piece of fanfiction hit close to home. There are two Filipino characters here that are more or less based on my great-grandfather, who worked as a translator for the Japanese and who, according to my grandmother, had to kill a few of them to save his own ass when he overheard something that wasn’t supposed to be heard.
The story, in particular, takes place around the last months of 1944 and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, an event widely considered to be one of the turning points in the Allied Forces’ liberation of the Philippines. It doesn’t necessarily deal with the actual naval battle but has the events going on in the backdrop. Despite this being a war story, there’s a bit of a folkloric component to the premise which is a far cry from the science fiction action of Captain America: The First Avenger. Because the Philippines is a deeply animistic country and mostly made up of dense forests and rural mountains, local myths, and folklore have always been prevalent. To this day, I still hear stories of paranormal experiences involving spirits and mythical beasts, and the atrocities suffered by the Filipinos during the Japanese occupation have only amplified such stories. Plus, I thought it’d be cool for Cap to deal with larger-than-life things early on in his career.
The MCU has had more than its fair share of McGuffins and my pitch is shamelessly no different. It revolves around the fabled Yamashita treasure, alleged war loot stolen by the Japanese throughout their campaign in Asia. As the story goes, the treasure, comprised of gold and all kinds of artifacts, was rumored to be scattered and buried all throughout the Philippines and was to be shipped to Japan as soon as the war ended. Things didn’t go as planned for Japan in the history books and the treasure never made its way back. To this day, there is no clear answer as to whether the treasure actually existed. Some experts have debunked it as a myth while some treasure hunters still think it’s a real thing hidden somewhere in the country. In my pitch, the treasure plays an important part though I take a ton of liberties to tailor it to the movie.
Tonally, think of the story as an Apocalypse Now-type movie where Cap and his friends venture deep into a jungle behind enemy lines. The elements are against them, the terrain is unfamiliar, and they’re chasing their own Colonel Kurtz. Thematically, I want a story that delves into Cap’s relationship with the Howling Commandos, what the friendships were like for these people who were sent on the most dangerous missions in WW2, and what war does to people who are victims of it. Think Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.
In 1923, a blind Japanese child is awakened by visions of Japan engulfed in smoke and flame, corpses of his people turned into ash, his nation in complete ruins. In the final months of 1944, American ground troops successfully land in the province of Leyte after a grueling naval and aerial skirmish with the Imperial Japanese forces. Leading the frontlines are Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandos. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are covertly parachuted deep into the jungles of Leyte, behind enemy lines, to extract a Filipino translator working for the Japanese claiming to have crucial information that could turn the tide of war.
After a night of fighting through Japanese platoons and freeing POWs along the way, Rogers and Barnes locate the translator, Alejo, hiding under an abandoned guerilla bunker. Alejo retells the events of the past week; he and his brother, Eden, witness the massacre of a Japanese platoon committed by Tomi Shishido, a lone blind Japanese assailant with the ability to petrify, demanding the location of a rumored cache of stolen artifacts and gold. Alejo narrowly escapes capture but his brother is unsuccessful. Barnes is apprehensive to track down the assailant until Alejo shows them an emblem resembling HYDRA’s. Fearing a wide-scale operation happening in the Pacific, similar to the one in Europe under HYDRA, Rogers and Barnes decided to track down the assailant.
The following morning, the Howling Commandos arrive at Rogers and Barnes’ planned extraction point where they encounter delirious Japanese soldiers surrendering to a small Filipino guerilla unit. Jim Morita overhears the soldiers mention demons and ghosts in the surrounding valley. Rogers, Barnes, and Alejo take control of a guarded Japanese communications outpost to message the Commandos but are ambushed by three assassins with seemingly supernatural abilities. Rogers and Barnes are quickly outmatched but the fight is interrupted by the arrival of Dark Wind, who kidnaps Alejo and escapes into the night, along with his agents. The resulting commotion attracts the attention of platoons of Japanese forces, who pin down Rogers and Barnes until the Howling Commandos arrive.
Rogers and the Howling Commandos take a boat further into the island and coordinate on a plan to retrieve the two translators and prevent Shishido and Dark Wind from stealing the treasures. However, the team is split on what to do with the treasure; Duggan argues about the merits of the US gaining that amount of gold to end the war while Steve sees it as bloodied spoils of war. Upon arriving at their destination, the team splits into two.
Rogers’ team trek towards a Japanese outpost, where they find several Japanese soldiers murdered. The team overhears a commotion in a nearby armory and see a Japanese officer get impaled. Shishido emerges from an armory, dragging Eden behind him. Rogers’ team engages Shishido and rescues Eden. Shishido initially has the upper hand but yields when Rogers and Barnes overpower him. Shishido explains the existence of a clandestine transhumanistic cult among Japan’s most elite and Dark Wind’s plan to secure an ancient powerful artifact to unlock the Emperor’s latent divine abilities, based on the belief that Japan’s emperors are direct descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Shishido pleads for the Commandos to help stop him from retrieving the relic.
With Eden to help him navigate, Rogers ventures further deep into the island to locate Dark Wind’s vessel. Reaching a lake at the center of the island, they see a large amphibious landing craft surface. Rogers infiltrates the ship and rescues a brutally beaten Alejo. Just as he makes his escape, Rogers is incapacitated by Dark Wind. Dugan’s team arrives at the foot of a mountain where they find an abandoned church. They investigate and uncover an entrance to a series of catacombs leading to a large cavern. In the cavern, they uncover a massive tomb filled with gold and relics. They form a garrison surrounding the area and radio the rest of the Howling Commandos which Dark Wind hears from Rogers’ radio.
A huge firefight commences as soon as Dark Wind and his forces arrive at the church garrison. The Commandos are outnumbered despite Bucky’s team, along with Shishido, arriving to defend the garrison. Dark Wind gains the upper hand and defeats Shishido brutally in battle. The Commandos are rounded together by Dark Wind’s remaining forces but are saved by the Filipino guerilla soldiers they met earlier and a rescued Captain America. Dark Wind is killed by Shishido.
As the remaining survivors regroup, the Howling Commandos and Shishido head to the catacombs to survey the cache. On their way, Shishido tells them of the story of Hiruko, the firstborn child of the deities of creation, Izanami and Izanagi, and how the child was banished for its weakness and replaced by another named Amaterasu. He further reveals that, like Amaterasu, Hiruko had descendants. As he unearths the relic, Shishido reveals to them his intent to save Japan and his home of Hiroshima from a premonition and unleashes his power on the Commandos, leaving Rogers, Dugan, and Barnes left to fight. Rogers is almost killed by Shishido but is saved by Barnes when he uses Shishido’s own petrifying powers against him, turning Shishido into stone.
Alejo succumbs to his wounds. The Commandos decide in secret to leave the gold in the hands of the Filipinos as reparations while the relics are returned to their rightful countries by the SSR.
It’s always hard to think of an arc for Steve Rogers to go through when the man is so set in his heroic and selfless ways, especially in a period like World War 2. Ultimately, this is the story where you get to Steve, for the first time, deal with the bleakness of war and the world. Captain America: The First Avenger depicts Cap and the Commandos having a swell time as they take out HYDRA bases. They laugh and shrug at enemy soldiers dying and have a beer right after. This story has them witnessing what the war is like for people who are merely caught in the crossfire. Cap comes off this movie having a few realizations about people and the world. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve tells Nick Fury, “We compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so people could be free.” This story details that part of Rogers’ experience.
One thing that was sorely lacking in the first Cap movie was an exploration of Steve and Bucky’s friendship. When you watch Winter Soldier, it’s evident that they tried to compensate by giving us flashbacks of pre-serum Steve and Bucky spending time with each other. My story has Steve and Bucky as a duo, like it was in the Golden Age of comics, going on missions and bantering with each other. We also get to see a glimpse of who Bucky really is outside of being the Winter Soldier. You have a Bucky who hasn’t gone through the wringer, who hasn’t committed all sorts of heinous crimes, and who, by and large, is still the kid Steve grew up with.
The Howling Commandos
These guys actually get to play a big part in the story for once. We get to see Dum Dum Dugan’s leadership skills rival Captain America’s and more importantly, the nuanced dynamic the team has with one another. You’ll see that some of them get along better with others while some aren’t as close. The story explores all their personalities, what they mean to each other, and how their experiences in the war shape their friendships.
Alejo and Eden
Two Filipino brothers who set the events of the film in motion when they witness Shishido murdering the Japanese officers they work for. A lot of Filipinos were historically forced into working with the Japanese in exchange for their family’s safety. The experiences of my own great-grandfather as a Japanese translator was the primary inspiration for including these two characters. I also thought it important to view this superhero larger-than-life war story through the lenses of the people caught in the middle of it. The story takes place at the height of Cap’s WW2 tour, before he was an Avenger, before he became the legend that he is, and you get to see what a figure like Captain America was to common folk like Alejo, who are so far removed from all the crazy superhero happenings in the opposite end of Earth.
Shishido is the Colonel Kurtz of this story; a madman our heroes have to go after. Like Kurtz, Shishido is an enigmatic presence all throughout the story. His backstory is merely hinted at and much of it left unsaid. What we do know is that he is one of the Four Lotus of Dark Wind’s cult who goes rogue upon learning the existence of the treasure. We know he was born blind and his petrifying powers were given to him by Dark Wind in an experiment. We know that he is motivated by premonitions of a catastrophe befalling Japan, which we know to be the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing.
As for his origins, I’m taking a lot of liberties to fit this version of Gorgon in my story. Comic fans know Gorgon to be a mutant (and a big bad of Wolverine) but in this story, he has latent mystical abilities due to his divine heritage. Shishido is a descendant of Hiruko, the crippled firstborn god of the deities of creation, Izanami and Izanagi. Shishido seeks to use his divine heritage and power to usurp the Emperor, whom he believes to be the primary catalyst for Japan’s defeat in his visions, and have Japan win the war completely.
Akin to what Sarah Connor was in the Terminator films, he’s a bit of a sympathetic figure in that you understand his desperation to stop something as horrific as the Hiroshima bombing. Despite it not yet happening in the story, we, the audience, are fully aware of how catastrophic that event was to humankind and that real-life perspective shifts our feelings towards a character wanting to stop it, no matter the cost. The lines of morality are even more blurred when Cap and his team successfully stop Shishido from his plan, inadvertently letting nature and history take its course.
Kenji Oyama/Dark Wind
Another Wolverine villain (why does the X-Men have carte blanche on all the best Japanese Marvel characters?!) tailored to fit my story. Dark Wind in the comics is known as the father of Lady Deathstrike. In this story, he is the head of Dawn of the White Light, a clandestine cult dedicated to human enhancement whose existence is only known to the Japanese royal family. One of their goals is to unlock the Emperor’s divinity. The Emperor has mostly refrained from using the cult and its assassins to help in the war to ensure the utmost secrecy. That all changes when the whereabouts of a cache of mystical artifacts buried in the Philippines surface, prompting the Emperor to send Dark Wind and his forces to secure it before anyone else.
Dark Wind and his cult are deeply loyal to the throne of Japan. He’s a brilliant scientist and a cunning warrior in his own right. He views HYDRA as inferior to his cult and Red Skull as a foe. He has a closeness with the Four Petals, his cabal of experimented assassins, and a fondness in particular towards Shishido, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship with.