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Comicscape: Captain America Marvel Now!
Red, white and bruised
By Joel Rickenbach
July 05, 2013
Welcome to Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week we celebrate the 4th of July, Captain America style!
Last Year's Fourth of July Comicscape dealt with the MIA Captain America: White, a book that had the potential to be the crowning jewel of the Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale "color" books for Marvel. Sadly, the book still hasn't seen the light of day, and most likely never will. However, Captain America has arguably had his greatest run in the ensuing years, thanks to writer Ed Brubaker. Brubaker took the star-spangled Avenger to every conceivable place given his history and nature, even to death and back. It's a tough run to follow, but incoming writer, Rick Remender was given the perfect opportunity to take Captain America someplace completely different, thanks to the Marvel Now! refocusing, and that's exactly what he's done.
Our story opens with Captain America plummeting to earth trying to stop a group of bio-terrorists from crashing a plane into New York, replete with a bio-chemical warhead. The lunatic flying the plane calls himself the Green Skull, but that's not important, this is just the hook to keep us reading, and it works. The real story is it's Steve Rodgers' 90th birthday, and his girlfriend, former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and current Avenger, Sharon Carter, just proposed to him. Of course, this is off-putting to Steve, not only did she propose to him, but the only commitment he's ever really had has been to his country. As a romantic gesture, Sharon takes Steve to an old abandoned subway line that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been monitoring. The line hasn't been active for almost 90 years, and no one knows it's purpose, and who better to check it out than the man who's as old as the line itself? Steve hops on the train, having all sorts of doubts about marriage, but his problems are about to get a lot worse. The train speeds up, mechanical handcuffs appear out of nowhere, the other passengers transform in to grotesque monsters, and Steve is injected with something before he passes out. He wakes up strapped to a chair, a baby is floating in a vat next to him, and a giant needle is extracting blood from his chest. It only takes a moment to reveal who is behind all this- Arnim Zola, the man who's consciousness lives in a monitor on his chest, and an armature with an eyeball where his head should be. As is tradition, Steve breaks free of his restraints, takes out a few guards, and jumps through a window to escape. He finds some sort of jet bike on the street below, and puts the pedal to the metal. The problem is the landscape is wholly unfamiliar, in fact, it looks down right alien. Steve takes the jet bike as far as it will go before it sputters out on a desolate plain. Our Captain is stranded on a strange and dangerous world, and to make matters worse, he rescued that poor baby during the scuffle, and now he has to protect the child too.
That's just the first issue, things get much more interesting and daring from there. The second issue picks up a year later, and we see Steve and the young boy surviving in a harsh world, they encounter a race known as the Phrox, and eventually get accepted by them, but not before we learn that Steve has an even bigger problem on his hands- when he was held captive by Zola, he was injected by one of the mad scientist's techno-viruses, and now Steve has a Zola AI in his chest, just like Zola himself. Issue #4 sees us fast forward Eleven years, Steve and the boy, Ian, are living and surviving with the Phrox. Steve considers Ian as his son, and has little hope or desire to try to get back to Earth, he's accepted this as his life. There are plenty more twists and turns to discover, which I will leave for the reader, but the thrust of the story becomes a struggle for the boy, Ian. He is Zola's son, and his sister, Jet, is hell bent on getting Ian back, once she and Zola discover Captain America is still alive.
When this book first hit I only read the first two issues, then I lagged behind, but now that I've taken the time to catch up, I am really glad I did. This is something completely different for Captain America, and it's exactly what the character needed. Not because his normal world was getting stale, but Brubaker's run was so all-encompassing that the character definitely needed a change of pace once that story was done. Stranding Steve Rodgers on an alien world trying to protect a child definitely fits the bill, but Remender doesn't shy away from fleshing out the back story of our hero either. There are many flashbacks to Steve Rodgers when he was a boy in New York City in the 20's. We get a feel for who his parents were, his imperfect and alcoholic father who was good at heart, but crushed by the world around him, and his stalwart but sick mother, who gave everything she had for her son. We also get a glimpse of Arnim Zola, before he was bound to his machine body, and was a creepy Swiss aristocrat, secretly conducting horrible experiments in his lab beneath his family's ancestral castle. These scenes play out well in contrast with the twisted world Captain America is currently stuck in. Most of the flashbacks give us a taste at the events that made Steve the man he is, and it can feel a bit contrived, but it actually ends up working, because he is applying these ideals to his surrogate son, Ian. Steve has had sidekicks in the past, but this time it's different. Ian may not be his son by blood, but Steve has raised him all these years, and lived his life as a father, which is another new and interesting wrinkle to the character. The ideas and ideals of Captain America are writ large as the story progresses, many of them are challenged, and he is given every opportunity to drop them and save himself. I bet you can guess which path he chooses.
I'm a huge, life-long fan of John Romita Jr.'s art, and he's generally doing a fantastic job this book. There's a rush job here and there, but the fact that he has been the consistent artist on this book for this story's entire run is admirable and refreshing. In an age where it seems every story arc has at least one fill-in issue, or shared art duties, or even fill-in pages, Romita Jr.'s constant presence is a boon for this book. If I had to level one complaint about the book, it would be Remender's penchant for torturing his characters to within an inch of their lives. Captain America is on death's door almost every other page, and it begins to get tiring. The idea of always getting back up after you've been knocked down is a hallmark of the character, and particularly of this arc, but even with that in mind, it still is a bit much, and really wears on the reader. Captain America literally eviscerates himself at one point, but continues to fight off more powerful foes issues later. His internal monologue of trying to stay alive and keep soldiering on almost makes me feel like I'm dying. It probably would have worked better to slowly build the pain, until we get to the moment where he truly can't take it anymore, that would have more impact in my book.
If you're looking for something different in your patriotic comic book reading this 4th of July , I can recommend this current Captain America arc. It's a story that has the full commitment of its writer and artists; eight issues in and things have escalated to the point where I can't wait for the next issue. Fans of Greg Pak's Planet Hulk will also find a lot to like here, as there are many echoes from that story. Who knows, maybe Marvel's heroes need to get stranded on an alien world every now and again to find their mojo. I'm game, as long as they continue to tell good stories.