Rick Remender and John Romita Jr. Return Captain America to Pure Superheroics [Review]
For the past decade or so, it’s almost been a necessity for Captain America to serve as a kind of barometer of the national mood. He fought terrorists in the Middle East, searched for weapons of mass destruction, dealt with angry protest groups, quelled election anxieties, and even surrendered and died when a political rift between heroes grew too wide. It’s been a volatile period of American history, one in which keeping the country’s superhero symbol grounded in some level of reality seemed right.
Maybe it’s the fact that a lengthy election is finally behind us, or maybe it’s just because Marvel hit the soft reset button with Marvel NOW! and wanted to do something different. Either way, Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s new Captain America #1 isn’t a rumination of the state of American life. If it serves as a gauge of anything, it’s the status of Captain America himself, as a character. And right now, he’s a movie star.
[Warning: Spoilers after the cut]
For proof that this Captain America comic is a different sort than what we’ve seen in the recent past, look no further than the title: “Castaway in Dimension Z, Chapter One.” That title wouldn’t be amiss on a sci-fi movie or radio serial from the ’40s. How exactly Cap gets to Dimension Z would fit in one of those serials pretty well, too. Specifically, an underground train he boards goes so fast that he blasts away through time and space. No further explanation needed.
Romita, who has a wide oeuvre but is often associated with street-level characters such as Spider-Man, Daredevil and Kick-Ass, does terrific work capturing the otherworldly feel of Dimension Z and its monstrous denizens. But he also brings a shift in tone to the Earth-bound parts of the book, too. Where artists such as Michael Lark and Steve Epting made convincing efforts to depict Cap’s adventures realistically, even if he was fighting the most fantastical of supervillains like Arnim Zola, Romita’s work here is distinctly more comic booky.
That may sound like a jab, but what I mean by that is that the reality is considerably heightened. When Captain America kicks a bad guy or jumps through a window, the impact is huge. You don’t even need a sound effect. It’s all there in the art.
In what might be the cleverest trick in this number-one comic, Remender and Romita offer up regular reminders of Captain America’s origin story, particularly the movie’s interpretation of his origin, without actually rehashing it.
Cap takes the yoke of a crashing plane not just one time, but twice. (Though the second one is only sort of a plane. It’s more of a ship.) The book’s climax is a really nicely played inversion of the experiment that granted Steve Rogers his powers: He’s strapped onto an extra sciency gurney as a device extracts his super-soldiered blood rather than imbuing him with the formula. Remender makes several nods to Rogers’ continuing struggles as a man out of time — the issue takes place on his 90th birthday, which is also the 4th of July — without flashing back to World War II even once. The World War II flashback has become as much a part of Cap’s character as his shield in recent years, and as enjoyable as those were during Ed Brubaker’s run on the title, it’s fine to give them a rest for a bit.
This issue does have one flashback to Rogers’ childhood at the very beginning, and it’s a scene I unfortunately have to like this comic in spite of. It isn’t that the scene has no narrative value. By the end of the comic, it’s clear how Rogers’ memories of how his father abused his mother have an impact on the situation in which he finds himself. Even so, this is a comic book that begins with a woman being punched repeatedly by her husband until she’s bleeding heavily. Those opening few pages are the reason I hesitate to call this a fun comic.
It’s a shame, too, because the rest of the issue really is a rollicking adventure. I’ve always thought Remender had some of the best throwaway ideas in comics, and he proves it yet again with the villain in an early fight scene, the environment-obsessed Green Skull who has a weapon called the Omega Fertilizer. That is just a genius idea. And the few pages of conversation between Cap and Sharon Carter are a delight.
Just like Mark Waid did with Daredevil in that soft reset last year, Remender’s Cap retains his history as a character but isn’t weighed down by baggage. Sharon Carter was the person who shot Steve Rogers “dead,” after all. I loved that story when it was happening, but I’m just as glad to have a Captain America comic that, at least so far, is driven by a brisk forward momentum into pure superheroics.