Captain America #8
Written by Rick Remender
Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Scott Hanna
Colors by Dean White
Published by Marvel Comics
Rating: 9 (of 10)
Captain America should be dead. After three issues of being brutally battered while trying to save his adopted son Ian from the clutches of evil geneticist Arnim Zola, Steve Rogers is now an exhausted, puffy blood-bag that barely resembles the first Avenger. But fortunately for us, Cap refuses to lie down and die. He has too much @#%$ing heart to ever give up.
Captain America #8 is the intense climax of the year-long Dimension Z storyline by writer Rick Remender and artist John Romita Jr. which has transported Cap to a strange, desolate reality ruled by a Zola hell-bent on unlocking the secrets of the Super-Soldier serum in Steve’s DNA. Since the first issue of this series the creative team has crafted a science-fiction spectacle that harkens back to pulp tales of the past and 1970’s Jack Kirby. It’s a blistering epic that has delivered mammoth action sequences, but also forged a complex personal conflict between Zola and Cap, and revealed more fortitude and depth to Steve Rogers than I’ve ever seen before.
The story goes like this: Soon after Captain America arrived in Dimension Z he escaped Zola’s clutches, rescuing an infant from a laboratory in the process. Cap named him Ian and raised him as his own son with a little help from a tribe of Dimension Z natives – the Phrox – who kindly took them in. After 12 years on the run, Zola’s mutate monsters discover the Phrox and kill or enslave most of them. During the assault, Zola’s daughter Jet Black manages to abduct Ian. Since that attack, a badly injured Captain America has focused all his remaining energy on retrieving his son from the heavily fortified Zolandia, the Capital City of Dimension Z. And he’s been getting his ass kicked in nearly every panel along the way.
Over the last few issues there’s been an incredible sense of desperation and urgency emanating from Cap as he infiltrates the city and tries to rescue his son from darkness. It’s a tone you rarely see in a Captain America comic. I found myself wincing each time I read Cap’s sparse and broken narration, which often feels like a self-motivational spark to keep him going. Issue #8 only intensifies that feeling as Cap spends most of the issue waging an emotional battle with his son.
The action picks up immediately after the big cliffhanger in #7, which ended with a brainwashed Ian shooting Steve in the back. Remender doesn’t give Cap one second of rest. At the beginning of issue #8, two giant mutates cloned from Cap’s DNA immediately start pounding a barely conscious Captain America. In fact, he actually blacked out after being shot and is awoken by this new round of Cap-a-Mole. As they pile on the bruises, the mutates reveal they have memories of Steve’s mother and openly blame him for killing her. “Poor sad mother. Buried a drunken husband,” says one mutate. “Worked to the grave feeding a sickly, 98-pound parasite.”
Throughout this series, Remender has given us flashbacks that dig deep into Cap’s past, showing us how a very young Steve Rogers was shaped by the lessons he learned from his mother and grandfather in New York City during the Great Depression. Before he was the courageous 98-pound weakling ready to serve his country, Cap’s determination and sense of right was forged from events in his childhood. This scene is poignant because Ian and the Mutates (note: good band name) try to use his past as a weapon of guilt, but Steve rejects it. The values and principles Mama Rogers imparted to Steve give him strength; they give him a reason to fight. Watching Captain America hold fast to his ideals and push through all the beatings and bullet holes makes you believe that nothing short of death will stop him. This is a hero who has already been thrashed, tossed off a cliff, shot and forced to hack a Zola implant out of his chest with a machete. Plus, he’s had to wear the same outfit for 12 years!
But even after enduring all that trauma; even when he is barely able to stand, blood gushing from his hamburger face as his own son mocks him, there is not an ounce of quit in Steve Rogers. And it’s goddamn inspiring.
Remender and Romita Jr. have managed to strip Cap down and bare his American essence by placing him in a completely unique setting away from the rest of the Marvel Universe and specifically the United States. There is no place in Dimension Z for American pride, or politics or freedom speeches. Here, the only thing that matters is Cap’s enduring spirit to keep fighting for what’s right. And that spirit has never been more tested than it has in this series, as Cap continually risks his life to free his son and the Dimension Z populace from Zola’s merciless reign.
The actual fight between Cap and son is brutal and heart-wrenching. Ian beats down his old man using the skills he’s been taught as a half-dead Cap barely fights back, desperately trying to pull his son out of the wicked shroud Zola has wrapped him in. For most of the issue it seems as if Cap will not be able to save him. Then, just when the situation cannot become more dire, Ian savagely thrusts a spiked shield into Cap’s back and puts a gun to his head. With the giant, Mad Maxian shuriken embedded in his trapezius, Cap makes one last attempt to save Ian, telling him that he’ll die happily knowing his son made his own choice to be a Zola or Cap Jr.
“I… My name is… My name is Ian..,” he says finally.
And that’s when he gets shot in the neck by Cap’s S.H.I.E.LD. agent flame, Sharon Carter.
It’s one of the most unexpected and devastating moments I’ve read in comics in a long time.
The only reason this issue doesn’t get a 10 is the slight inconsistency of Romita’s art. Some of the pages are jaw-droppingly good, especially the last few. It’s almost painful to look at Cap, whose face is a complete mess by page 21, thanks to the horrible detail that Romita puts into his wounds. The emotional resonance of the final scene was also very well illustrated. But other panels in the beginning and middle of the book lack some detail and weight. I’d also swear that Cap’s shield seems to mysteriously change size from issue to issue.
But aside from these few pages of rushed art, Captain America #8 is a fantastic and shocking issue that should have a lasting impact on the character. Once Cap returns to the Marvel Universe I would not be surprised to see Remender flash back to Dimension Z, much like we saw Ed Brubaker’s espionage-fueled Cap stories continually flash to World War II. After being trapped in this nightmare realm for 12 years (which may be more time than Cap has spent in the modern world), the psychological effects of the events he experienced there will certainly test his resolve once more. But first he’ll have to stand up again, squeeze some blood out of his good eye and defeat Zola before the chest-headed bastard infects the world with his consciousness.
After reading this issue I know that won’t be a problem. Even if Cap suddenly died from his injuries I believe he’d punch an angel and come back as a badass ghost to finish the job.