Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Captain America 4, originally released February 20th, 2013.
Shelby: I’m a big fan of juxtaposition of conflicting styles. Heavy metal guitar paired with female vocals? Yes please, Nightwish! Ice cream with sweet chocolate and salty peanuts and pretzel bites? I’ve got two pints of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby in my freezer right now. The old adage may be that “opposites attract,” but I prefer to think of it as “opposites compliment.” That is definitely the rule of Rick Remender’s take on Captain America, as straight-laced Cap is paired with sci-fi weirdness and the problems of being a dad are compounded by having your nemesis implanted in your chest, talking to you all day and all night. And yes, if you were wondering, I did have to get up and get one of those pints of Chubby Hubby out of the freezer.
If you were shocked when issue 2 took place a year after issue 1, I hope you were sitting down when you saw this:
What the what! Cap has been stuck in Zolandia for eleven years? Not only is Ian now a sassy tween, Steve has managed to keep his Zolavision issue a secret; a task which grows harder each day as Zola rummages through Steve’s memories and continuously attacks his mind. That’s all about to come to an end, though; Steve is awaken from dreams of doing the right thing as a child to Zola talking to Ian, telling him his “father” is actually his kidnapper. Oops: turns out Steve was also keeping Ian’s real father’s identity a secret. But it’s all going to be ok; Steve finally found a map of Zolandia, and he and Ian are gonna make a break for it. Except that Ian’s sister, Jet Black (now an angsty teen), has just figured out that Steve is still alive. At Zola’s prompting, she plans to release the special, Captain
America Zolandia brand mutates her father has been working on.
For a monthly, serialized story, eleven years between installments is a bold step. With that simple introduction, Remender has drastically raised the stakes of this story. Suddenly the full scope of what has happened to Cap is enormous; he didn’t just rescue a baby from a lab, he has raised a child. Not just a child, his child; Steve thinks of Ian as his own son. Eleven years has changed the relationship from “this is a baby, I am responsible for him” to “this is my child, I will teach him the ways of my strangely specific weapon.”
I love this panel for a couple reasons. First off, I’m gonna be a sucker for any father/son moments these two have, there’s no two ways about it. Also, just look at it, it’s gorgeous! I don’t know how to split up the credit between John Romita, Jr.’s pencils, Klaus Janson on inking, and Dean White and Lee Loughridge on color art, so I’m just going to say everyone has done tremendous work on this title. If you’ll allow me a brief tangent: I volunteer at a used bookstore on the weekends, and we recently got a huge donation of old sci-fi/fantasy pulp magazines from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, and I got to spend time inventorying them. It was basically a book-nerd’s dream come true. Anyway, the art in this book reminds me a lot of a contemporary take on those old pulp covers: the colors and textures and absurd fantasy of the environment executed in a way that feels current.
Really, this whole title feels like it borrows a lot from that super old-school, pulp science fiction; the setting and situation is over-the-top, ridiculous fantasy that’s grounded by Captain America. His strict morality, soldier’s training, and mental strength is the rock the rest of this story flows around. It’s why I like this book as much as I do. If it were just pulp science fiction, I’d like it, but in a dumb fun kind of way. If it were just Captain America, I think I’d probably get a little bored of it; Cap is fine and all, but on his own he’s a little too straight-edge for my liking. What about you, Drew? Are you getting the same old school sci-fi vibe I am? Is that a strength of the title, or is it too weird for you to get on board?Drew: It’s funny, I associate those old-school sci-fi stories you’re talking about with camp (not necessarily bad) and lazy storytelling (necessarily bad). Now, I don’t mean to paint old-school sci-fi with the same brush (and rest assured, I know this happens plenty with modern sic-fi, as well), but I often get the impression when seeing old episodes of Lost in Space or whatever that the sci-fi elements are entirely incidental, amounting to little more than a gimmick to appeal to hard-up nerds. Like that episode of Arthur where he sets a story on planet Shmelefan just to make his story more interesting (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, apparently there’s an Arthur Wiki to help you out). I’m not entirely sure what the distinction is between “colorful world-building,” and “shameless tone-deaf pandering” — it may largely come down to a matter of taste — but this is veering a bit too close to the latter for comfort. It feels like the Flash Gordon movie, but without the sense of humor.
It’s interesting that you didn’t mention the flashback sequence at all, Shelby, since it’s a very different kind of comic from the action going on in Zorlandia. Largely, it luxuriates in the kind of decompressed storytelling that the present-day action is so actively avoiding. Again, this is clearly a matter of taste, but I much prefer the more relaxed nature of the flashbacks, where there’s a little more time to explore the complexities of the situations. The flashback is a relatively simple morality play, as young Steve steals to help his ailing mother, but then returns to the victimized storekeep to do the right thing.
Remender is at no loss for this type of philosophical storytelling — in fact, the Zorlandia story may suffer from too many of these moments. Take for example, Ian’s discovery about his real father. Learning that your father is, in fact, the infamous despot who has made every day of your life a living hell would be a hard enough pill to swallow, but imagine also learning that he’s also currently growing out of your adoptive father’s torso.
As a situation, it’s, as they say, FUBAR, but this is literally all the time we spend thinking about it. Sure, Ian is upset that Steve never told him the truth, but nobody ever again mentions that ZOLA IS GROWING OUT OF STEVE’S CHEST. Yes, yes, Zola consciousness virus, whatever — the point is: the situation is much weirder than your average secret adoption story, or even a story where someone’s father turns out to be the person they hate the most (which I’m almost certain I’ve seen in a comic before…oh, right: WATCHMEN).
Remender seems to toss these ideas aside as soon as he comes up with them, which — while impressive — leaves many of them under-explored. That leaves us a lot of blank space to fill in, which can be effective when done well. I don’t want to begrudge Remender his “ELEVEN YEARS LATER” title cards — I can appreciate that that time must play out more-or-less how I imagine it did — but I do wish he would give us a little more of the moments he is showing us.
In the end, I’m just not as fond of the way these pieces fit together as you are, Shelby. I can appreciate why you like the sci-fi elements of this series, but I’m too fond of the flashbacks to much enjoy the time away from them. I’m definitely pumped that Steve might be getting back to New York soon, but for clearly very different reasons than you are.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?