Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Captain America 5, originally released March 20th, 2013.
Patrick: There’s a part in the first Metal Gear Solid game where you have to fight a bad guy called Psycho Mantis. Fans of the series will remember this fight fondly for a couple of reasons — the character “reads your mind” and talks trash about the way you’ve been playing the game. Reportedly he will also make comments about the other games you have saved on your memory card. It’s goofy, but it certainly is weird and fun. At one point in the fight, Mantis is reading your mind to determine your motions, and it’s impossible to land a blow. The solution is that you have to plug the controller into the second controller port — that way he can’t read your mind. No, that doesn’t make sense — it’s a rule the game establishes right then and there for this single-time use. It’s not fair, it’s not fun, and you either know to do it (and you win) or you don’t know to do it (and you lose). Captain America’s latest adventures have a little too much in common with this Psycho Mantis fight, and I’m kinda just waiting for him to plug the controller into the Player Two slot.
Captain America and son/not-son Ian are in the clear! They’ve boarded a speeder bike and were zipping off to a portal that would take them home. Well, it’d take Cap home: Ian technically belongs in Dimension Z. It’s Ian’s ambivalence toward their Escape Plan that forces Captain America to jump to the aid of the Phrox village they had been living in for the last 11 years. Zola pulls out all the stops, deploying not only his Hulked-Out-Anti-Captain-Americas, but his prophetically quick daughter Jet to take out Cap & Son. Our heroes hold their ground for a while (with little Ian pulling his weight), even going so far as to disable Jet, but sparing her life. But Zola’s ace-in-the-hole is an EVEN BIGGER robot body (or something… I’m not totally sure I know what he did here).
Anyway, the bad guys kick the shit out of Captain America and leave him to be killed in the wilderness — just assuming everything went to plan. This whole time, the Zola-virus has been making and honest play to control Steve’s body, and Captain America, with nothing left to lose, performs an auto-torso-ectomy, and vows to get his son back.
My tone throughout that summary dips into that dismissive asshole voice I use when I recap stupid stories — Shelby can tell you that I do a great sarcastic recap of the movie 2012. Rick Remender’s Captain America is nowhere near this level of train wreck, but some of the developments strain narrative credibility. I know we’re talking about a man that’s spent 12 years surviving in the wastes of an alternate dimension, so “reality” becomes a flexible concept, but when Steve Rogers can cut a chunk of flesh out of his chest (and live to tell the tale), you gotta wonder what the hell’s going on. Throughout the issue, Cap is pummeled, his ribs are broken, his spine is swollen — the only thing that slows him down is Zola throwing a punch. It’s like a video game: as you play, you can get shot and stabbed and blown up tons and tons of times, but the second a bad guy points a gun at you in a cut-scene, you surrender. It’s odd to complain about a comic book feeling too scripted, but that’s precisely my complaint. Injuries don’t matter until they do, and then they seemingly don’t matter again when they don’t.
The emotional hook of this issue is a little bit unsettling — and perhaps that’s why I’m reacting negatively to it. Captain America comes to the realization that — while he can sorta rationalize his actions — he did kidnap a child that wasn’t his and raised it as his own. Dimension Z might have been a terrible place to grow up, but it was certainly worse growing up in the wastelands than in his father’s safe city walls. For all the shit he’s been through, Steve Rogers has also made a mess of his time in Dimension Z. What’s more is that he’s shaped Ian in this same image — in this environment, it means that the kid kills first and asks questions later. Check out the startling efficiency with he punches Jet in the throat.
Also, come on: what happened to her predictive movement powers?
The moral ambiguity of Steve’s lost decade kind of make me wonder what exactly our takeaway is supposed to be. I want so badly to be able to ascribe some meta meaning to the apparent Hari Kari that finally sets our hero free, but I just don’t know enough about Captain America’s publishing history to make such an argument. Remender almost seems to be encouraging my history-less reading: there’s a panel where he makes Rogers say of Ian in danger:
The boy has such heart. I won’t fail him. Trained to be a warrior, but he is still a child — a child in danger because of me. Bucky, Nomad, all the young men I’ve lead into battle — the fear’s not the same. Ian is my son, the urge to defend him drives me with a fury unlike anything I’ve ever known.
I don’t have any kind of attachment to those characters, but I do know who Bucky is. It’s a slight to that character and his fans that Steve automatically cares more about this child with a 4-issue history. Mostly, it’s just lazy storytelling: it’s like Remender realized that he hadn’t actually built up the relationship between father and son that he thought he had and just decided to tell us that he had. “See guys, Cap says Ian’s important to him so it must be true!”
I’m reminded of Damian Wayne. Both he and Ian are about the same age, and both of their fathers have trained the children to be badass action heroes — and both also have villains as a second parental figure. The huge difference between them is that Grant Morrison actually put in almost a decade worth of work to bring that relationship to life. That may be an impossible standard to set, but there’s got to be a middle ground that will make me care about Ian, instead of just telling me to care about him.
I don’t know, Drew, much of my goodwill from that initial “One Year Later” is starting to fade. Is there something I’m missing here?
Drew: Oh, I don’t think so. We’re generally so willing to go with whatever nonsense action movies throw at us (heroes can survive any kind of explosion, bad guys couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn, etc.), even when it changes for the convenience of storytelling. What usually pulls me out is when the rules are entirely made up only to be entirely broken — a phenomenon that is almost exclusively relegated to science fiction. The Matrix is a great example of this: if you die in the matrix, you die in real life, except for when it happens to Neo…or Trinity. It’s super cheap to expect the breaking of rules to have any impact when the rules only exist because you said so in the first place.
As Patrick pointed out, those arbitrary rules are out in full force in this issue, which mucks with our sense of what is and isn’t possible — enough to render the whole issue kind of bland. Without an anchor for expectations, the issue ends up being little more than a series of pictures, a story that only makes sense when you can put it together after the fact. Any David Lynch fan can tell you that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the narrative is further obscured by some bizarre details.
Any guesses as to what the hell a doughboy is? Me neither, but the context really doesn’t help. It’s a giant thing in the sky? Is it flying, or is it anchored somewhere? Why were the Bizarro Caps deployed via doughboy after the attack began? Why introduce an insane, obtuse concept that only appears for an instant when they could have just been there the whole time?
Remender really went for broke on the emotional through-line of Jet in this issue, which would have been a fine point if it wasn’t so predictable. Let me guess — she’s going to be so moved by Cap’s mercy that she’ll start to see that Zola’s kind of a ruthless killing machine? That would probably be easier to swallow if she hadn’t just been perfectly fine with committing genocide against the entire Phrox population.
I’m with you, Patrick, in being ready for this arc to be over, but I’m still holding out hope for this series as a whole. I really enjoyed the Earth stuff from issue 1, and I’d love to see more Cap being Cap. I can appreciate why chipping away at the Captain America mythos was an intriguing idea, but so much reality was thrown out with it that I’m longing for a return to Earth. I’m not sure where that leaves Ian, but with a likely newly sympathetic sister, maybe he’s finally found where he belongs. Now it’s time for Steve to do the same.
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?