Warning! Here there be Spoilers!
Below are my full and detailed thoughts and reviews of various graphic novels and trades that I’ve read. Reading this is a good way for you to get caught up on what’s going on in comic books today, but it also contains major spoilers for some of today’s most popular books. So don’t say I didn’t warn you that Graphic Details begins, now!
Captain America Volume 4: The Iron Nail (Marvel Now)
Writer: Remender, Rick
Artist: Alixe, Pascal/Klein, Nic
Cover Artist: Klein, Nic
Collecting CAPTAIN AMERICA (2012) #16-21.
So, this is where it ends for Steve Rogers. Not the end as in his death, but something worse. Writer Rick Remender is famous for running his protagonists through the wringer and he’s been torturing Cap for three volumes now. The pain inflicted on Cap was all fun and games while he was traipsing through the fantastical “Dimension Z”, but now that he’s is back in the 616 Remenders’ penchant for unrelenting misery is wearing a bit thin, at least with me.
In this fourth volume we find Cap on a knife’s edge since returning from the world of Zola. Having lost his love, Agent Carter, and his adopted son, Ian, in the process of freeing himself from his arch-enemy’s clutches The Captain is now wracked with guilt and self-doubt. He’s losing faith in his own ideals of right and wrong and the surrogate daughter he brought back from Dimension Z, Jet Zola, isn’t helping matters by constantly telling him how might makes right in most circumstance.
All this anguish and introspection has left the man behind the shield a distant and unfocused hero who feels unworthy to carry on the fight even as he does so almost autonomously. He perseveres out of pure heroic instincts and it’s at once compelling and repelling to this long time Cap fan.
This is a Cap who pops up every few years when a new writer comes on board and wants to shake things up. Maybe Remender feels Cap is too boring or too perfect, or maybe this is just Remender being Remender, but I’ve seen this Cap before and I’m not a fan.
Ok, enough character dissection. Let’s actually discuss the story now. In Captain America Vol. 3: Loose Nuke, a top secret SHIELD facility was destroyed. In this volume we discover that the facility housed something called The Weapon Minus Program, a project designed to counter both the Weapon-X program that spawned Wolverine, and the Super-Soldier program that created Cap. This counter agent is now loose on the world in the form of the wholly preposterous Dr. Mindbubble.
Dr. Mindbubble is a dapper gent with a spigot in his forehead that produces bubbles of altered reality that encase his victims in a prison of their greatest wishes for peace and happiness, before killing them. He’s a true weapon of peace, and I have to admit he’s a fascinating foil for Cap. Mindbubble was created by the ill-advised combination of the super-soldier serum and LSD. This concoction created a psycho 60’s super hippy whose mantra is to force peace on the world at all costs.
Mindbubble was freed by a Chinese super villain known as The Iron Nail. The two of them have a history together, but that history is not well explained. Iron Nail and his group are bent on the destruction of SHIELD as a world watchdog organization and they need Mindbubble to further that goal and to defeat Captain America.
This anti-SHIELD, anti-American Imperialism, plot feels a bit worn to me after going through many of the same conceits during Civil War, the Agents of SHIELD TV show, and the latest Captain America movie, Winter Soldier. I’ve even seen very similar plots in other sources, such as IDW’s G.I. JOE comic book. It’s getting a little old and I hope Marvel comes to grips with who and what they want SHIELD to be as soon as possible because I’m getting a little tired of them constantly building SHIELD up just to tear it down again, time after time.
Eventually Cap, Jet Black, and the Falcon move in because Dr. Mindbubble and his crew have used his, uh, mind bubbles to compromise SHIELD and take control of their… wait for it… Super Secret Ultra Death Hellicarrier. Just like the movie version of Winter Soldier.
Now, I don’t want to pile on Remender here because, honestly, he’s one of my favorite comic book writers. I loved Fear Agent, The End League, and Gigantic. I’m reading Black Science right now. I even liked the Dimension Z storyline. However… Well, I’ve dumped on this book enough so let’s move on. Let’s move on WITHOUT mentioning that the Super Secret Ultra Death Hellicarrier transforms (transforms, I said) into a giant robot. A giant robot with a giant sword. Let’s NOT mention that. Remender being Remender, folks.
The ultimate confrontation sees Cap taking down Mindbubble with a shield to the spigot, before facing off with The Iron Nail in a last ditch effort to stop the Super Secret Ultra Death Hellicarrier Robot from destroying a small country. During the battle, Cap & Iron Nail spar over America’s place in the world as global oppressor until one final shield throw saves the day but places Cap at his enemy’s mercy.
Iron Nail somehow manages to suck the Super Soldier Serum out of Cap’s bloodstream using magic tendrils coming out of his chest. Fortunately, the Falcon swoops in to finish off Iron Nail before he kills Cap, but the damage is done nonetheless. This sets the stage for yet another “Who is the next Cap” story arc which is playing out this week in Cap #25.
It’s not hard to tell that I wasn’t happy with this story arc, but as a diehard Steve Rogers fan I might not be the most unbiased judge of such things. I will say that I think Remender was going for an homage to classic Jack Kirby tales from the 70’s with both his say-what-you-mean dialogue and trippy-strange plot & characters. The art in the second half of the book, by Nic Klein, was also vaguely Kirbyesque. Maybe not in the exact lines of the art, but certainly in the action and energy of it.
Overall Score: Unhappy but resigned to the fact… sigh.