Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

14 August 2015

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z, Book 1

Collects: Captain America v. 8 #1-5 (2013)

Released: June 2013 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $24.99 (hardcover) / ISBN: 9780785168263

What is this?: In Dimension Z, which is ruled by Arnim Zola, Captain America fights Zola’s mutates and raises Zola’s infant son.

The culprits: Writer Rick Remender and penciler John Romita Jr.

I’ve never read much by writer Rick Remender before. Unfortunately, reading Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z, Book 1, didn’t encourage me to read anything else by him.

In Castaway, Captain America is snatched away from Earth on a magic subway car and brought to Dimension Z. There, Arnim Zola, a villain who engages in genetic modification of humanoids, implants a television with Zola’s face into Captain America’s chest and steals his blood to give Zola’s kids the Super Soldier serum. Captain America escapes, of course, and as he runs, he kidnaps Zola’s infant son, whom he names Ian after his grandfather.

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z, Book 1 coverRemender tries to cram too much into this arc. The emotional component of the story is Captain America raising Ian as his son and inculcating him with Captain America’s values while remembering his own difficult youth. Meanwhile, Captain America is dealing with the television infection and effecting regime change among the locals. Remender also tries to sell Zola’s plan, which is raising superchildren of his own while dabbling in horror science, as something we should be concerned about. Remender also has the difficulty of making Dimension Z anything other than a generic otherdimensional world.

Setting the story in Dimension Z is a mistake, I think. Dimension Z is uninteresting, in and of itself, a tortured landscape that doesn’t distinguish itself from other tortured landscapes. (A few indigenous lifeforms liven up events, but they account for only a few pages.) Twelve years pass in Dimension Z, which is a bit of a cheat; it’s easy to say more than a decade passes, but little seems to change. Having Captain America fight for Dimension Z lowers the stakes considerably, since readers don’t care about it or its inhabitants or whether Zola conquers it. What happens in Dimension Z doesn’t matter to Earth, and Zola has conquered almost all of the dimension any way. Captain America isn’t going to stop the conquest or lead a revolution.

I can honestly say the first few throwaway pages, in which Captain America defeats the Green Skull, an ecological terrorist, in San Francisco, interested me far more than anything that followed it.

In an editorial that ran in place of the letter column in #1, reprinted in this volume, Remender traces the origins of his attraction to Zola. It shows; every scene with Zola raised my interest levels to detectable levels. Zola’s villainous patter, whether it’s about the qualities of revenge or his lack of bio-ethics, has a bit more verve than the platitudes about hope mumbled by Captain America amidst the hellscape that is Dimension Z.

Captain America, in an unfamiliar landscape and surrounded by unrecognizable life forms, will of course act like Captain America. He will stand up for the little guy, make the moral choices, and help against dictators. When a race of humanoids called the Phrox take him in, he incites his host into standing up to the tribe’s leader, calling him a tyrant. The tyrant kills Captain America’s host, causing Cap to pummel and exile the tyrant. Thankfully, the next eleven years pass uneventfully, because what possible complications could overthrowing a dictator-for-life cause for a community? None that I could think of.

On the other hand, Captain America lacks intelligence or foresight; he tolerates his Zola infection for more than a decade, but as a dramatic moment at the end of the book, he just cuts it out without little difficulty and no consequences. Why didn’t he do that a few issues before? He claims to Ian that the infection has been trying to take over his consciousness, but we see little evidence of this. Perhaps he just wasn’t annoyed with it enough yet. Eleven years of the thing, sure, but twelve ...? Not a moment more!

Ian fights a Captain of Zolandia.The art is provided by John Romita, Jr.. I am not a fan of Romita; his faces used to have lines in them where few human faces have lines in them. That’s not relevant here, though some of his panels are difficult to parse …

Romita is asked to draw a lot of monsters, which make up Zola’s army and the Phrox. Most of them seem like generic blocky humanoids, unremarkable enough that at times I was unable to tell which were friendly and which weren’t. Only the Captains of Zolandia, monochrome mockeries of Captain America, stand out, and they appear in only a few panels. (They stand out not only visually; the battle cry of three of the Captains is, “War!” “Injustice!” “And slavery for all!”)

The reliance on these monstrous humanoids is a problem, though. The mutates and Captains of Zolandia (modified mutates, probably) serve Zola; presumably they were warped by Zola from the genetic stock of the Phrox or a similar race. Unfortunately, both are so alien it is difficult to be truly horrified at what the mutates have become. The mutates behavior is evil, of course, but that would have happened if Zola had merely stolen Phrox children and raised them as his army. The mutates’ and Captains’ appearance don’t have the visual impact of the flashback panel in which Zola’s servant has been combined with a Doberman; the woman’s humanity gives the reader something to understand, be horrified about and empathize with. The Phrox and mutates … well, they’re both weird. Who’s to say which is weirder?

Jet Zola makes her dramatic entrance.Romita also seems to have trouble drawing children, but he’s a successful artist who has most likely seen a child. I don’t often give artists enough credit for what they are trying to do, so I have to ask myself what Romita is hoping to accomplish. Why does Ian appear to be about 5 or 7 a year after Captain America stole the infant? Probably the wastelands Ian was raised in toughened the child. In that case, though, why does Ian appear to be about 12 or 13 eleven years after that? I’m baffled. When Captain America takes Ian, his sister, Jet, seems to be 5 or fewer years old; twelve years later, she’s given a straps-and-bikini costume … She’s pretty young. Try not to sexualize her, John.

Flashback of young Steve Rogers and a young girl.Ian has a huge noggin, as do all the Depression-era children in Captain America’s flashbacks. Is Romita trying to say that despite their tiny bodies, they have to take on adult responsibilities? Unlikely, given that even the ones without obvious burdens are macrocephalic. Some sort of distorting lens of memory? But there should be more distortions if that were true. Are those giant craniums full of dreams for the future? It’s the Depression, so that’s unlikely. Are there contaminants in New York City, causing massive structural defects in its youth? That’s as likely — more likely — than anything else, but it’s not germane to the story.

The Castaway in Dimension Z storyline doesn’t end here. It’s continued in Book 2, and it’s possible that some of the things I have complained about here pay off in that book. But if Remender hadn’t tried to fit so much into Book 1, we wouldn’t have to wait.

Rating: Avengers symbol  symbol (1.5 of 5)

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