What do you do when you’re trapped in strenuous circumstances with no foreseeable way out? What if the life you once knew and loved was seized from you—your job, your friends, your home—and every day was a struggle to make it to the end of the day and this went on for years and years, for a decade even?
Surely, many would fall into despair. But Captain America isn’t most people, and Captain America, Vol. 2: Castaway in Dimension Z takes the famously upright hero and pushes him to the limits of his patience, endurance and personal convictions.
This volume (issues #6-10) continues the arc begun in Volume 1 (issues #1-5, 2012) in which the mad scientist Arnim Zola (who also made an appearance in the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier) entraps Cap in a bizarre dimension populated by odd races of beings roughly divided between a genetically engineered race called the Mutates ruled by Zola and the Phrox who live in fear under his tyranny.
Yanked suddenly from his beloved home world, country and fiance with only the uniform on his back, this arc is like a Captain American version of the Tom Hanks Castaway, except that he’s stranded on a much more hostile environment and instead of only a volleyball as a companion he comes to care for a humanoid child whom he ends up adopting as his own son. This is a great setup as it allows, first of all, for us to see the wonderful father that Steve Rogers, with his near spotless idealism, was always capable of being but was simply too busy to be. And it also allows for some very moving interactions and character development as Cap learns to accept what he’s lost, adapts to his new life and, being ever the pragmatic optimist, tries his best to enjoy what he can of this new life with his son even amidst the daily struggle for survival in a brutal environment.
If Vol. 1 was about Cap just trying to survive and adapt, Vol. 2 is about him trying to find and defeat Zola and retrieve his abducted son. And if you thought Vol. 1 pushed him to the limits of his endurance and strength, wait ‘till you see what writer Rick Remender and penciler John Romita Jr. put him through here. He takes such brutal beatings that I even started to get a bit skeptical at one point if he could really survive all that, even with his minor healing abilities.
Regardless, if you’re a fan, Captain America, Vol. 2, like the volume before it, encapsulates everything about this iconic hero that you love: resilience under adversity, uncompromising integrity, and unflinching courage. It’s not that he’s a perfect human who never falters; it’s that he never stops trying. If you’re not a fan, this book along with Vol. 1, if you haven’t read it already, may very well make you one. This is among the best of any Cap story arc I’ve read and it reveals the character’s beautiful, inspiring nature in intimate ways that a team-oriented title like the Avengers just can’t.
There were a couple of aspects of the arc’s conclusion here that I found to be a bit contrived (otherwise I’d give it 5 stars) but nothing unforgiveable, and Rick Remender’s affection and understanding of the character come through lovingly. And while normally I’m not a huge fan of John Romita, Jr.’s style, in this case I found myself really enjoying it. I thought about why this might be and recalled 2006’s The Eternals, another instance in which I enjoyed his art despite not usually being big on it. Well, both this Dimension Z storyline and The Eternals involve a lot of otherworldly settings and creatures. My conclusion is that space and alternate worlds and dimensions are imaginative milieus in which Romita’s squarish drawing style somehow seems to work just fine for me whereas at other times it doesn’t quite.
If you’re a parent, I implore you to buy Captain America, Vol. 2: Castaway in Dimension Z (along with Vol. 1) and give it to your kids. Raise them on Captain America because there are enough young people out there already who aspire to be like Tony Stark (rich and powerful) or Wolverine (badass) but not enough who aspire to be like Captain America who is not rich or powerful or badass. He’s just a good man, no matter what, even when being good comes at great personal expense.
After all these years, and hopefully ever and always, Captain America still stands for what he always has, which here in this volume is best summed up by his adopted son’s own words:
“Always protect the weak, always stand up, never give up hope…and never compromise the good inside you for anything.”