Comic Book Review – Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z

Captain America Volume 1: Castaway in Dimension Z Book One (2014)
Captain America Volume 2: Castaway in Dimension Z Book Two (2014)

Written by Rick Remender
Art by John Romita, Jr.

Captain America is pulled into a pocket universe where his nemesis Arnim Zola is genetically engineering an army with plans to conquer the Earth. Cap discovers Zola has created two children, Ian and Jet and after a scuffle in the villain’s tower, Cap and Ian end up cast out into the inhospitable wilderness of Dimension. Rick Remender pens a truly epic Captain America tale that spans twelve years and puts the hero in the shoes of being a father. Flashbacks to Steve Rogers’ childhood with an alcoholic father and ailing mother are paralleled with his struggles to adhere to his beliefs in the face of seeming oblivion. He must fight to instill a sense of goodness in young Ian who was being bred as a killer by Zola, trying to prove not only that he can save this young boy but that he can also save himself.

Remender was writing this reboot of Cap alongside Uncanny Avengers, and I think this is the stronger of the two. Both series have incredibly epic scopes, but as I previously noted, Remender shines when he has a singular hero to focus on keeps the story intimate and personal. Cap is attempting to thwart an inter-dimensional invasion from an android Nazi and his mutant army, yet the public is never fully aware that this is happening. Instead, the story is framed as a father-son survival tale, and that is a brilliant move. Grant Morrison proved father-son dynamics could make for great storytelling in his Batman work by introducing Damian Wayne. Remender is doing his twist on that and examining nature versus nature in this story.

The flashbacks to Steve Rogers’ childhood are incredibly poignant and are great thematic parallels to what Rogers is going through with Ian moment by moment. We see that with how much was stacked against young Steve that he could have easily slid into delinquency and who could have blamed him. His mother provides the moral center he needs to keep moving and keep fighting. Remender’s strengths always remain, when he focuses on them, infusing humanity into larger than life characters. For all his wild and gonzo plots, it’s the struggles of his protagonists, the great tragedies that befall them and how they react, that remain with me.

This is not your standard Captain America story, as you have likely noticed, but I feel it is very much in the vein of the stories Jack Kirby liked to tell. There are body horror and cosmic weirdness aplenty, and I would like to think the King would have enjoyed those elements. Because of the non-standard setting and challenges the character of Captain America, who can often reach Superman levels of omnipotence, feels like he could genuinely die at some moments. Zola does some particularly nasty things to and with Cap’s DNA that feel perilous. Ed Brubaker had just wrapped his more cloak and dagger; espionage oriented run on the series and fans balked at this 180 turn regarding direction and style. I was never a great fan of Brubaker’s run, I found it somewhat dull and lifeless, so I was ecstatic to get such a bizarre twist on Cap.

Artwise, I feel like this is John Romita, Jr working at the top of his game. You can tell when certain artists are deeply invested in the story, and that is clear here. The color palette is relatively muted; Dimension Z is mostly reds and browns, very earthy. Even Cap’s costume is toned down after being torn to shreds and held together for over a decade in the wilderness. Romita excels in conveying the brutalization Cap experiences, bloodied and beaten and continuing to get back up. When Zola’s mutates and experiments are on display, they are utterly horrific and get across the perversity of the villain.

These first two volumes, acting as a single story arc, were a perfect kick-off to Remender’s woefully short Captain America run. They contain the ambition of his storytelling without sacrificing the human core.

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