Ultimate Captain America #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Ron Garney
Colors: Jason Keith
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Garney/Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (variant)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 us
I see from the indicia that Marvel seems to have dropped the word “Comics” from its Ultimate titles, an odd change they made a year ago that did little to reinvigorate the brand. The focus needs to be on the storytelling, of course, and with writer Jason Aaron and artist Ron Garney working on this comic book, that was enough to get me to pay attention (and to overcome my aversion to Marvel’s four-dollar, limited-series titles). I’m surprised that it’s taken a decade for Marvel to give the Ultimate incarnation of Cap his own book (even if it’s only for a four-issue run), given the more political and edgy tone that some corners of the Ultimate Universe has boasted over the years. This is an accessible story, apparently devoid of any firm link to continuity. This could be taking place at any point in the Ultimate Cap’s modern adventures, so new readers will be able to appreciate this book even if they’re unfamiliar with the character’s history in The Ultimates or other comics. It’s too early to tell if this will be a standout story or simple a standard super-hero yarn, but the opening scene really grabbed my attention.
Captain America joins a UN black-ops squad on a mission to North Korea because S.H.I.E.L.D. has learned that it’s undertaken its own Super-Soldier program in violation of international law. Shortly after the infiltration of the North Korean facility, the good guys find out they have a much bigger problem on their hands. The man who supplied the North Koreans with the formula is one of the most dangerous people who’s ever lived, a man who disappeared decades ago. And the masked man quickly proves he’s more than capable of kicking anyone’s ass… including the formidable Captain America.
Ron Garney is no stranger to Captain America. It was from working with writer Mark Waid on Captain America in the 1990s that many super-hero genre fans came to be familiar with his work. At time, Garney employed a dynamic but loose style that really brought Cap’s action-oriented adventures to life. More recently, he did a solid run on Amazing Spider-Man, again, in that loose but attractive style. His work on this project, however, is different, and I’m not surprised. The Ultimate incarnation of this character has generally been rendered in a detailed, realistic style (thanks to artist Bryan Hitch’s work on the first two volumes of The Ultimates). While Garney’s usual style is still apparent here, there’s definitely a sharper eye paid to detail here. There are a couple of panels in the opening scene, for example, that remind me of the clean linework of Steve Dillon, and the iconic image Garney provides for the regular-edition cover is reminiscent of the work of Carlos Pacheco (whose most recent projects are also Ultimate Marvel titles). I’m also pleased to see that the Mike Zeck influence on his style is still evident.
The notion that the U.S. government would develop a new Super-Soldier for each new war in which it became involved isn’t exactly a new idea, but Aaron certainly handles it well here. Aaron has proven that he has a deep and poignant understanding of the Vietnam War with The Other Side, published under DC’s Vertigo imprint. My expectation is that he can offer some interesting commentary on two wars, the Second World War and The Vietnam War, but those comments and possible comparisons aren’t to be found here (which is understandable — this issue just sets the stage for the conflict).
One element of the story — and this is a minor point, given that we’re talking about a super-hero story here — is the fact that Captain America, a trained soldier, ignores the need for covert action during a secret mission. The script itself acknowledges this disconnect from logic. I get that leaving Cap’s costume out of the first issue of his new limited series might not be the best marketing tool and detracts from the visual punch readers expect from such comics, but when the characters are forced to point out a flaw in the story, it’s something that really ought to have been addressed.
Fortunately, any minor misstep in the plot or the potential for a generic (though bombastic) super-hero story was easy for me to ignore. I was still impressed with the opening scene, in which one character is stunned and dumbfounded by another’s faith. The title character utters a prayer in the face of certain death, and the antagonist’s cynicism and disbelief in the face of that small action is telling. Aaron establish the divide between these two similar characters immediately, even before we know what the conflict is about. This brief scene about one man’s faith may be the writer’s first comment about two different eras of America. I found it to be an interesting example of captivating characterization. 7/10
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