I’ve had kind of a sticky relationship with the Ultimate Marvel version of Cap ever since he sprung into existence. Steve Rogers is so thoroughly embedded in my head as the sort of good guy who’ll take a chance trying to talk it out before he commits to fighting it out that it was difficult for me to deal with Mark Millar’s meathead Cap in The Ultimates (“Captain America doesn’t use parachutes. He says they’re for girls,” for instance). Ultimate Steve’s certainly an effective warrior, and a passionate defender of the woman he loves, but as for compassion, patience, or tolerance? There never was any of that to be seen. At least Ultimate Steve was a well-rounded character in The Ultimates, unveiling some depth you might not’ve expected over the course of the first two series, but then, in Jeph Loeb’s Ultimates 3, he suffered a dumbing-down from which he might never recover. Loeb turned him into the caricature he was about two steps away from being in Millar’s series, and when Millar came back to write Ultimate Comics Avengers, he did nothing to reverse Ultimate Cap’s descent into the bowels of superhero stereotyping. Now, Jason Aaron and Ron Garney’s first issue of Ultimate Captain America has found its way to the shelves, and unfortunately, all we’re really getting is more of the same.
Two things got me excited for this miniseries when I saw its first announcement: the return of Ron Garney’s pencil to the pages of a Captain America book, and the phrase “Vietnam-era Ultimate Cap.” While Jason Aaron’s not a writer for whom I have any particular affection, but given the way the character of Ultimate Captain America has developed, and the way in which unhinged Vietnam veterans (particularly ones who went MIA) get portrayed in popular fiction, this looked to be a concept right up his alley, given Aaron’s tendencies towards the “darker” and more “extreme” subject matter.
While Ultimate Captain America #1 opens with Steve ostensibly at the moment of his execution, most of this issue takes place in North Korea, as Ultimate Cap and a team of SAS soldiers invade a hidden laboratory where scientists are working to develop their own version of the Super-Soldier Serum, in blatant violation of a whole slew of treaties and sanctions. Their subject makes short work of a group of soldiers, before he’s taken apart by a mysterious ally of the North Koreans (though, anyone who paid the slightest amount of attention to the marketing knew exactly who the mystery man was – yet another casualty in the battle between the story and the advertising designed to draw attention to it). Ultimate Cap – as predicted by Hawkeye and Carol Danvers – goes rogue and chases after the unknown figure, leaving the British military guys to work out the acquisition and retrieval of the North Korean materials themselves. Steve’s ambushed by the man who turns out to be Frank Simpson – the Ultimate U’s Vietnam-era Captain America,” and proceeds to get beaten into unconsciousness while receiving a lecture on the true nature of America and its ultimate warrior. With his speech-making, Simpson actually comes off like a more accurate adaptation of Steve Rogers than Ultimate Steve Rogers himself.
Garney’s artwork is solid. It’s not the best of his career, by a long shot, but he’s still able to draw characters with some real weight to them, that makes it really look like he’s caught them mid-motion, and not brought them into being statue-like. When he can get a close-up filling up a panel, his furious expressions can stand up with anybody’s.
I wanted to like this issue more than I did; in gearing up for the release of the Cap film this summer, I’d hoped Marvel would bring its biggest guns to bear on some stuff into which curious new fans could leap immediately after they rush out of the theater. So far, they seem to be batting about .500 with the four or five miniseries I’ve picked up so far. Hopefully, subsequent issues can bring up that average somewhat.