I can only speak for myself, but when Ed Brubaker finished his run on “Captain America” I was glad to see the end of it. It was a run that had started off quite strongly before steadily losing steam a little over halfway through when it seemed that the writer thought it would be more interesting to have the title character keep losing to the bad guys. Now we have Rick Remender, who has given us a defining run on “Uncanny X-Force” and a protagonist of his own who keeps losing in the depressing pulp-sci-fi epic known as “Fear Agent.” The thing is here that Remender has put Cap squarely in his own pulp-sci-fi adventure with “Castaway in Dimension Z” which would indicate that this is going to be a dour, miserabalist run where the hero keeps losing again. Much to my surprise, two wrongs do make a right here and we get a thrilling adventure that will leave you in anticipation of what happens next.
Things start off with one of Cap’s usual adventures. It involves him breaking into an out-of-control bomber which was taken over by an eco-terrorist lunatic calling himself the Green Skull. After diverting the bomber into the harbor and handing the Skull over to the authorities, Cap meets up with the love of his life, Sharon Carter, to investigate a mysteriously reopened subway line. Though he manages to get on the car traveling the line, Cap soon finds out that it was all a trap set by the robot scientist Arnim Zola and the subway is really a secret route to his alternate-universe stronghold Dimension Z. Once there, our hero is prepped to have his blood drained so that his abilities as a super-soldier can be given to Zola’s children. Not wanting to let that happen, Cap manages a daring escape into the wilds of Dimension Z with the baby boy Zola was planning to raise. Though he has spared the kid from being raised by a supervillain, now Cap has to look after the boy and himself in a most inhospitable environment.
This is all in the first issue. So if you were expecting a slow-paced contemplative read, that’s not what Remender delivers here. The first volume of “Castaway in Dimension Z” moves at a breakneck pace with new characters, situations and ideas being introduced on every page. In the second issue alone we Cap him care for the boy, who he has named Ian, explain the particular hostilities of the dimension, tangle with Zola’s mutates and a monster living under the sand and meet up with the natives, the Phrox, who aren’t too happy to see him. Decompression is the enemy here and even though Remender frankly burns through the narrative, he still gives us enough scenes to effectively showcase the bond between Cap and Ian that eventually makes their father/son dynamic credible and engaging.
It’s also enormously refreshing to see the writer deliver a version of the title character that focuses on his strengths rather than his weaknesses. Tossing Cap into this alternate dimension is certainly pretty far removed from what we’re used to seeing with this character, but it ultimately works. We get to see Cap’s resourcefulness, fighting skill, and indomitable will tested in the most savage of conditions so that when he does manage to survive and raise Ian to be a good kid, it all feels earned. Remender only errs when he tries putting too much onto the character. As if it wasn’t enough to see Cap tested in this dimension, he also has to contend with being infected with Zola’s consciousness virus which tries taking over his mind. It’s not a particularly original or compelling subplot and it’s dispatched in a ridiculous bit over-the-top bit of nastiness on the level of the time the writer had Fantomex’s face sliced off by the Skinless Man.
That’s not the only issue with this volume, as your overall enjoyment of it will likely hinge on how willing you are to go along with Remender’s pulp-sci-fi affections. To start with, if you think the title “Castaway in Dimension Z” doesn’t sound terminally silly, then you’ll likely be able to go along with the talk of spider-wolves, mutates who speak of their “kill drills,” the broken English of the Phrox, Zolas fascist Captain America clones “Captains of Zolandia,” and Zola’s mad-scientist-dictator posturing. For the most part, I was perfectly willing to accept all of these things at face value and get swept up in the story Remender was telling. That said, seeing Zola’s older daughter strip down so that her opponents could “feel the furious future premonition” of her Tachyon Fu Style exceeded even my threshold for ridiculousness.
With all of this talk of pulp-sci-fi here, it’s also worth noting that Cap’s adventures in Dimension Z are broken up with short vignettes about his life in Depression-era New York. I don’t know how extensively the character’s formative years have been covered in his comics before, but these actually came off as welcome diversions which further illuminate his strength of character. Seeing the way Remender influence his mother had on his worldview, how he dealt with bullies, and understanding that sometimes doing “anything” to survive is no way to live at all is impressive and I wouldn’t mind if he continued doing this through volume two. Even if I suspect that he’s having more fun writing the slang and vernacular of the era than anything else.
John Romita Jr., in what will be one of his last Marvel projects for the foreseeable future, provides the art and he’s a perfect match for the material. Not only is his style perfectly suited for the high-intensity pace of the narrative, he does an excellent job of making Dimension Z and its inhabitants look truly weird and alien. The man is also able to make the Depression-era scenes work as well. Overall, Romita Jr.’s work here is another example of his versatility and skill at illustrating stories with lots of action.
Though I did enjoy this first volume of “Castaway in Dimension Z” a great deal, getting to the end of it left me with an unusual feeling. Remender and Romita Jr.’s work did such a good job in getting me swept up in their story that I honestly felt that it would’ve read even better if I had waited for a collected edition which had the whole story in it. That’s what breakneck pacing done right makes you feel. Of course, if you can’t wait then the next volume will be out in August -- which I will be there for as soon as it drops.