Review: Ultimate Captain America #2

Published on February 14th, 2011

One of the complaints directed at some of the few surviving Golden Age characters is their lack of modern grittiness/realism and over abundanceof bubbly exuberance.  One such case is Steve Rogers, Captain America, but thanks to the Ultimate Marvel Universe, we get to see a much harder edged Cap than we’re used to.

Ultimate Captain America is written by Jason Aaron with art by Ron Garney.  It is the first solo series that Captain America has had in the Ultimate Marvel Universe since its creation in 2000/2001.  Ultimate Captain America #1 showed Cap going up against a mysterious man that was aiding North Korean in creating a modern super soldier.  After Captain America gets the holy hell beaten out of him by the mystery man, he reveals himself to be Frank Simpson, known as Nuke in the normal Marvel Universe.  Colonel Carol Danvers refers to Simpson as the Captain America of the Vietnam War.

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Ultimate Captain America #2 opens with Rogers waking up in a S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital in Paris, France after the savage beating that Simpson delivered to him.  Colonel Danvers explains that the United States government augmented Simpson in the Vietnam era, but since Cap had been missing for years and Professor Erskine (the creator of the Super Soldier Serum) took the secrets of the serum to his grave, they had to start from scratch.  Simpson had to endure many painful operations in order to make up for the new serum’s lack of potency.  These procedures pushed Simpson’s mind to the breaking point and serving in Vietnam pushed him far over the edge.  Simpson eventually walked off the battlefield one day and eventually returned, but on the side of the Viet Cong.  After the war, Simpson disappeared until he showed up and pummeled Cap in Ultimate Captain America #1.

Colonel Danvers goes on to tell Cap that he’s being pulled from duty so that Nick Fury’s black ops team can go after Simpson.  After a few moments, Steve realizes that she’s hinting that they have no clue where Simpson is and she needs Cap to go rogue in order to draw Simpson out.  Unfortunately for Danvers, she needs plausible deniability, so Cap ends up punching her in the face (upon her request to make it look, “Pretty real.”), grabs his gear and jumps out of the window to track down Simpson.

Steve’s hunt takes him to Cambodia where he learns of a secret village in the jungle full of soldiers where no one comes back alive.  Simpson had managed to use his own blood to create a super soldier serum and was enhancing the people of this village.  When Cap finds the village, he finds no soldiers, just old people, women and children.  Assuming that Simpson and the super soldiers are away, Cap asks an old man about Simpson’s whereabouts.  The old man tells his tale of fighting the U.S. when he was young and how he has grown to pity the country and its flag since then.  When Cap attempts to walk away, the old man grabs him by the arm and bitch slaps Steve to the ground.  Cap is then thrown through the air by a little, old lady and mercilessly pummeled by a group of children.  As it turns out, the whole village of women, children and the elderly had been the subjects of Simpson’s serum.  Simpson then clears the crowd with a machine gun aimed at Cap’s head and takes Cap prisoner.

Aaron’s Ultimate Captain America story is really interesting.  It’s cool to see Captain America, who has always been a symbol of the best America could be, dealing with some of the darker chapters in the nation’s history.  Once Cap gets to Cambodia, the story feels very reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, especially the village of followers that Simpson has created.

Garney’s art is tailor made for this story arc.  He makes it just gritty enough to convey the dark emotions at its core, but his art still feels suitably realistic.  In many ways, Ultimate Captain America is more of a war comic than a superhero book and Garney seems fully aware of that.

If you’re looking for a great read that requires very little back-story, then Ultimate Captain America is definitely the book for you.  Since they’re only up to issue #2, you should have to trouble tracking down issue #1 to get yourself caught up.

Ian Candish
Ian@ComicImpact.com