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Ultimate Comics: Captain America

By Julio Angel Ortiz on 12 September 2011

The first thing I thought of when finishing up ‘Ultimate Comics: Captain America’ was that it is a story distinctly shaped by the politics and sentiment of a post-9/11 America.

It is in turns both cynical and angry, with not-so-subtle condemnations of Bush-era policies and previous foreign policy missteps in American history. The story reflects the general cynical mood of Americans with their government, and writer Jason Aaron doesn’t hold back in using the Ultimate version Captain America as a sounding board for these frustrations.

The result is a grim and gritty tale of a previously unknown Vietnam-era version of Captain America that has since gone rogue, and his conflict with the classic, ‘true’ incarnation of the character.

The story is gritty and dark, which serves the material well, but the real flaw is in Aaron’s characterization of Steve Rogers. The opening sequence – where a covert ops mission to sabotage a North Korean Super-Soldier experiment – highlights everything I found wrong with the character in this story.

Whereas Mark Millar gave Steve Rogers a fish-out-of-water charm in his ‘Ultimates’ series, making Rogers a form of commentary on modern day society’s flaws and excesses through Roger’s antiquated but quaint 1940’s frame of reference, the version here is all bravado and machismo, as if Steve Rogers was fused with Dirty Harry.

It’s supposed to be a covert ops mission, right? So why is Rogers firing away, taking out North Koreans in full uniform? And his response is the testosterone-laden ‘I spent fifty years frozen in ice, pal. I’m done hiding.’ What? Is he going to be scraping his knuckles as he moves from scene to scene now?

It doesn’t stop there. When he needs to knock out Carol Danvers in order to make his escape, he doesn’t bat an eyelash. Rogers refers to the food in Cambodia as smelling like a cesspool. He scoffs at being in Paris (and please, writers, can we retire the enmity at France joke? It’s tired and close-minded). In short, the Rogers we see in this mini-series is a throwback, a Neanderthal in a Captain America outfit that does not jive with other, superior interpretations of the character.

Frank Simpson, the Vietnam-era Captain America, is another problem. Let’s put aside the idea of the government attempting to foster another Captain America replacement has not only already been done (told to better effect in ‘Ultimate Comics Avengers: Next Generation’) and that they apparently did not learn their lesson in that debacle (again, see the aforementioned story), Simpson is just a very one-note character. He exists as a cipher for the writer to espouse all of the rhetoric I outlined above.

Strip away Simpson’s criticism of what America has become, and there is very little that we know or care about in him. That is not to say that his criticisms are invalid (I don’t feel that, for the most, they are) or effective (the scene with Simpson waterboarding Captain America is chilling and blunt), but while reading through these scenes I feel there was a subtlety missing that makes it feel like I’m being hit on the head with ‘Here’s what’s been wrong with America!’. In trying hard (and Aaron does) to convey that message, he loses the story, which is a shame.

Ron Garney’s artwork fits the source material. Garney’s artwork is muddy in spots, heavy on the grit, and is a great compliment to Aaron’s script.

‘Ultimate Comics: Captain America’ is a mixed-bag. It definitely has action, some humor, and doesn’t hold back on its agenda. It’s probably a story that needed to have been told, but bends Rogers characterization to serve it, and that’s where it fails. Gone is the likable, strong character and in its place is a 2-D macho tough guy. Hopefully, if they do another Ultimate Captain America series, he’ll be better served there.

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By Julio Angel Ortiz

Julio Angel Ortiz maintains his collection of curiosities at You can also Like him on Facebook as well and check out his latest writing projects.