Captain America #22

"Captain America" #22 has everything a reader could want -- except Captain America. The issue from the collaborative efforts of writer Rick Remender, artist Carlos Pacheco with inker Mariano Taibo, colorists Dean White and Lee Loughridge and letterer Joe Caramagna may not contain the super-soldier slinging his shield, but that doesn't keep Remender from giving readers a great issue that impacts the life of Steve Rogers.

Following his battle with the Iron Nail, Steve Rogers is in no condition to fight any battles. The super-soldier serum has been sucked from his body and his spirit is broken from the actions S.H.I.E.L.D. took and their unwillingness to change their ways. Remender keeps Cap's determination sewn into the character, making Captain America's costumed absence in the comic less detrimental to the overall enjoyment of "Captain America" #22. With Rogers sidelined, Remender checks in with Cap's supporting cast and most prominent foes.

With Steve Rogers powerless, it's only proper comic book writing procedure that his foes would attack, which is exactly what Arnim Zola does. "Captain America" #22 opens with a portal being ripped in reality and the mutates of Dimension Z pouring into Central Park, slaughtering all in their path. Remender pulls the curtain back for the readers and shares a conversation between Zola and the Red Skull, defining the adjusted relationship between the two characters. Remender makes it quite clear from that conversation that life is not going to get any easier for Steve Rogers any time soon.

Carlos Pacheco's return to this title is welcome, and his interpretations of John Romita Jr.'s designs are sleek and powerful. The mutates from Dimension Z are instantly recognizable, but not slavish tracings. The artist also captures Arnim Zola fantastically, giving the disembodied despot a commanding presence on the page. Likewise, Pacheco's Red Skull is the stuff of nightmares, as the Skull's face is truly skull-like, without lids for the eyes or lips over the teeth. If the next issue of "Captain America" were twenty pages of Zola and Skull debating their personal philosophies, I have no doubt Pacheco would make it a stunning issue. Caramagna continues his role in "Captain America' as an incredibly strong letterer. While his choices for Zola and the Skull's conversation could use a minor adjustment to distinguish them from one another (as both require the electronically filtered zigzag tail on their word balloons), Caramagna is nonetheless spot-on for the book, from Sam Wilson's groggy cotton-mouthed hung-over balloons to Cap's shocked reaction at Maria Hill's revelation of the fate of Gungnir.

"Captain America" #22's only shortcoming is a lack of Steve Rogers in action, but as readers discover, that is a bit of an impossibility right now. Remender manages to present the opening chapter of "The Tomorrow Soldier" as a new-reader friendly comic, a continuation of the epic he has been building since the launch of Marvel NOW! and a must-read for fans of "Uncanny Avengers" or readers hoping to get on the inside track for "AXIS." Remender has another winner filled with action and suspense on his hands here as there are no obvious clear cut answers for the future of Steve Rogers or the legacy of Captain America.

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