A prisoner of the Phrox, Steve Rogers and his young charge, Ian, manage to work their way out of a death trap in “Captain America” #3 by Rick Remender with art by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, colorists Dean White and Lee Loughridge and letterer Joe Caramagna, but that doesn’t mean they’re home free. Remender tempers this issue with a little downtime conversation between Rogers and Ksul, one of the Phrox who stands up for Cap.
Remender’s story is far afield, off the beaten path and cutting through the underbrush of Dimension Z, which is ruled by Captain America’s longtime foe, Arnim Zola. Providing a bit of backstory on the formative years of Zola, Remender quickly establishes the horror-laced, science fiction tone for “Captain America” #3. Readers who someohow missed the first two issues of this NOW! relaunch are brought quickly up to speed with the recap page, but the context of the story is plush enough to inform readers and get them caught up to speed without losing action or excitement. While the main thrust of this comic book focuses on “now” with Steve and Ian, the Phrox and the tyrannical rule of Zola, Remender does provide the aforementioned review of Zola’s early experiments and also squeezes in a flashback to Steve Rogers’ own formative experiences.
The Steve Rogers-as-a-youth scene is where the art for this issue struggles quite a bit. There is no arguing that John Romita, Jr. has made quite a mark on the comic book industry and on Marvel Comics in particular, but when tasked with drawing children, the modern comic art master could certainly use a little refinement. Young Steve and pals are closer to “Peanuts” characters than they are youthful versions of characters depicted elsewhere in “Captain America” #3. The ages of the children become slippery and, in the case of Ian and Jet (Zola’s charge), the identities also blur. Drawing the Phrox, Arnim Zola and the technological nightmare world of tomorrow fits Romita’s style well and functions nicely with the color work from Dean White. White receives a credited assist on this issue from Lee Loughridge. I presume Loughridge helps with the flashback sequences, which carry a grit and film inherent in aged photography. I actually found myself checking the texture of the paper in the opening Zola scene.
As part of the Marvel NOW! initiative, there is no mistaking the direction Remender has plotted out as simply an extension of anything that has come before. Captain America is off on his own, struggling against a world he doesn’t understand, but aware that people on that world need his help. Threading in the stories that built Rogers’ determination adds some depth to the present day struggles, giving readers an extra bit of history to savor alongside the NOW! I’m an on-again, off-again reader of “Captain America,” frequently waiting for collections or following arcs depending on creators involved. Remender’s wild, anything-can-happen, science fiction adventure exceeds expectations and has actually incited me to become a regular “Captain America” reader. It is not simply that anything can happen, it’s that anything does happen. The cliffhanger splash page was not one I saw coming and it certainly is one that’s going to stick with me for a little while, at least until I can get more from “Captain America” #4.