***This article contains spoilers for Captain America #3, out now.***Rick Remender isn't interested in making things easy for Steve Rogers, and that became even clearer with the last page of Captain America #3, that saw Arnim Zola's consciousness physically grafted onto Cap's chest in a fairly disturbing display. (Hey, Remender told us back in October that the series was going to evolve into a horror book.)
It's the payoff to what Remender and series artist John Romita Jr. started in November's Captain America #1, which saw Cap wake up in the (very) strange world of Dimension Z as Zola was in the midst of experimenting on the iconic Marvel superhero. Remender calls it a "consciousness infection," and it's another major hurdle for Cap to overcome along with still being stuck in a hostile world and having to care for Ian, a young boy created by Zola.
We talked to Remender in detail about the latest Captain America developments, the importance of the flashbacks that have run throughout the series, and why the writer, whose Uncanny Avengers hits #3 next week, finds Zola a fascinating villain worthy of in-depth exploration.Newsarama: Rick, Captain America #3 debuted this week, with something of a pretty shocking ending — Zola has seemingly physically bonded with Captain America. Or something along those lines. How do you describe it?
Rick Remender: It's a consciousness infection. That was the thing that Zola was plugging into Steve in issue #1, you see him take that giant needle and shove it into his chest — and this is what it was. It's a consciousness infection, because Zola wanted to take over Steve, and use him to go back to Earth and do dastardly villainous business. But then Steve escaped… Nrama: How big of a deal will this development be going forward in the story? It obviously seems significant — with a supervillain implanted onto Captain America's chest and all.
Remender: It definitely plays a big role. I don't want to give away too much.
I wanted to make an impossible situation for Steve, one that he has no earthly reason to be able to survive and get out of. This is another stage in setting him down that road. Not only is he dealing with being stranded in this foreign environment, with the health and care of a child on his shoulders, he's now looking down the barrel at a Zola infection that will be trying to take over his mind.Nrama: You mentioned this issue as something of a turning point to the series . Not that it's been uneventful so far, but this definitely raises the stakes — and things ascend and get nuttier from here?
Remender: Yeah. The end of issue #4 is even crazier still. In the end of issue #5, it all comes together, where everything I've shown in the first four issues comes into play in a big climax that ends the first half of the story.Nrama: Arnim Zola is obviously a character you're excited about, and you're giving him the most visibility he's had in years with this story. Is Zola a character you had given much thought to before this assignment? Or did the notion to use him come about when you were coming up with Captain America-specific ideas?
Remender: Zola was actually in my first draft of Venom, and didn't fit. Zola is somebody who I think is a completely underrated villain, who ends up always serving Red Skull, or being in the background. The fact that this guy is basically supervillain Mengele, and he's this terrible monster who sees all life as clay for him to play and wield — it's all a grand experiment to him. He doesn't have any empathy, he's a pure sociopath. He's also such a high-level crazy genius who can telepathically communicate with his mutates, and he can copy digital consciousness — it was something that also plays into Uncanny Avengers, where it's revealed that Zola was the person who recorded Red Skull's consciousness so that he could be reborn 70, 80 years later.My mission here in the next little bit is to definitely build up Zola and to make him somebody who Cap is completely interconnected with in a big way moving forward. When you see Zola, I want it to feel like how you feel when you see any of the really big villains show up and drop the hammer. That's what this story is hopefully setting up. He's a filthy scumbag serial killer. That's what I wanted to show in the beginning of the issue, the cost of what he does to things and people was, even going as far back to the '20s when he first started. Nrama: Right, Captain America #3 saw the first Zola flashback, right around the same time period of the Steve Rogers interludes that have been running throughout the series. With Steve's pre-World War II life, was there any of it that had been previously established in detail, or was it all pretty much open for you to create? Remender: The very basics had been established. Some very, very basics have been established. But the story itself hadn't really been told. What we'll see in the first four issues in these flashbacks, each issue holds a lesson. You'll see those lessons are what Steve Rogers is made of. You'll see how he earned who he is, and how he learned to be the man he is. You'll see those four lessons reflected in issue #5 as those four specific things come into play in terms of how he's going to confront the challenges in front of him. Nrama: It's interesting to watch the balance between flashbacks and present day in the first few issues, which #3 seeming to tilt a bit heavier towards flashbacks than the first couple. Is there a formula to it for you?
Remender: There's not. The bottom line is, I could have spent more time with Steve and the Phrox. But I felt like ultimately I wasn't getting enough of an eye on who Arnim Zola is. I wanted to make sure that the villain got equal billing. That was the inclination behind his flashback.
The Zola's flashback eats into Steve's time with the Phrox, but when I had written the script, I didn't have the Zola thing in the first draft. I was reading it, and it read fine, but it felt like, again, Zola is still this thing that we saw briefly in issue #1, but I still don’t have a real feel for this person. He's got a very similar story to Steve's in that he's been around for a long, long time. Almost a hundred years at this point. I thought it was more important to show that.
I went in and gutted some of Steve's time with the Phrox, in order to put the time onto Zola. You never can know — it feels right to me, and when I take a day off and then go back and reread it before I turn it in, I felt, "OK, that is better." I am starting to see what a gross, despicable monster Zola is, while also getting an impression for what he's doing in terms of raising his daughter Jet to be this supreme warrior. Even though you don’t get a lot of time with Steve in modern times with the Phrox, you get the basic picture enough to where the conflict arises that you understand what's going on behind it without me having to have shown it.Nrama: You mentioned that part of your motivation for the Steve Rogers flashbacks was that there simply wasn't a lot of that timeline out there before — naturally, was there also not much out there about Zola's early life, and how he became the infamous bio-fanatic?
Remender: You know the very basics of it in what Kirby did. We've seen the basic origins, but he’d already put his mind inside that body. Again, it felt to me like, "Who was the guy who did this?" He was a guy who basically was the son of a very wealthy aristocrat who clearly held him in contempt, and was disdainful of his intellectual pursuits while his physical frame eroded. You understand, hopefully, by the end of issue #3 that one of his motivations to do this was to show the old man. By mastering science, he could build himself a better frame, not merely by lifting weights and going out for healthy hikes.
None of that had been established. I wanted to show who these people were. It's something that I think is important. I would rather read a story with a slow boil that gives me all of the characters' motives so I understand them. When this comes to a head, you'll have a much better grasp of who the participants are in the conflict.That's always the tricky dance when starting a new series. This has been very fast-paced, and there's been a lot happening, but obviously it hasn't been the same as other things I've done where it's just right out of the gates, action, action, action. It's also had a good deal of these flashbacks where you see who Steve Rogers was. That was the one thing getting into the book that felt sort of lacking to me. I know Steve is this guy. I know he was this 98-pound weakling who refused to not go fight World War II. But I don't know why. I realized that's a problem.
In getting my head into this character, and discovering who he is, I wanted to show bits and pieces of his past, and who he was, that would then play a direct role in his current conflicts. You've seen bits and pieces of that in the first three issues, as the flashbacks have some bearing on what he's currently dealing with: not giving up, not losing hope; and in the third one, standing up for your friends against odds that are seemingly insurmountable, with some bullies that he had no hope of actually defeating. Then in the fourth one, you get another big lesson, and then all of those play a role in Steve's current situation in issue #5 in a big way. It was a challenge to make sure that the flashbacks weren't just random stories that didn't lead to something, but to tie them into the modern narrative, so when you see Steve dealing with the threats in the way he does, you start to understand where that core came from.Nrama: Even beyond the obvious story implications and benefits of the dual narrative, it also seems like such a perfect use of an art team that can really pull both of those very different things off — grounded period piece and action literally not on Earth.
Remender: Of course. That's the joy of having a collaborator like John Romita Jr. I have absolutely no fear that when I write it, I know that what's going to come out is going to be amazing. I don't think you really even have seen what John's capable of with the flashbacks until issue #4. I'm very, very proud of the first three issues, but it just goes to a whole new level [in issue #4]. #5 as well. It just gets better and better.
I think it's a nice juxtaposition: a young boy growing up in the hardships of the Great Depression; versus that same boy, who is now a man, raising what is ostensibly his adopted son in an equally inhospitable environment. It's very grounded, the realism aspect of the Great Depression sequences. John has relatives that survived the Great Depression. He had a lot of people who can give him first-hand accounts, and he's clearly done all of his homework on referencing it. Drawing a period piece like that is very difficult. He's done a tremendous job. Fear of the artist not being able to handle the concepts was never something that was in my mind.Captain America
#4 cover.Nrama: Probably verging on spoiler territory, but is there going to be a point in the story where we move back to Earth and see, say, Sharon or the Avengers looking for Cap?
Remender: I'd rather not comment on that. There are some big reveals coming up.Nrama: Right, because there is the tendency to wonder, how can Captain America be in Dimension Z for a year while he's in so many other places at the same time. But that happens, and surely it's deliberate.
Remender: There's a plan. We're well aware. There are fun reveals awaiting.Nrama: An interesting surprise in #3 is that you answered the letter column, and indicated that you plan to as much as possible. Why was that important to you? I don't remember seeing you do that on a Marvel book before, at least not recently.
Remender: I did it on Punisher for a little while, for as long as I could. I think I did it up until Franken-Castle, but I haven't really done it since.
I feel like it's a nice sorbet — it's a palate cleanser after you're done reading the story, to read some other people's impressions of what's happening, and maybe some other questions that you had asked, that maybe somebody else will have asked, and I can answer them. It's also a place where I can address those things in the book and not online, so people who are actually holding the book, be it physical or digital, can then finish the story, and get some other questions answered. If they want to send in a letter, I'll do my best to try and get to all of them. I think there's a sense of community that adds. I'm doing it in Uncanny Avengers starting with issue #3 as well.Captain America
#5 cover.There's an abruptness to reading the end of a story. You hit that last panel, and boom, it's over. The letters column is a nice transition. If you feel like reading it, there it is. You can read the writer talking to some fans, and it'll help ease you out of the story. I think it's a nice transition out. Nrama: Since Captain America #3 does end with an element of physical bonding between Cap and Zola, it seems that some might suggest that it's similar, at least very superficially, to recent developments with Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. Was that a concern at all in the planning, or does it play out so differently that it wasn't an issue?
Remender: It's like any of these things. It's like Colossus getting the Juggernaut's crystal. Red Skull with Xavier’s brain. Zola's thing is that he's a consciousness infector. That's what he does. He has saved the minds of Red Skull, and he's transported his own mind into various bodies. Zola is a digital mind pirate, and he is spreading his consciousness to take people over. And that plays into a bit of the bigger story coming forward.
It serves a very different purpose than what Dan's doing in Spider-Man. Because of the differences in the execution, and the differences in what it ends up doing to Steve, and it didn't seem like a concern. It's very different.More from Newsarama:
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