Rick Remender has very literally taken Steve Rogers to strange places during his Captain America run, which launched with a new #1 last fall as part of the Marvel NOW! initiative.
Illustrated by Marvel mainstay John Romita Jr. (cover to issue #10, seen to the right, by Simone Bianchi), the story has pitted Captain America against Arnim Zola — a villainous biochemist created by Jack Kirby during his mid-'70s return to Marvel — on Dimension Z, a harsh and bizarre environment that Cap has now been stuck on for more than a decade in storyline time, though thus far it's played out over just six issues.
It's been a transformative time for Cap — both physically and emotionally — as he's been hit with a "consciousness infection" from Zola, and also has been raising the villain's son, Ian, as his own. In the third and final part of our latest interview with Remender, we talked the latest in Captain America, and what's on the horizon following the "Dimension Z" arc.
Newsarama: Rick, your first Captain America arc is approaching its third act, correct?
Rick Remender: Yeah, we're there now. #7 [out May 29] is officially the end of Act Two. That's the insurmountable wall.
Nrama: It's an interesting book, because it's so different from Captain America business as usual, and what directly preceded it — he's literally not even on Earth, and it's been established that he hasn't been at this point for years — that it's an unexpected choice for the launch story of a new volume. But the feedback seems to be pretty positive. How encouraging has that been?
Remender: All I can focus on is the negativity, because I'm broken. [Laughs.] As much positive outpouring as we get, it's always the one bit of mail — for the latest letters column, I think we had like a dozen great letters, and one guy was like, "I don't really get it." I was like, "Man, I failed." [Laughs.]
But when I get over my fixation on the negative, and look at all the positive, it's nice. It was a huge departure from where the character had been and what he was doing, and I think by the time we get to issue #10, it really is something that demands people have patience for the payouts. That can be difficult on a monthly book, and that can be difficult on something that is so different than what they've been reading. By the time we get to issues #10 and #11, by the time you see the ramifications of Dimension Z and where it leaves Captain America, and then you start seeing that reflected over in Uncanny Avengers and the other books, and then you start seeing how we move forward with dealing with his first threat while back on the current timeline — which is Nuke, and a program that is revealed called "Weapon Minus," which is basically a shadowy counter to the Weapon Plus program, where they were creating countermeasures to the Weapon Plus. And there is a wealth of insanity in terms of the characters that were created in the Weapon Minus program.
The risk is that you're basically, for a year, you're taking Captain America to an entirely different place, and doing a very fish-out-of-water story. The risk is that people are not going to identify with the character in that environment, and they're going to disconnect. The upshot, if you succeed, is to completely reimagine the character in a way — to add a character wrinkle that changes the character moving forward forever, and is one that fits the bill for who he is, and fits in with what's happened before.
I think it was Stephen Wacker when I was working with him that said, "The higher up the ladder you get, the bigger the characters, the harder they are to bend." I always thought about that when I was putting together this Cap stuff — I can't be afraid to bend Cap, and to do it in the same way I would bend say, Heath Huston in Fear Agent. And I was afraid: "Captain America can't do that." I was like, "No, you can do it," and you should do it, if you believe in it. I think what we put together here is something that fits the character, and moves him into some exciting new places in the future. Hopefully people will agree by the time they get to the end of the story.
Nrama: It's a character that's closely identified with certain genres and types of stories, but this feels more about exploring him as a guy, which seems like it must have been the goal.
Remender: Yeah. And to basically put him in a place where he's now been in Dimension Z longer than he's been in modern America. When he comes back — we all know he's coming back, we just don't know the means or the situation — when he's back here, this might become an alien environment. This might become the place where he doesn't feel like he fits in anymore.
Nrama: It's also the biggest Zola-centric story in a long time, maybe ever. What motivated you to treat him as big of a deal as you have?
Remender: My first story outline was for Green Skull, but that was killed in the retreat room. So then the idea was thrown at me from [Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso] to take an obscure Cap villain and elevate him. I landed on Zola. That was a fun challenge, to escalate Zola. The method I took was sort of the Kingpin/Daredevil relationship in "Born Again," in that the Kingpin was always in a tower some place, and it was what he was doing that was affecting Daredevil on the ground. There's a much different conclusion here. Kingpin never had that final fisticuff with Daredevil — they defeat each other in different ways, and I thought that was always very interesting. This ultimately does lead to a final showdown between Zola and Cap.
It's been interesting. It's been an interesting challenge to take this crazy Kirby character, who I really fell in love with, and try and build him into some big, A-level threat. I like doing that a lot more with characters who haven't been seen as A-level. I find that it's more fun to elevate than to try and maintain. Even with Red Skull [in Uncanny Avengers], who was already an A-level threat — how do I make him A+, and how do I maintain that?
Taking Arnim Zola, and giving him this plot where he's doing what he's doing in this other dimension that we'll reveal in issues #7 and #8, and sort of building him as the Kingpin in the tower — the guy who's pulling all the switches and levers and causing Steve all this pain and heartache — while also adding the wrinkle that Steve's added his own heartache to Zola in stealing his son. So now you've got a lot of context between these two that's never going to go away. I think that you've now got a relationship between Arnim Zola and Steve Rogers that has emotional weight to keep those two involved with each other for years to come.