“…we do what we can. For the greater good.”
Writer Jason Aaron and artist Ron Garney (along with colorists Jason Keith, Jim Charalamidis, and Matt Milla) construct a Captain America story set in the Ultimate Marvel universe that explores the meaning of Cap and the country he fights and believes in with all his heart. That belief is tested in “Ultimate Comics Captain America” by foe and fellow super soldier Frank Simpson, who violently attempts to educate Steve Rogers about the America that betrayed Simpson and its own ideals. Aaron not only loads his story with savage fights, but also urges his reader to contemplate an ambiguous ending to a narrative that brings up myriad issues that makes one question their beliefs and attitude toward the United States of America. As a character who stands for his country, Aaron and Garney’s Cap is as complex as the people he represents.
For a book that has plenty of action and occasional depth, there is also evidence of humor throughout the proceedings. One particular scene between Steve and Carol Danvers demonstrates the synergy between Aaron’s words and Garney’s art. Despite Carol’s demands that Steve remain in the hospital and let Nick Fury and his crew deal with Simpson, Carol implies quite overtly that Steve escape and go after Simpson himself. She says, “No cause for you to go and do anything rash.” In the following panel, Steve looks down at Carol with eyes that gaze knowingly at her. He then “asks” in the next panel, “You want me to go rogue, don’t you?” She replies, “Do I?” The scene is a dance between Steve and Carol, each knowing what the other wants, will do, and allow to happen. Steve says, “How real do you want me to make it look?” “Pretty real,” is her response as her eyes dart toward the reader. Steve then proceeds to hit Carol and jump out the hospital window, thus ending a scene that contains humor and character in the story, as well as the art.
The scene between Steve and Carol is just one example of Garney’s ability to bring out the depth of a character through their eyes. In the first four pages of the first issue, all the focus is placed on Cap. When he’s punched in the face, his eyes go to the back of his head. When a gun is put to his head, he looks at his captor with eyes brimming with defiance. His eyes then close in prayer and the hero seems resigned to his fate. However, that does not mean Cap is overflowing with anger. Far from it. Garney draws Cap’s eyes looking up at his captor and Cap then transforms into a different person. His eyes look up, his face scrunches up tight, and he says, “Kiss. My. Ass.” Garney is able to take Cap and the rest of the cast on a rough emotional journey through their eyes, facial expressions, and body language.
Garney’s use of panels, splash pages, and other artistic techniques enhance Aaron’s story many times throughout the book. One particular torture montage conveys the ferocity and convictions of Cap’s antagonist, Frank Simpson. In the first scene, Simpson gives Cap a history lesson and reads aloud the horrible things that resulted from the United States’ forceful intervention. As he reads, Cap hangs upside down and is given electric volts from one of Simpson’s child followers. The juxtaposition of Simpson’s American flag face tattoo (expertly rendered by colorist Jason Keith) and the red, white, and blue of Cap’s outfit adds to the ambiguity of Aaron’s words. Simpson represents the result of the bad committed in America’s name, while Cap embodies America’s ideals and resiliency. In one panel, the reader sees Cap’s face upside down in horrendous pain as Simpson says, “Thousands tortured and executed.” Simpson is not informing Cap of the atrocities. He’s punishing the country that betrayed him by punishing it’s representative, Captain America.
In the next scene within the montage, Cap’s eyes are held open and forced to see the results of war. In the third and final scene, Cap is made to endure waterboarding and experience a gruesome interrogation technique utilized by the government. As the water pours on Cap’s bagged head, Simpson says, “Just keep telling yourself…waterboarding isn’t torture.” Simpson’s backstory and his knowledge of history make him a sympathetic character. But only to a point. Instead of imparting knowledge in a peaceful way, he uses the same techniques that he abhors himself. Throughout these scenes and the book itself, use of color beautifully enriches the story. The yellow watercolor sky adds a glow to Cap’s back as he hangs upside down, with light peering from the sides of his body. This attention to detail in art and coloring typifies Garney and the colorists’ love for Aaron’s story.
The Cap of “Ultimate Comics Captain America” is a hero who is stubborn when it comes to his country. Yet Jason Aaron poses many questions about war and America’s role in the world that begin to vex even someone as blindingly patriotic as Cap appears to be in the beginning of this story. The ambiguity of the ending will cause debate between readers, doing what any great book is meant to do: make one contemplate their own beliefs and begin a conversation. Aaron, along with Garney and Keith, have superbly placed a thoughtful tale within an adventure full of action, motion, and violence. Nothing is easy in this superhero yarn. And that’s a good thing.
Ultimate Comics Captain America
Written by: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Colors: Jason Keith, Jim Charalampidis, and Matt Milla
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics