(a) John Romita Jr.
** FAIR WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS ISSUE AS WELL AS Y: THE LAST MAN AND UNCANNY X-FORCE (VOL. 1) BE WARNED!!! **
There are three occasions I can name where I shed a tear over a comic book. The first was during Y: The Last Man when Agent 355 was murdered, then later in the series when Yorick makes the hardest decision of his life by giving his monkey, Ampersand, a peaceful death. The third time was during Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, at the end of “The Dark Angel Saga”, when Psylocke is holding Archangel — an apocalyptic version of Warren Worthington III, the man she once loved — as she uses her psychic ability to link their minds and live out an entire lifetime of joy, happiness, and love in the last moments of his life. While all three instances involve death, they have another connecting factor that’s just as powerful: the main character loses a part of his or herself completely. For Yorick, losing the love of his life and his best friend turned him from the cheerful, charmingly annoying man we know throughout the series into a cold, jaded shadow of his former self. For Psylocke, losing Warren meant losing her ability to hope. Betsy Braddock lost her confidence the day Archangel died, and she hasn’t regained it since.
While Captain America #9 didn’t make me well up, it came damn close. At the end of the last issue, Sharon Carter arrived in Dimension Z on a rescue mission to find Steve and bring him back home. Unfortunately, she showed up just as Steve was breaking through to his adopted son, Ian, who’d been brainwashed by Arnim Zola to kill the man who raised him. Sharon shot Ian because she couldn’t see that Ian was beginning to see the light and come to his senses. And while the actual sequence was devastating and heartbreaking, it’s really the fallout here in Captain America #9 that packs the real emotional punch.
Before we even get a chance to process Ian’s death, Sharon tries to explain to Steve that he has not been in Dimension Z for 12 years, but rather only a matter of minutes. She surmises that Zola may have used some drug or mind-altering chemical to make Steve believe he’d been on the run for over a decade. Sharon’s revelation means that Steve’s relationship with Ian may have never actually existed in the first place. Remender purposely leaves the answer open during the course of this issue because speculation is often a whole lot more fun than just being told what’s up. Did Zola implant the idea of Ian into Captain America’s head as a massive blow to the Sentinel of Liberty’s confidence and spirit? Did Steve hallucinate the entire thing as a side effect of Dimension Z’s atmosphere and biology? Or does time simply pass differently in Zola’s new world?
Rick Remender does a phenomenal job conveying Captain America’s emotions. Death in comic books is too often understated, but Steve’s total emotional breakdown over the death of his son is a dramatic triumph. It would feel cheap had it been done any less well. In the end, it doesn’t matter if Steve’s relationship with Ian was real or not because the emotional fallout is very, very real and it has shattered the spirit of the United States of America. Even though Steve kills him, Zola still won because he took what made Captain America who he is and broke it, simple as that.