There are three stories going on here. First, in a flashback to the late 60s, a Chinese national and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (who seems to have the power of hypnotic suggestion) unleashes an ancient dragon who gives him power to take down the "capitalist lords" in the West. Later on, we see that this same guy (now calling himself The Iron Nail) has built a massive underground complex where he is kidnapping (I assume) wealthy Chinese citizens and forcing them to work in a mine as punishment for collaboration.
Second, we have Cap himself, who is still reeling from the events of Dimension Z. Falcon shows up to check on him (and has a very unpleasant encounter with Jet Black) and the two go on a run. During their outing, Steve recounts his experiences to Falcon and his own feelings of being even more out of sync with his environment than ever before. Finally, he reveals that shortly before she died, Sharon shot Ian and promptly has a breakdown.
Finally, we have Nuke, who is waging a one-man war in an Eastern European country, all while talking to some mysterious fellow patriot about how he will not allow any dead American soldiers to be left behind enemy lines.
The big reveal, however, is that The Iron Nail is the one who is pulling Nuke's strings.
So after last month's fantastic epilogue to the Dimension Z story, this issue was kind of a let down. I liked what we saw of Cap. The idea of Captain America, the Sentinel of Liberty, having to deal with PTSD and the double-whammy of emotional atom bombs that hit him at the end of the last story is a really neat one. I won't say it hasn't been done before (wise heads than I may know), but I will say that I've never seen it and that I am really intrigued by where this is going.
Conversely, I'm a little worried about what's going on with Jet Black. Steve keeps harping on how he needs her and it is revealed explicitly here that she has moved in with him. Now, I know Zola used some artificial aging voodoo on her, but I really hope that there isn't some sort of romantic angle brewing here. That would be all kinds of creepy.
Anyway, the other two angles are, on their own, okay. Nothing special, but not out-and-out bad. Nuke makes for an interesting villain, though admittedly not enough on his own I think. The Iron Nail is a neat idea and I like the mysterious nature of his powers and his clandestine activities to bring down the West and S.H.I.E.L.D.
But put them together, and I have some problems.
First off, it feels like we've seen this before. A third party manipulating a mentally disturbed person into patriotic action? Wasn't that one of the arcs of Brubaker's last run on Captain America, with Gyrich and Dennis Dunphy both being manipulated by HYDRA? So soon after having read something so similar, it kind of neuters the impact of this story.
Secondly, the thing that got me about it was that the connection between them felt so jarring. There was no build up or mystery. Iron Nail is revealed as the puppet master on the last page and that's that. I think if Remender has waited just a little bit, the twist (such as it was) would have had more resonance. But with no real background on The Iron Nail, the reveal didn't mean anything.
Dimension Z, and Remender's Marvel work in general, have earned him a lot of grace in my book and while this issue wasn't bad, it was a definite step backwards. Hopefully next month when we get Rogers and Nuke tango'ing, things'll pick back up.