After 10 issues spent trapped in Arnim Zola's Dimension Z, Captain America has finally made it home. Unfortunately, while in Earth time he was only gone for a few minutes, for Steve Rogers 12 years passed. As a result, America's sentinel of liberty is finding it difficult to reacclimatize to his home country. Meanwhile, villain Nuke is reintroduced with a new agenda. Presented here as a right-wing patriotic nutjob seeking to rewrite American history by declaring war on nations that have previously defeated the US in armed conflict, his insane-but-sincere rhetoric forms a nice contrast with Rogers, who now finds himself unsure about his place in the world.
Much like the Dimension Z arc was a Jack Kirby homage, in recasting Captain America as a man out of time the title is tipping its hat to the past. In itself this isn't too surprising; after all, something about the character seems to invite such nostalgia. Even Ed Brubaker's celebrated run focused on the return of Bucky Barnes, who much like Cap himself was a relic of a bygone era, back when sending fictional children to fight Nazis provided a boost to national pride. The question is whether or not creators constantly looking to the past for inspiration leads to backward-looking stories.
Captain America #11 addresses this with its final page, which is easily one of the most evocative of the year. Rogers makes a very literal show of letting go of his past, and his actions suggest that the title is ready to head in a genuinely new direction rather than simply rehashing former glories. Whatever the faults of the first 10 issues, they showed a strong understanding of what makes the character tick, and of why he remains such an enduring icon. The scene works so well because the decision Rogers makes is personal, not political. A man out of time once more, he feels estranged not just from his surroundings but from his own sense of self. In this context, the revelation that Rogers ages much slower than normal human beings is somber rather than celebratory.
Adding a further layer of complexity are the colors, which are largely muted with the exception of reds, whites, and blues. This approach functions on an almost subliminal level, emphasizing what Captain America is about to let go of so that the final page packs even more of an emotional punch. Between them, artist Carlos Pacheco, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Dean White have worked hard to maintain the look of the first 10 issues, which were drawn by John Romita Jr. Such a move doesn't exactly play to Pacheco's talents, but the continuity is important, as it helps drive home the point that the events of Dimension Z will hang over Rogers for some time to come.
The big challenge facing any Captain America creative team is how to make the character relevant in the 21st century. In team books, it’s enough to cast him as the idealist, the man who fights for the greater good. But in a solo title, it’s necessary to find a more interesting hook. Captain America #11 does so with aplomb, instantly elevating the series to the upper echelons of Marvel’s output.