Before I get to the Captain America gushing, I need to get this out of the way. I don’t like the setting for this. No, I’m okay with the war environment, but I didn’t like that it specifically had to be Afghanistan and Al Qaeda related with the 9/11 references. That felt, in my opinion, felt like a cheap sympathy grab on Marvel’s part, making it feel more like an US versus THEM problem, which can distract from what I felt was the true message of this story.
This story is mostly told from the POV of James Newman, a young soldier serving in the United States military. He wants to help his country and the country he’s fighting in, but he’s no longer sure how to help when he can’t distinguish those who need help from those he needs to fight. He misses his wife and infant son. And he’s also becoming jaded toward fear because he’s living in a constant state of fear. During a fight, Captain America shows up on the battlefield and “helps” Newman to save some of his squad. The only problem? No one else saw Cap. In fact, he’s many miles away dying.
The super soldier serum has finally “failed” for Captain America. Not only is he losing all the physical conditioning he had, but he’s regressing to a state far more frail than he was even before the serum. He’s initially given 6 months to live, but his health degrades in weeks instead of months. Captain America agrees to submit to one last test, an experiment that allows him to telepathically project himself in any location, but causes him to expend a lot of energy, which speeds up his regression.
He’d been using this ability to find and map out terrorist hideouts, but then he learns that he can project himself into the consciousness of others, making them believe that he was standing right there with them. Not only that, but apparently, this also gives him access to their thoughts, feelings, and memories. He uses this to cause fear at first, but changes his focus to inspire ordinary heroes to be courageous. He says that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but a motivation for it. Fear will make you do things you didn’t think possible, which is true.
I appreciated the idea of Captain America expending himself to help people in any way he can even after his body starts to fail him. Captain America pushes himself so hard and takes it so personally when he feels he failed the people he swore to protect. Despite his rapidly deteriorating state, he still puts everything he’s got into helping others. This does feel like something that Captain America would do—defending others until he just couldn’t any longer.
The idea of the serum finally catching up to him and proving that it wasn’t a complete success was an interesting angle. It’s never fully discussed in the comic how that might’ve happened. If he hadn’t been frozen in ice, would he have burned out a few months later? Had the experiment actually been a complete success and his time in the ice had subtly degraded the effect of the serum? Did he overextend himself? It’s a mystery, but I’m not upset there isn’t some drawn out explanation about why this might’ve happened. It leaves readers to speculate for themselves.
However, I wasn’t too crazy about how that story was told. In some panels, there was too much back and forth going on trying to get Newman to keep it together. I know it was necessary, but it started to feel a bit filler-ish after a while. And I’m not even going to touch that part of the ending where Newman went full Rambo (and this was written by the author of the Rambo books), and it was a bit too hackneyed in some panels.
Many of the lab scenes didn’t really feel necessary, especially since he was basically telling Newman his story from beginning to end at the same time. The lab scenes added too many questions that weren’t addressed like when they wanted to know who he chose. Chose for what? To become the next Captain America? To fetch his dinner? How were they supposed to make a new Captain America, if they were hoping he’d choose an heir, to be able to perform physically on the same level? Or were the hoping for someone to continue this new experiment they started?
The government obviously didn’t care about—or was blind to—the fact that it took more than physical prowess to make Captain America, if that’s what they were going for. But part of, maybe even a large part of, the traits that make Captain America who he is doesn’t have to do with physical conditioning, but his indomitable will and the virtues he holds close to his heart, and this was something he had even before he became Captain America. This is something that anyone can have and extends beyond beliefs, race, citizenship, etc. Captain America knew this and admired the people who didn’t have his conditioning, but performed their duties every day. He questioned if ordinary people could go out there and risk their lives to help others, what made him any different? What made him better? Just because he may be physically superior to them didn’t make him better.
After Captain America did his final heroic deed in the book, the first question posed was, “What will we do without him?” But I can see this question being the opening for them to start relying on their own strengths, a wakeup call to the fact that you can’t always rely on a superhero to save the day. Quite often, you can only rely on yourself, and you have the necessary “powers” to do so.
I thought this was a good story, but it could’ve been better. Some of the ideas behind it were magnificent in theory, but were not executed to their full potential.
In the end, I felt like the story’s main goal was to show how there are ordinary people doing extraordinary things every day. Even though we only see him with Newman, he is actually inspiring many others at the same time, encouraging them to use their strengths to help their fellow man. You don’t have be Captain America to embody the virtues of courage, honor, sacrifice, and loyalty. You can find these same “hero” traits in doctors, teachers, farmers, any average person in the world. Everyone has the potential to be a Captain America. It’s not always the strength of body that makes a hero.