Rick Remender on ‘Captain America’s’ costly escape from Dimension Z

(CBR) [SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Captain America” #10, on sale now.]

Steve Rogers’ fight against the injustices of the Marvel Universe didn’t begin with his transformation into the super soldier and symbol of freedom know as Captain America. No, the roots of that conflict stretch back to his childhood growing up on the mean streets of Depression Era New York. It was there where his indomitable will was forged both through the lessons his mother taught him about always standing back up after a fall, and his struggle to maintain his sense of self and decency as he dealt with numerous hardships.

The lessons learned from those early battles guided him during World War II as he waged war against the Axis Powers and later on in the modern day when he was revived from suspended animation, but a lifetime of fighting battles, even just ones, does not come without cost. Initially for Steve that cost was the sacrifice of a normal life, with his identity as Captain America dominating his time. That all changed, though, when writer Rick Remender and artist John Romita Jr. kicked off the latest volume of “Captain America” with a debut issue that sent the title character to a strange reality known as Dimension Z, where time moved at an accelerated rate.

Cap’s adventures in Dimension Z spanned 10 issues that covered 12 years of time, though it seemed like only a couple of minutes on Earth. During those 12 years he rediscovered the joys of a normal life by raising an infant boy named Ian. He also endured great pain and anxiety thanks to his struggle against Ian’s biological father and Cap’s old enemy Arnim Zola, who ruled over Dimension Z with an iron fist — a struggle which appeared to claim the life of Ian. In this week’s “Captain America” #10, Remender and Romita Jr. brought Captain America home, but not before he suffered another heartbreaking loss. We spoke with Remender about the issue, and how Cap’s experiences in Dimension Z will affect him moving forward.

CBR News: Rick, let’s start with the big shock of “Captain America” #10, the death of Sharon Carter, who’s been Cap’s long time love interest and is set to become part of the world of the cinematic version of the character next year in the “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” film. So why kill Sharon now? What does her loss mean to Steve?

Rick Remender: Her loss means quite a bit, and I wanted her to be the one that played a major role in getting Steve out of Dimension Z. Plus, it comes when Steve is still dealing with the loss of Ian. I wanted there to be a lot of emotional baggage coming out of Dimension Z for Steve to deal with, because I spent that story with the notion that Cap can’t be brought down and is going to keep standing back up. We’re now going to see that notion put to the test. We’re going to see some cracks in his armor.

That’s the fun of taking a character who’s defined by his internal fortitude and putting him through so much. He’ll make it through, but when it comes time to process what happened to him, it can often be a much worse experience.

As for why it was time, it wasn’t a case of the time being right for Sharon Carter to die. We didn’t build the story thinking that we needed to do this. When I was outlining the story a year and a half back though having Cap and Sharon escape felt false to me. It felt like with what Zola had planned and how physically defeated Steve was that there needed to be something heavier for him in terms of consequences to earn that escape. Agent Carter saved them, and Earth, at heavy cost.

Steve lost Sharon once before when she faked her death. Is there a part of him that still holds out hope that she’s alive?

We’ll be dealing with that, but given that he saw her incinerated with a giant Zola, he’s probably not holding out a lot of hope this time. Also given the circumstances, this wasn’t a situation where even a class-A superspy could have faked her death.

As you mentioned, Steve’s other loss in Dimension Z was of course his foster son Ian, who, unbeknownst to Steve, was revealed to be very much alive on the final pages of issue #10. Has the loss of both Sharon an Ian soured Steve on the idea of having his own family?

I think Steve has always pushed away from having a family. He’s always ended up with sidekicks, Avengers adventure pals, basically people who do what he does. Sharon was one of those people. He didn’t have a normal girlfriend. His girlfriend was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and they were both out there doing the same things and putting their lives on the line.

So coming out of this story where he had a family and lost it, Steve is obviously not looking to replace them. Plus he’s dealing with a world that doesn’t know any of this happened to him. This is all top-secret stuff. Both he and S.H.I.E.L.D don’t want this information spread. You’ll see in issue #11 that there’s a few people he’ll actually disclose this to, but that’s it. So the next part of our story is going to be about how he stands up and takes his duty back on after realizing that he does want more.

That’s what a lot of the Dimension Z story was about. During the course of the story Steve realizes that he does want to marry Sharon and raise Ian. He does want that family. He became part of the Phrox Clan and had that for many years while he raised his son. Now that he’s had that and it’s gone, how does Steve deal with that?

Plus, as we’ll discover in the next issue, Steve’s not aging normally. He was in Dimension Z for about 12 years and he comes back out looking pretty much the same. So the Super Soldier Serum has maybe given him a very extended life expectancy. He’s recognizing that he could be alive for a long time and, ultimately, if he has another family, he’ll outlive them. So on top of all the other stuff he’s dealing with he also has to cope with the fact that in all likeliness he’ll bury everyone he knows and loves.

Steve isn’t totally alone now. Zola’s daughter and Ian’s biological sister Jet Black came back with him through the portal. How would you describe the dynamic between Jet and Steve going into “Captain America” #11? What does Jet mean to Steve? And what does Steve mean to her?

Steve is her rock. He’s the only person she has in this entire new world. Our Earth is Jet’s Dimension Z. So it’s a reverse situation and now Steve is the one who’s going to guide her through it. He’s the only friend she has, but she doesn’t know him all that well. The example that he sets and who he is help motivate her to do the right thing, but that almost wasn’t the case.

She didn’t have a change of heart. In issue #10 you saw that she was second-guessing her decisions even after it appeared that Zola had died. So given that’s the case, Jet is going to be a very complex character. I just wrote issue #16, which is an all-Jet issue. It’s where we really start to focus on her place in the world.

As for Steve, Jet is the only person who knew Ian that he can talk with. Jet is a reminder of a life that he lived. In fact, a majority of his recent life was spent in Dimension Z and now and he just has one person to remind him of that life. It’s nice to be able to reflect on and commiserate about those times with somebody. So she’s that, but she’s also a hard luck case who turned on her father and was very conflicted about it, and now he has to make sure that she’s given the opportunity to live the normal life that he wanted for Ian and himself.

I think the fun part of their dynamic will be seeing what Steve transfers on to Jet and what he wants from her, and ultimately what she wants from him.

So Jet will play a significant role in the book moving forward. Does that mean we’ll see her on missions with Captain America? Or will she have her own sort of side story that unfolds alongside Steve’s adventures as Cap?

For the foreseeable future she’s going to be acclimating to her new environment and her new reality. She’s not going to join Steve on his adventures in the field. She’ll be someone that’s living with him and trying to find her way. That of course is not going to last very long. In issue #16 we see some friends of Zola approach her. So we’ll seed a major plot and some difficult choices for Jet. She plays a big role in this book moving forward.

Steve’s interactions with Jet and the rest of the world will be informed by the fact that, as you said, he’s now spent more time in Dimension Z than he has in modern day America. Can you talk about how that impacted him? Is he once again a man out of time?

He’s a man further out of time. He’s now back in America that’s still not entirely familiar to him. I’m not exactly sure how many years it’s been in Marvel time since he’s been unfrozen, perhaps seven? The reality is with the amount of time he spent in Dimension Z, that life is much more fresh and identifiable to him than modern America. So it’s going to be very hard for him to pretend that everything is back to normal.

Cap’s life in Dimension Z was often agrarian and tranquil, but other times it was almost like he was living in a hellish war zone. So how will that impact him going forward? Will we see him suffering from a bit of shell shock and longing for a simpler life?

Yes, and he’s not quite capable of dealing with someone like Nuke in the way he used to. Some of the savagery he was forced to endure during his life as a warrior in Dimension Z protecting both his clan and his kid means the rule of law is no longer quite the same in his mind.

So if you put him in a situation with somebody like Nuke, like we do in our next arc, he’ll deal with it in a way that starts to show the cracks in his armor and the change in his character. He’s going to have to really work to come back to who he was and find his way forward. How he does, and if he does is sort of the heart of the series moving forward.

One of the ways you cope with tragedies is by turning to friends. Will upcoming issues find Cap interacting with some of his close friends like the Falcon or the Winter Soldier?

Yes, both Falcon and the Winter Soldier will start to play a big role in the book again. It’s good for Steve to be around those familiar faces, but they will be somewhat foreign to him. He’s going to have to re-acclimate to a lot. In issues #11 and #12 we spend a lot of time dealing with that stuff and we’ll spend some time dealing with Falcon and Steve, and how the Falcon might aid his friend in his recovery.

Now that it’s over, what’s your sense of the Dimension Z saga as a whole? It felt like it gave you a way to break Cap down and look at him in a new way, plus tell a story that placed him in an environment we’re not used to seeing him in.

Yeah, part of our goal was to build up Zola as one of his primary villains, and beyond that it was to change his life and give him new things to deal with that would hopefully unearth the heart of the character while putting the basic truths of who he is to an ongoing test — because if it’s not being tested, it doesn’t count for much. I don’t feel like Steve’s had his basic truths tested in awhile.

So hopefully coming out of Dimension Z, people feel like they know Steve a little more and they understand him more as a human being. Hopefully they see more than just a superhero taking out Nazis during World War II. Hopefully they see a kid who was raised during the Great Depression by immigrant parents who were having a hard time.

That helps unearth and really refocuses what drives this guy. It shows how big a part of the American dream he actually is. One generation later, the son of immigrants is the standard for their new nation. That’s pretty wonderful, and I really wanted to draw that out and refocus on it. Because that to me is the character, an embodiment of the American dream.

From talking with you it’s clear that you’re quite comfortable with the character of Captain America and the story you’re telling with him, but you started your run in a pretty intimidating way by following up from Ed Brubaker and telling a story that was very different from the types we saw in his run. Were you nervous when you were first laying out the story that would become the Dimension Z saga? And are you still nervous now that you’ve completed that tale?

I feel like the nerves are over. At this point I’ve taken whatever lumps I was going to get in the passing of the torch from Ed to me. At this point I’m well underway with my version of the character and I’m plotted pretty tightly up until about issue #25. So I know where I’m going to go in my story, and I know where I’m going to take the character.

You write these things so far in advance that you never know how people are going to react, but I feel that if I have a solid plot, I know where things are going, and I’m happy with them that I can get through the fear of what people are going to think of any one chapter.

That was especially true with the apparent death of Ian. I knew he wasn’t going to die. I knew it was a misdirect, but I also knew that when that issue came out there was going to be a lot of uproar because I killed a kid. I knew that it would seem crass and ugly to a lot of fans. I might have even been one of those fans, but I knew I had big plans for Nomad moving forward. We might not see those plans for a long time, but I know what they are. So as long as you have a good road map and you know what they payout is for the reader, you can keep your head down.

I think people who prefer Ed’s version of things will be more comfortable moving forward. Issue #11 brings things closer to the status quo that readers are used to, and it will be a little easier for those who were shaken by the sci-fi setting. I’m really glad though that we opened up with such a big, wild, sci-fi story that hopefully helped people see who the character is and set him up with a new status quo that’s interesting.

So that scene with Ian as Nomad at the end of issue #10 is sort of similar to what you did at the end of your first “Uncanny Avengers” arc in that it’s a teaser for a story that’s coming, but might not appear for a while?

Yeah, we’re not going to be going back to Dimension Z any time soon, and that’s where Ian lives now. It is out there, however, and there are plans in place for how it will play out.

Let’s start to wrap up by talking a little more about Steve’s next mission, which pits him against the rogue super solider known as Nuke, who is conducting terrorist attacks to reignite wars that the world feels America lost. How does Steve view Nuke in the aftermath of his adventures in Dimension Z? What does Nuke represent to him?

He sees Nuke as sort of a negative reflection of himself and what he could have been at a different time and place. Nuke started off as a patriot who wanted to serve his country. His priority is defending his fellow soldiers and not allowing America to lose face. He then is cooked with amphetamines mixed with the Super Soldier Serum and implanted with cyborg parts. Plus, his mind had been wiped and programmed. So he’s been twisted up and mentally corrupted.

This means that Steve isn’t sure how to deal with Nuke given that it’s likely that he’s not in his right mind. In Nuke’s mind he’s honoring “the boys” and honoring America, but he’s creating international incidents that will cause lots of trouble. The question then is when it becomes obvious that Nuke isn’t going to stand down and things get ugly, how is Cap going to deal with him? How does the Captain America who spent 12 years in Dimension Z and lost Sharon and Ian react when five days after returning home he’s sent to an Eastern European nation to collect Nuke who’s out there killing civilians, blowing up military installations and planting American flags on the foreign soil of sovereign nations? It brings up a lot of ugliness in Steve. How he deals with that will be another way of defining the character and where he’s at right now.

When we last talked about “Captain America” Carlos Pacheco was beginning work on this new arc that begins in issue #11. What can readers expect from Carlos on this story? What do you feel Carlos, inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Dean White all bring to this story?

Issue #11 is stunning and the work just gets better and better. Last night I spent three hours looking at the pages to issue #12. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration, either. I literally just sat for three hours looking at them.

Carlos is on fire with this stuff and I think mixing in Klaus and Dean helps the consistency of the series from John Romita Jr’s stunning run. They’re an A-Level team that’s producing some of the best looking pages that I’ve ever been associated with. It’s a real treat to get to see that stuff come in.

Finally “Captain America” isn’t the only book you write that Steve Rogers appears in. We recently saw him telling his teammates in the “Uncanny Avengers” about the ordeal he underwent in Dimension Z. Now that Steve is back in his home reality will we see any more interaction between the two books?

Cap’s world is starting to intermingle and connect with some of the stuff I seeded with the Red Skull over in “Uncanny Avengers.” The Skull and his S-Men are out there and they’re poised to become some of the biggest threats in the Marvel Universe. The Red Skull story has been left to simmer over on it’s own in “Uncanny Avengers.” I look at it in the same vein as Joss Whendon’s “Astonishing X-Men” in that I get to tell this big, grand story and then the ramifications at the end of it start to spread out into other titles. One of those places will definitely be in “Captain America.”

Between the Red Skull, Nuke, and the Iron Nail, who’s a new character that I’m introducing, there will be a lot of big, fun baddies to deal with. Then on top of that we’ll have the first appearance of Doctor Mind Bubble; a terrifying new villain who was created in the 1960s prior to Nuke as part of the Weapon Minus program to serve as a countermeasure to everything being created in the Weapon Plus program. His powers originated from a version of the Super Soldier Serum mixed with LSD.

“Captain America” #10 is on sale now; “Captain America” #11 goes on sale Sept. 11.